Mountweazel, you see, refers to Lillian Mountweazel, who earned this entry in the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia:
"Mountweazel, Lillian Virginia, 1942-1973, American photographer, b. Bangs, Ohio. Turning from fountain design to photography in 1963, Mountweazel produced her celebrated portraits of the South Sierra Miwok in 1964. She was awarded government grants to make a series of photo-essays of unusual subject matter, including New York City buses, the cemeteries of Paris and rural American mailboxes. The last group was exhibited extensively abroad and published as Flags Up! (1972) Mountweazel died at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine."
Mountweazel is more famous for this encyclopedia entry than her actual work because neither she nor her work ever actually existed. Mountweazel was a so-called copyright trap — a fictitious entry composed specifically to note whether persons were copying Columbia content without due attribution or royalties.
If another book showed up with a copied reference to Mountweazel, Columbia editors and lawyers would check for other copyright violations within the same work. Today, professional editors refer to such telltale fictitious content as a Mountweazel. Think of it as the lexicographer's version of the infamous "brown M&M" contract rider used by Van Halen.
But let's not confuse a Mountweazel with a ghost word. The former is an intentionally fictional term or entry, while the latter is something accidentally invented.
Despite the fact that reference editors so closely guard their linguistic integrity as to make stuff up in defense of their works, they do occasionally unintentionally create words without ever meaning to. One such term — which passed itself off as a scientific synonym — actually appeared and survived in five consecutive editions of Webster's Dictionary in the 1930s.
WHAT FICTIONAL WORD ACCIDENTALLY APPEARED IN FIVE CONSECUTIVE EDITIONS OF WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY IN THE 1930s?Get the answer.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.