Henry Alford has a terrific little piece in this week’s New Yorker about the apparently-longstanding practice at dictionaries and encyclopedias of putting small fake entries into their books; the idea being that if the fake entries are spotted in other dictionaries / encyclopedias, they’ll know they were plagiarized.
Word spread that the New Oxford American Dictionary had a fake word that started with ‘e’, and lexicographers narrowed it down to esquivalience, a made-up word that supposedly means “the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities”, and the word was later spotted on Dictionary.com.
The New Oxford American Dictionary, of course, is the dictionary behind Mac OS X 10.4’s new Dictionary application, and, indeed, there’s an entry for esquivalience, complete with usage examples and fake etymology. (Go ahead and look it up with a Command-Control-D.)
★ Monday, 29 August 2005