The Dictionary Knows You Scanned It

    October 25, 2005
    WebProNews Staff

If Google Print sees ‘esquivalience’ in a dictionary it wants to scan, they should stop and consider the legal ramifications.

Digital rights management, it turns out, may not be limited to just electronic media. Encyclopedias have been placing fake entries in their pages to thwart copyright violators for a long time, and now the New Yorker reports the New Oxford American Dictionary follows a similar practice.

It’s a simple concept. Create a fake entry that looks like just another obscure word, and keep an eye out for it when rival publishers distribute their dictionaries. Find the word and win a nice copyright infringement prize.

This is 2005, and keeping secrets does seem like a 19th Century notion in the age of instant global communication. The dictionary secret, where the existence of a fake word beginning with the letter ‘e’ would tipoff publishers to illegal copying, sent investigators on the trail to track it down.

After narrowing down the possibilities to six ‘e’ words, thanks to the help of such wordwise people as legendary cruciverbalist Will Shortz, they were able to extract a confession from the Dictionary’s editor-in-chief; esquivalience was the fake word.

Of course, just because the Dictionary has one fake word in it to help thwart thieves, doesn’t mean it’s the only word. Keep that in mind before firing up the OCR software.

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.