A hoax is a deliberate attempt to dupe, deceive or trick an audience into believing, or accepting, that something is real, when in fact it is not; or that something is true, when in fact it is false. In an instance of a hoax, an object, or event, is not what it appears to be, or what it is claimed to be - for example, "snake oil," which was sold by 19th century traveling salesman in the United States as a cure-all. It differs from magic in that the audience is unaware of being deceived - whereas in watching a magician perform a magical act, the audience expects to be tricked.

It is possible to perpetrate a hoax by making only true statements using unfamiliar wording or context (see Dihydrogen monoxide hoax). Unlike a fraud or con (which is usually aimed at a single victim and are made for illicit financial or material gain), a hoax is often perpetrated as a practical joke, to cause embarrassment, or to provoke social change by making people aware of something. Many hoaxes are motivated by a desire to satirize or educate by exposing the credulity of the public and the media or the absurdity of the target. For instance, the hoaxes of James Randi poke fun at believers in the paranormal and alternative medicine. The many hoaxes of Alan Abel and Joey Skaggs satirize people's willingness to believe the media. Political hoaxes are sometimes motivated by the desire to ridicule or besmirch opposing politicians or political institutions, often before elections. Journalistic scandals overlap with hoaxes to some extent.

Some governments have been known to perpetrate hoaxes to assist them with unpopular aims such as going to war (e.g., the Ems Telegram). In fact, there is often a mixture of outright hoax, and suppression and management of information to give the desired impression. In wartime, rumours abound; some may be deliberate hoaxes.

The word hoax is said to have come from the common magic incantation "hocus pocus". [cite encyclopedia|title=hoax|encyclopedia=The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition|date=2000] "Hocus pocus", in turn, is commonly believed to be a distortion of "hoc est corpus" ("this is the body") from the Latin Mass.

Character of hoaxes

Hoaxes are not always created, initiated or sourced the same way. Examples:
*Hoax by tradition (see below)
*Hoax by design (such as in war)
*Hoax originating in legitimate non-hoax use (see email hoax below)
*Hoax by scare tactics (virus hoaxes)
*Urban legendThis is by no means a complete list; but the import is to show that hoaxes take many forms. The main characteristic of hoaxes is presenting the information or media as something real or believable to human understanding but is in fact false. Whether there is intent to deceive is not part of the hoax characteristics, as hoaxes are known both with and without it.

Other hoaxes

Pre-19th century

* The Donation of Constantine.
* Wolfgang von Kempelen‘s construction of the chess-playing Mechanical Turk in 1770.

19th century

* The Great Moon Hoax of 1835, which helped to establish the market position of the "New York Sun".
* The Cardiff Giant of 1869, which was created and "discovered", reputedly after an argumentFact|date=September 2008 about the reality of giants.
* In what became known as the Berners Street Hoax in 1810, Theodore Hook tricked hundreds of people into showing up at a random address in Central London.
* "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" ( _ru. "Протоколы сионских мудрецов", or "Сионские протоколы") is an antisemitic literary forgery that purports to describe a Jewish plot to achieve world domination.
* The sale of the Eiffel Tower for scrap, an elaborate scam run twice by the master con artist Victor Lustig.
* American con artist George C. Parker made his living repeatedly selling public monuments in New York City.

20th century

* Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre radio broadcast on October 30, 1938, entitled "The War of the Worlds" has been called the "single greatest media hoax of all time", although it was not — Welles said — intended to be a hoax. The broadcast was heard on CBS radio stations throughout the United States. Despite repeated announcements within the program that it was a work of fiction, many listeners tuning in during the program believed that the world was being attacked by invaders from Mars. (Rumors claim some even committed suicide.) Rebroadcasts in South America also had this effect even to a greater extent. [http://www.greatnorthernaudio.com/sf_radio/wow.html The War of the Worlds] , search on "South America". See also [http://www.war-of-the-worlds.org/Radio/Remakes.shtml Broadcast Remakes] ]
* The 1934 "Surgeon's Photograph" of the Loch Ness monster, revealed some sixty years later to have been a plastic head and neck mounted to a toy submarine.
* The Bathtub hoax, perpetrated by American journalist and satirist H. L. Mencken in 1918, which was cited as factual even after the hoax had been revealed by the author.
* Jorge Luis Borges published "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote", a fantastic short story about an author who rewrites "Don Quixote" word by word, as a real biographical note in the Argentinian magazine "Sur".
* The Sokal hoax was a fake paper published in the journal "Social Text", which was intended to reveal the uncritical misuse of scientific terms and ignorance of science in the field of postmodern cultural studies. It is recounted in "Beyond the Hoax‎" and "Fashionable Nonsense".
* The Zinoviev Letter, said to have been concocted by British intelligence and printed by the "Daily Mail" to swing the outcome of a general election by claiming a Soviet revolution was about to occur in the UK. The hoax was successful in that a Conservative government was elected.
* The Piltdown Man fraud caused some embarrassment to the field of paleontology when apparently ancient hominid remains discovered in England in 1912 were revealed as a hoax some 41 years later.
* In 1970, Clifford Irving and Richard Suskind contrived to write an autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, believing Hughes would not come out of hiding to denounce it. Irving sent a manuscript to his publisher McGraw-Hill in late 1971. Authentication tests and Hughes's initial silence led some to believe the manuscript was genuine, but Hughes eventually gave a teleconference denying both participation in the book and knowledge of Irving. Weeks later, Irving confessed to the hoax and was later convicted of fraud. He served 17 months of a two and a half year prison sentence. Suskind, sentenced to six months, served five.
* The Hitler Diaries, 1983 forgeries published by the "Sunday Times".
* The Cottingley Fairies, a series of trick photographs taken by two young British girls from 1917 to 1920.
* The alien autopsy film, supposedly footage of the examination of an extraterrestrial being which had purportedly died in the Roswell UFO incident. The film, presented by Ray Santilli in 1995, was later revealedFact|date=September 2008fix
link=Wikipedia:Avoid weasel words
title=The material in the vicinity of this tag may use weasel words or too-vague attribution.
date=July 2008
to have been faked by Santilli and Gary Shoefield.
* In the late 1970s and early 1980s, photographer Robert B. Stein created convincing UFO photographs using only a Kodak Pocket InstaMatic camera and throwable discs, and claimed to be a contactee. His pictures appeared in many publications devoted to the paranormal. In 1985, he revealed how it was done.
* Rosie Ruiz finished first in the women's division of the 1980 Boston Marathon by riding the subway to a point near the finish line and jumping back into the race. Her marathon title was revoked when the hoax was discovered.
*In the 1970s the Philippine government announced the discovery of the Tasaday a supposedly uncontacted stone-age tribe. Revealed to the world in a cover story in "National Geographic", much controversy has ensued as to whether the tribe is real, a hoax or something in between.
* Our First Time, possibly one of the first major internet hoaxes, although some characterized it as a botched scam.
* The story of a Priory of Sion (French: "Prieuré de Sion") was fabricatedFact|date=September 2008 in the 1960s by a French con artist, Pierre Plantard, as a secret society sworn to install the Merovingian dynasty on the throne of France; Plantard hoped to be perceived as the "Grand Monarch" prophesied by Nostradamus. False documents created as part of the hoax have been cited by others and represented as reliable evidence for non-fiction bestsellers including fix
link=Wikipedia:Manual of Style
title=You can help --
date=July 2008
"The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail",Fact|date=September 2008 or woven into novels such as fix
link=Wikipedia:Manual of Style
title=You can help --
date=July 2008
Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code".Fact|date=September 2008

21st century

* Bonsai Kitten, an Internet hoax consisting of a fictional domain of a company that sold kittens inside jars as ornaments.
*In 2006, A.N. Wilson was the victim of a hoax when he included a love letter by Sir John Betjeman in his biography of the poet. It turned out to be a fake letter with an acrostic that said "AN Wilson is a shit".Brooks, Richard [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2330457,00.html "Betjeman love letter is horrid hoax",] "The Sunday Times", August 27, 2006. Retrieved on 28 August, 2006. The letter was sent to Wilson by "Eve de Harben", who then wrote to "The Sunday Times". Wilson's arch rival, Betjeman's authorized biographer, Bevis Hillier, initially denied all knowledge (the envelope sent to the newspaper was bought in Hillier's home town, Winchester).] cite news
last = Brooks
first = Richard
title = Betjeman biographer confesses to literary hoax
publisher = The Sunday Times
date = 2006-09-03
url = http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2340567,00.html
accessdate = 2006-09-05
Hillier subsequently admitted being responsible.]
* "De Grote Donorshow", a hoax reality television program which was broadcast in the Netherlands on Friday, June 1, 2007 by BNN. The program involved a supposedly terminally ill 37-year-old woman donating a kidney to one of three people requiring a kidney transplantation. Viewers were able to send advice on who they think she should choose to give her kidney to via text messages. 50 000 people subsequently requested an organ donor form.
* "Cancer update from John Hopkins Hospital". Johns Hopkins internet hoaxes are numerous. One example - "CANCER UPDATE FROM JOHN HOPKINS HOSPITAL - US, PLEASE READ" - relates to cancer spread and treatment and contains some false and misleading information. [http://www.snopes.com/medical/disease/cancerupdate.asp Cancer Update from Johns Hopkins Hospital] - Snopes] One immediately noticeable cue to its falsehood is that the original spells Johns Hopkins as "John", which is a subtle enough difference to fool unwitting recipients. Johns Hopkins has denied any connection with the email hoax. [http://www.hopkinskimmelcancercenter.org/news/index.cfm?documentid=866&newstype=News%20Releases&action=showthisitem HEADLINE: Email Hoax Regarding Cancer] - Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, Office of Public Affairs, March 2007] The hoax can still be found on many alternative medicine health websites and in related newsgroups.

April Fool's Day

* The April 1, 1985, issue of "Sports Illustrated" featured "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch" by George Plimpton. The article was about an eccentric pitcher said to be a prospect for the New York Mets who could throw a baseball 168 miles per hour. The hoax was perpetrated with the knowledge of the magazine and of the baseball team. Plimpton later reworked the material into a novel.

Famous musical hoaxes

Other musical hoaxes

* Recordings by the pianist Joyce Hatto
* The voices of Milli Vanilli

Hoax traditions

During certain events and at particular times of year, hoaxes are perpetrated by many people and groups. The most famous of these is certainly April Fool's Day, which is open season for pranks and dubious announcements.

A New Zealand tradition is the capping stunt, wherein university students perpetrate a hoax upon an unsuspecting population. The acts are traditionally executed near graduation (the "capping").

Many Spanish-speaking countries have Innocent's Day, on December 28, to make "innocent" a person with jokes and hoaxes. The origin for the pranking is derived from the Catholic feast day Day of the Holy Innocents for the infants slaughtered by King Herod at the time of Jesus' birth.

Email hoax

An example email hoax is a doctored image distributed via chain emails, as pictured here. The photo image imbedded in this email was actually intended for an online photo-manipulation contest and not for distribution as a falsehood, but was distributed by another person who allegedly attributed the photo as originating from a 1954 Popular Mechanics Magazine article. In truth, the magazine never published it in 1954, but they did publish an article in December 2004 exposing it as a hoax. [ [http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/computers/1303271.html Popular Mechanics Magazine] , December 9, 2004]

Careful examination of the image will typically reveal unnatural flaws in it; for example, shadows and lighting. The television set appears to be hung on the wall without any apparent means of supporting mechanisms, and the shadow is wrong. The man has shadows on his clothing inconsistent with the surrounding lighting, and he has no shadow on the wall behind him. The form-feed paper exit on the front of the teletype printer is misaligned with the paper feed port at top, and the paper exit port is supposed to be behind and under the printer, not in the front. In addition, the computer's console is actually the Maneuvering/Reactor Control Panel of a nuclear submarine (specifically the USS Trepang (SSN-674)) on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

In 2001 another image, purporting to be the "National Geographic Photo of the Year" and depicting a shark leaping from the sea to attack a helicopter crew member, was widely distributed by email, prompting the magazine to publish an article uncovering the hoax. [http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/08/0815_020815_photooftheyear.html] As the article revealed, the image had been composited from two photographs taken in entirely different locations.

See also

* Conspiracy theory
* Counterfeit
* Famous April Fool's Day jokes
* Fictitious entry
* Forgery
* Impostors
* List of hoaxes
* Pseudoscience
* Scam
* Simulated reality
* Urban legend
* Virus hoax
* Website spoofing



* Curtis Peebles (1994). "Watch the Skies: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth", Smithsonian Institution, ISBN 1-56098-343-4.

External links

* [http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/ The Museum of Hoaxes]
* [http://www.sniggle.net/index.php The Culture Jammer’s Encyclopedia]
* [http://www.virushoaxbusters.com/ Virus Hoax Busters]
* [http://www.snopes.com/ Snopes - Urban Legends Reference Pages]
* [http://www.hoax.it/ Hoax.it - A site about Hoax, Urban Legends, this italian site is about Hoax and Humanitarian Appeals, Information Security, Phishing, Frauds and News]

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  • Hoax — 〈[ hoʊks] m.; , 〉 1. Irreführung, Täuschung, Streich 2. 〈EDV〉 vorsätzliche Falschmeldung über bösartige E Mails u. Viren, die Festplatten löschen od. ähnliche Schäden anrichten können [engl.] * * * Hoax [hoʊks ], der; , es […ksɪs] [engl. hoax =… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • hoax — Ⅰ. hoax UK US /həʊks/ verb [T] ► to deceive someone, especially by playing a trick on them: »A fake website was set up and a number of people were hoaxed. → See also SWINDLE(Cf. ↑swindle) Ⅱ. hoax UK US /həʊks/ noun [C] …   Financial and business terms

  • hoax — [həuks US houks] n [Date: 1700 1800; Origin: Probably from hocus; HOCUS POCUS] 1.) a false warning about something dangerous ▪ a bomb hoax ▪ hoax calls (=telephone calls giving false information) to the police 2.) an attempt to make people… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • hoax´er — hoax «hohks», noun, verb. –n. a mischievous trick, especially a made up story passed off as true: »The report of an attack on the earth from Mars was a hoax. SYNONYM(S): imposture. –v.t. to play a mischievous trick on; deceive in fun or to injure …   Useful english dictionary

  • Hoax — Hoax, n. [Prob. contr. fr. hocus, in hocus pocus.] A deception for mockery or mischief; a deceptive trick or story; a practical joke. Macaulay. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Hoax — Hoax, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Hoaxed}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Hoaxing}.] To deceive by a story or a trick, for sport or mischief; to impose upon sportively. Lamb. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Hoax — [houks] der; , es <aus gleichbed. engl. hoax, dies aus älter engl. hocus, vgl. ↑Hokuspokus> auf die Unwissenheit bzw. Gutgläubigkeit des Adressaten zählende Falschmeldung (z. B. über angeblich existierende, bes. gefährliche Computerviren);… …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • hoax — hoax·er; hoax; …   English syllables

  • hoax — [n] trick cheat, cock and bull story*, con*, con game*, crock*, deceit, deception, dodge, fabrication, fake, falsification, fast one*, fast shuffle*, fib, flimflam*, fraud, gimmick, gyp*, hooey*, humbug*, hustle, imposture, joke, lie, practical… …   New thesaurus

  • hoax — ► NOUN ▪ a humorous or malicious deception. ► VERB ▪ deceive with a hoax. DERIVATIVES hoaxer noun. ORIGIN probably a contraction of obsolete hocus «trickery», from HOCUS POCUS(Cf. ↑hocus pocus) …   English terms dictionary

  • hoax — [hōks] n. [< ? HOCUS] a trick or fraud, esp. one meant as a practical joke vt. to deceive with a hoax SYN. CHEAT hoaxer n …   English World dictionary

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