The sad news is that the latest series of Only Connect has finished.  What will I do now on Monday evenings?

The good news is that the last programme in the series gave me a splendid word that I had never encountered before. It is ‘Mountweazel’, a fictitious entry in a work of reference. These can then take on a life of their own.

Sometimes these are created deliberately; map-makers put fake towns on a map, and so trap plagiarisers who have not done the surveying work themselves. The makers of the CD-ROM Oxford American Dictionary added the made-up word Esquivalience: the wilful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities.’  Apparently some online dictionaries copied the entry unthinkingly, and so could be challenged as mere copyists.

The creation of such things is not always deliberate. In one of his many books, Malcolm Bradbury offered a list of significant novels about the Great War. Among the works of fiction he included C.E. Montague’s Disenchantment, which is, of course, not a novel.  I don’t think Bradbury was trying to catch others out by including this Mountweazel – it’s just that he himself was not a very thorough researcher, and was probably not very interested in the subject, and was making a sloppy mistake.

The thing is, though, that I have seen exactly his list reproduced elsewhere by writers trying to speak authoritatively about the Great War, and the presence of Disenchantment in their list is a dead giveaway that makes me howl ‘Bradbury!’ and stop bothering to read the article.

Similarly, my current bugbear, the labeling of Rose Allatini as essentially a romantic novelist who just happened to write Despised and Rejected as well is a Mountweazel that I think probably originated in Jonathan Cutbill’s 1988 introduction to D & R.  He was misled, I think, by the fact that some of her novels were published by Mills and Boon, and since he was only interested in her banned book he did not bother to look closely at the rest. But the error has been repeated by others, and sometimes magnified. Until I changed it, Rose Allatini’s Wikipedia page said that ‘a number of’ her novels were published by Mills and Boon. Well, two were, and two is a number, but the phrase implies a greater proportion of her forty-odd books. Wikipedia’s reference for this is Project Orlando, who referenced Nicholas Walter’s article on C. W. Daniel, the publisher. Walter, I think, was relying on Cutbill,  and so a Mountweazel makes its way in the world.

The name Mountweazel, by the way, comes from a copyright-trap entry in the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia, which offered interesting information about a non-existent photographer, Lilian Virginia Mountweazel (1942-1973).

I should be grateful for details of other Mountweazels that readers have discovered. And I should especially like to hear from anyone who has noted that when I have cut and pasted with bravado, as I often do when composing blog entries after a glass or two of red wine late in the evening, I have inadvertently included a Mountweazel or two myself.



  1. Tom Deveson
    Posted May 5, 2018 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    More of a spoof than a Mountweazel:

    ‘…A style as specific as Grove’s lends itself well to parody, so it’s perhaps no surprise that in the first edition of New Grove, a couple of well-honed articles slipped by the sharp eyes of editor in chief Stanley Sadie : an article attributed to Robert Layton on the spurious Danish composer Dag Henrik Esrum-Hellerup, and an equally fictitious 16th-century Italian composer, Guglielmo Baldini. The Baldini article was actually based on a character created nearly a century earlier by German musicologist Hugo Riemann in his own music dictionary. Both articles conformed so well to Grove style that they went undetected until after the books appeared in print, at which point a furious Sadie removed them before New Grove went into a second printing….’

    Dag Henrik Esrum-Hellerup was named after a railway line in the suburbs of Copenhagen.

  2. Roger
    Posted May 5, 2018 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    The great thing about esquivalience is that it’s a word you could imagine someone using with its “correct” meaning. In fact, I’m surprised the word – or its equivalent – doesn’t exist already.
    These aren’t Mountweazels, I think, but it’s very easy to search out a quotation on the ‘net and quote the whole thing without checking properly and only realise afterwards that it wasn’t accurate. I know I’ve done it myself here.

  3. Steve Paradis
    Posted May 6, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Philip Marlowe used a couple:

    • Liza McAlister Williams
      Posted June 27, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      The parlor game Fictionary is a satisfying exercisr in making up plausible soindimg words…

      • Liza McAlister Williams
        Posted June 27, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        Though sometimes they are just typos!

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