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The Japan Kanji ability assessment association has selected the Chinese character meaning "fake" as the symbol that best describes Japan in 2007. Xinhuanet.com reports:
The result represented Japanese people's anger over the society's darkness exposed in 2007, including a series of financial scandals involving Cabinet ministers, the Social Insurance Agency's blunder of losing about 50 million pension records and some well-know food companies' forgery of production dates.

My wife was recently thinking of getting a small tattoo, because she's always wanted one, but has never had the courage to get one. So I told her that if she got one, I would too. I was thinking of getting a small jackalope tattooed on my ankle. However, the Chinese symbol for "fake" also sounds cool. But with my luck, I would get the chinese symbol tattoo and later find out that it was actually the symbol for some random phrase such as "stupid American."
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 17, 2007
Comments (2)
Authors love to read reviews of their books, especially positive ones. So, as an author, it's difficult to resist the temptation to periodically check out the Amazon page for your book, to see if readers have posted any new reviews of it. However, in Hippo Eats Dwarf I pointed out the danger of taking such reviews too seriously because so many of them are posted either by friends of the author -- or by rivals. In fact, I actually invited people to post fake reviews of Hippo Eats Dwarf. (You need to go to the early reviews to find the fake ones -- they're obvious when you see them.)

Inviting people to post fake reviews seemed appropriate for Hippo Eats Dwarf, since that book is all about fakery, but it didn't seem to fit for Elephants on Acid. So I never asked anyone to post a review. But when I last checked Elephants on Acid's Amazon product page, I discovered that a fake review had found its way on there anyway. Or rather, a spam review. But the identity of the person posting the spam surprised me. Here's the latest review of Elephants on Acid, posted by "DISINFO CEO":



The review follows the tried-and-true formula of comment spam. A meaningless platitude, followed by a plug for the product the spammer is trying to promote, which in this case is a book by Mark Pilkington. But if you check out the page for Pilkington's book, you'll discover that DISINFO CEO has posted a review there as well -- and in that review he pretty much reveals that he's the publisher of Pilkington's book!



In other words, someone who appears to be the CEO of the Disinformation Company is leaving comment spam on Amazon -- on the page for my book! I've never had any contact with the Disinformation Company, but I am aware of them and had always thought they published some interesting stuff, which is why it really surprised me that THEY, of all companies, would do something that tacky. The irony here is that DISINFO CEO, on his profile page, claims his nickname is "DeathToSpammers".

The possibility that DISINFO CEO is actually someone with no affiliation to the Disinformation Company crossed my mind, but what would be their motive to do this?

I clicked the link to flag DISINFO CEO's review of my book as inappropriate, since I think it's obviously spam. If Amazon agrees, the review may no longer be there by the time you read this.

Update: Amazon has deleted the spammy review. An irony is that I actually thought Pilkington's book sounded really interesting, so I ordered it -- but I ordered it from a used bookstore, so the Disinformation Company won't get any money from the sale. Ha!
Categories: Literature/Language, Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 07, 2007
Comments (6)
Qamar Mohammed Malik, a Pakistan-born engineer, submitted his CV to the Amec Group construction company, but was told that the company had no suitable vacancies. He then submitted a similar CV with inferior qualifications, but using a fake Welsh name, Rhyddir Aled Lloyd-Hilbert. This time he was told there was a job vacancy and was offered an interview.

Malik has now filed a lawsuit against the Amec Group, accusing the company of racism. The company defends itself, saying that, ""Mr Lloyd-Hilbert" was contacted for interview with regard to the quality inspector vacancy and not Mr Malik because the former indicated he was about to move to Wales whereas the latter had a Reading address."

Regardless of who's in the right, Malik's experiment represents a variation on what I'm calling the spurious submission hoax. (I made up this term for it, but if anyone can think of a better name, let me know.) Spurious submission hoaxes usually involve the submission of a disguised piece of work (typically the retyped text of a famous work) to a publisher, who inevitably rejects it. The most famous example of such a hoax was when Chuck Ross submitted the manuscript of Casablanca to over 200 movie agents, many of whom rejected it, saying the script needed work.
Categories: Business/Finance, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 06, 2007
Comments (7)
The Vancouver Sun reports that linguistics researchers believe that many common surnames began as insults. For instance, centuries ago a guy might have been nicknamed "John the Bastard," and the insulting epithet would become his last name, adhering to all his descendants (until someone eventually changed it):
there is a whole category of names that are believed to have been given to children abandoned to orphanages - including the French name Jette (meaning "thrown out"), the Italian name Esposito (meaning "exposed") and the English name Parrish (meaning someone who was raised at the expense of the community.) ...
Both the English names Nott and Cave probably described someone who was bald.
A Barrett was a fraud, a Mallory someone unlucky and a Purcell a little pig...
Similarly insulting are the German names Armann (poor man), Scheunpflug (avoids the plow) and Schiller (cross-eyed)...
"Shakespeare is probably an obscene name, originally, for a masturbator," said Hanks.

This research is particularly interesting to me, because it helps to explain the source of my last name, "Boese," which means 'angry' or 'evil' in German. (It's spelled Böse in German.) Centuries ago one of my ancestors must have been a real jerk, and my family has been saddled with the name ever since.

This research also helps explain some of the "unfortunate last names" I've occasionally posted about.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 06, 2007
Comments (18)
The Happy Endings Foundation believes that all children's books should have happy endings. Those that don't should be banned.

The organization was (supposedly) started seven years ago by Adrienne Small after she noticed that her daughter seemed miserable after reading Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Mrs. Small plans to rewrite the Lemony Snicket books to give them a happy ending.

Some upcoming events planned by the Happy Endings Foundation include a Halloween "fun and greeting" celebration instead of trick or treating. "Children will be encouraged to knock on someone's door and offer a smlie." Sounds fun. A few days later the foundation will also be hosting a Bad Book Bonfire. Bring along a book with an unhappy ending and watch it go up in flames!

Although the media seems to have accepted the Happy Endings Foundation as real, based on the uncritical articles about it in the press, it definitely isn't real. The biggest clue is the disclaimer that appears on its site:
Most characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living, dead, or half dead, is purely coincidental. None of the non-fictitious people, places or things named in this website were harmed during the creation of the site. We're not sure if the Loch Ness monster is fictitious or non-fictitious, you decide.
Internet sleuths have also figured out that the Happy Endings Foundation website is registered to an advertising firm, artscience.net, that lists A Series of Unfortunate Events as one of its clients. In other words, the Happy Endings Foundation is a marketing hoax.
Categories: Advertising, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 08, 2007
Comments (1)
Cranky Media Guy forwarded me this article on Ananova.com about a Czech speedway rider who suffered a concussion during a race, was knocked out, and woke up speaking perfect English, with a posh British accent... even though he barely spoke a word of English before. His command of English only lasted for 48 hours, at which point his memory returned, as did his native Czech, and his English disappeared.

CMG is skeptical. He says, "The Foreign Accent Syndrome mentioned in the last paragraph is a real phenomenon but that's very different from a guy who doesn't speak a language suddenly acquiring the ability to speak it, which I can't see could be possible."

But I'm not so sure. The story has been reported in a number of newspapers, and in the version on metro.co.uk, one of the rider's friends is quoted as saying, "Before his crash, his use of the English language was broken, to put it mildly."

Which means that he did know some English. It's very possible he knew more than he realized. Perhaps he woke up dazed, heard people around him speaking English (because the race was in England), and his brain went into English mode. It could happen. However, I'd be interested in knowing just how well he could carry on a conversation in English.
Categories: Literature/Language, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 17, 2007
Comments (9)
In an effort to instill a can-do attitutde in his workers, a Russian mayor has "ordered his bureaucrats to stop using expressions such as 'I don't know' and 'I can't.'"

Seems like a double-plus ungood policy. How should they respond if asked, "Can you say 'I can't'?"

Link: cnews.canoe.ca
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 05, 2007
Comments (5)
At the Edinburgh International Book Festival crime-writer Ian Rankin recently announced that he had some inside intelligence about what fellow Edinburgh resident J.K. Rowling was planning to write next. This announcement was then printed in the Sunday Times:
The Sunday Times newspaper quoted Ian Rankin, a fellow author and neighbor of Rowling's, as saying the creator of the "Harry Potter" books is turning to crime fiction.

"My wife spotted her writing her Edinburgh criminal detective novel," the newspaper, which was available late Saturday, quoted Rankin as telling a reporter at an Edinburgh literary festival.

"It is great that she has not abandoned writing or Edinburgh cafes," said Rankin, who is known for his own police novels set in the historic Scottish city.
The announcement caused a bit of a stir online. But it turns out Rankin was only joking... the joke being, of course, that HE writes Edinburgh criminal detective novels. (If you've never read a Rankin novel, you should. They're good stuff.) Rowling's literary agent commented:
JK Rowling is taking a well-earned break following the English language publication of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows and there are no firm plans as yet as to what her next book may be.
I think it would be kind of cool if she did write a crime novel next. (Thanks, Joe)

--And, incidentally, what does one call a person who lives in Edinburgh? An Edinburghian? Flora should know.

Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 21, 2007
Comments (14)
image Author Bill Schneider claimed on his website that his most recent (self-published) novel, Crossed Paths, had been selected for Oprah's Book Club. He also claimed that Oprah had interviewed him on her show. To prove this, he posted a full, five-page transcript of the interview.

Turns out none of this was true. A spokeswoman for Oprah Winfrey said, "He is misrepresenting himself and he has no relationship with Oprah's Book Club." Schneider, who also is director of the Office of Tourism for Provincetown, Massachusetts, now says he made "an error in judgement."

The mystery here is how he could have thought he would get away with such a stupid, obvious lie. Perhaps he figured that the publicity from having the hoax exposed would be better than no publicity at all. (If that's what he thought, he may be right.) Or perhaps he's simply delusional. The latter theory is supported by his response to the reporter from Boston's Weekly Dig who first exposed the hoax. The reporter phoned Schneider and asked him when, exactly, he appeared on Oprah: "June 18, I believe," Schneider said, "but you'll have to check with my publicist." Then he started gushing about how "your whole life changes after Oprah."

Schneider has now removed all Oprah-related claims from his website, but he's still claiming that his novel is being developed into a feature film. My guess is that he's shooting the film himself with a video camera. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Sat Aug 18, 2007
Comments (3)
image RainOubliette has beaten me to the punch and already posted about this in the forum, but I've been getting so many emails about it that it obviously belongs here on the front page as well.

For decades a mysterious figure has visited the grave of Edgar Allan Poe in Westminster Churchyard, Baltimore on the anniversary of Poe's birthday and placed three roses and a bottle of cognac on the writer's grave. The figure has become known as the "Poe Toaster."

Now a man, Sam Porpora, has stepped forward who claims to have been the original Poe Toaster, and to have started the tradition as a kind of promotional hoax. USA Today reports:
Porpora's story begins in the late 1960s. He'd just been made historian of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, built in 1852. There were fewer than 60 congregants and Porpora, in his 60s, was one of the youngest. The overgrown cemetery was a favorite of drunken derelicts. The site needed money and publicity, Porpora recalled. That, he said, is when the idea of the Poe toaster came to him. The story, as Porpora told it to a local reporter then, was that the tribute had been laid at the grave on Poe's Jan. 19 birthday every year since 1949. Three roses — one for Poe, one for his wife, and one for his mother-in-law — and a bottle of cognac, because Poe loved the stuff even though he couldn't afford to drink it unless someone else was buying. The romantic image of the mysterious man in black caught the fancy of Poe fans and a tradition grew. In about 1977, Jerome began inviting a handful of people each year to a vigil for the mysterious stranger. The media began chronicling the arrivals and departures of a "Poe-like figure." In 1990, Life magazine published a picture of the shrouded individual. In 1993, he left a note saying "the torch would be passed." Another note in 1998 announced that the originator of the tradition had died. Later vigil-keepers reported that at least two toasters appeared to have taken up the torch in different years.
Porpora is definitely a credible candidate for having been the originator of the tradition. However, there's some debate about whether the legend actually predates him. If it does, Porpora obviously couldn't have invented the tradition. I did a search through newspaperarchive.com, looking for any mention of the legend before the 1970s, but couldn't find anything, even though there were many stories about Poe's grave in 1949 on the 100th anniversary of his death.

Honestly, when I first saw this story it didn't seem like a hoax to me. After all, even if Porpora was the Poe Toaster, his appreciation for the writer was obviously genuine, and so the gesture was an honest one. The only hoaxy element was to add a flair of drama by hiding the identity of the Poe Toaster, and to (perhaps) fudge about how long the tradition had been going on for.

Ironically, there are doubts that Poe's body is even in the grave. In 1875 Poe's body was disinterred and moved, except that no one was quite sure which grave belonged to Poe since his gravestone had been removed. There's also a strong possibility his body had long ago been stolen by medical students for use in anatomy classes, since Westminster cemetery was a common source for cadavers.

Whether or not it's a hoax, the Poe Toaster legend recalls the "Lady in Black" legend, in which a lady dressed in black would visit the grave of Rudolph Valentino and lay a red rose on it. This tradition was said to have been started either by a Hollywood press agent or by the florist across the street from Valentino's grave.

Update: I received the following email from Jeffrey Savoye of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:
Okay, this silly story is really getting out of hand. Sam Porpora has a long history of making things up for the sake of publicity, which in this case is rather ironic as it is itself a publicity stunt about claiming to have started something else as a publicity stunt. As noted in the AP article, there is a clipping from the Baltimore Sun from 1950 which mentions what is essentially the modus operandi of the Poe Toaster. I was only an English major, but this is clearly long before Sam is claiming to have "started" the tradition.

in the 1970s, Sam Porpora claimed that there was a mass burial grave of Revolutionary War soldiers in the catacombs of Westminster Church, where Poe is buried. It turned out that the pile of bones were from pigs, not humans and of apparently fairly recent vintage. (Hmmmmm, I wonder how those got there? In any case, I suspect that there were very few porcine participants in any of the major battles.) He also invented stories of the catacombs being used in the Underground Railroad, with a crypt on the outside being used to get into another crypt on the inside of the basement area. (Unfortunately, the basement was essentially open to the outside until the 1930s, when it was finally closed up to keep out vagrants -- thus no need for a secret tunnel in the 1850s.) The fact is that Sam makes up stories, and this is apparently just another one of them -- not the event itself but his claim that he originated it. At best, he might have termed the phrase "Poe Toaster," for which, I suppose, some credit is due. The rest of his claims should not be accepted without verifiable evidence, which he does not have.
Categories: Death, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 16, 2007
Comments (6)
Scientific American reports that a nonsense word from The Simpsons has made its way into a scientific paper. Stanford University physicist Shamit Kachru managed to slip the word "embiggen" into a journal article titled "Gauge/gravity duality and meta-stable dynamical supersymmetry breaking."

The word embiggen first appeared in a 1996 episode of The Simpsons. It was used by Jebediah Springfield in these lines of dialogue:
Jebediah: [on film] A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.
Edna: Embiggens? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield
Ms. Hoover: I don't know why. It's a perfectly cromulent word.
Here's how Kachru used the word in his article:
While in both cases for P anti-D3-branes the probe approximation is clearly not good, in the set up of this paper we could argue that there is a competing effect which can overcome the desire of the anti-D3s to embiggen, namely their attraction towards the wrapped D5s. Hence, also on the gravity side, the non-supersymmetric states would naively be meta-stable.
This isn't the first time joke words have made their way into usage. I think the words "hornswoggle" and "absquatulate" started out as jokes, invented by people in the midwest. But now they appear in many dictionaries.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 01, 2007
Comments (20)
Many of you may remember Amazon reviewer Henry Raddick. Sadly, Raddick hasn't reviewed any books since 2003. But a new Raddick has emerged: Wayne Redhart. At least, Redhart seems to be doing what he can to fill the void left by Raddick.

And I was quite pleased to discover Redhart has reviewed Hippo Eats Dwarf. Here's his review:

Hippo Eats Dwarf: A Field Guide to Hoaxes and Other B.S.
by Alex Boese
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.26

A fine guide, 29 Jul 2007
Covering such diverse topics as the Turin Shroud and the 'death' of Elvis Presley, this is an extremely witty and informative guide to notorious hoaxes. It never fails to go into detail and often comes out with little-known facts. I had never before realised that the publication of Alan Sokal's spoof scientific-paper constituted treason, or that he was jailed for seven years (a portion of the sentence having been served in Al Capone's former cell at Alcatraz). Similarly, it was a shock to learn that John Major is a dedicated crop-circle maker, who regularly rose before 3am to create arable-mischief: while serving as Prime Minister! Amazon users may be interested to note the inclusion of Amazon.com's top 500 reviewer Henry Raddick, whose many spoof reviews are well-known across the internet. Boese spends a little time exploring the psychology of hoaxers but, despite his best efforts, he is unable to come up with an answer to the biggest question: What actually motivates these morally-bankrupt buffoons to waste everybody's time on such vapid, unfunny pranks?

I wonder what he'd have to say about Elephants on Acid?
(Thanks, Andrew)
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 01, 2007
Comments (1)
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