Posted by: Jack Henry | April 12, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Mountweazels

Hello, fellow travelers!

You know how Donna and I like to share new “words about words” with you, such as contronyms or calques, but honestly, I thought we’d reached the end of the list. Au contraire, mes amis! I just received an email from, and over the next couple of days, I have some surprises for you!

Today we’re going to talk about the irresistible term, mountweazel. A mountweazel, is a fake word or tidbit of bogus information that is intentionally included in reference material (like a dictionary or an encyclopedia) to catch people who try to copy, paste, and steal information directly and then use it in their writing: in other words, plagiarize.

While plagiarism is not a good thing, the word mountweazel makes me smile every time I type or say it. In fact, yesterday I walked around the house all afternoon calling my mom, husband, and dogs “mountweazels,” even though they don’t fit the definition and have never plagiarized anything.

The word mountweazel comes from an entry in the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia. It was added intentionally so that if it came up in other documents, the editors would know that someone had copied it from the encyclopedia and committed copyright infringement.

Here is the original encyclopedia entry, and you can read the fake item yourself. As you will see, the notorious Ms. Mountweazel is the source of this term. From ThoughtCo:

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.

And for your viewing pleasure, Lilian Virginia, the mountain weasel:

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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