Turn to page 1,850 of the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia
and you'll find an entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a fountain designer turned photographer who was celebrated for a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes titled "Flags Up!" Mountweazel, the encyclopedia indicates, was born in Bangs, Ohio, in 1942, only to die "at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles
If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. "It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright," Richard Steins, who was one of the volume's editors, said the other day. "If someone copied Lillian, then we'd know they'd stolen from us."
So when word leaked out that the recently published second edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary
contains a made-up word that starts with the letter "e," an independent investigator set himself the task of sifting through NOAD's
thirty-one hundred and twenty-eight "e" entries in search of the phony. The investigator first removed from contention any word that was easily recognized or that appears in Webster's Third New International;
the remaining three hundred and sixty words were then vetted with a battery of references.
Six potential Mountweazels emerged. They were:
...earth loop — n. Electrical British term for GROUND LOOP.
...EGD — n. a technology or system that integrates a computer
......display with a pair of eyeglasses . . . abbreviation of eyeglass
...electrofish — v. [trans.] fish (a stretch of water) using
......electrocution or a weak electric field.
...ELSS — abbr. extravehicular life support system.
...esquivalience — n. the willful avoidance of one's official
......responsibilities . . . late 19th cent.: perhaps from French
......esquiver, "dodge, slink away."
...eurocreep — n. informal the gradual acceptance of the euro in
......European Union countries that have not yet officially adopted it as
......their national currency.