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Mapping it out

Why do map makers create fake towns?

Very sneaky cartographers. Very sneaky.

Argleton_-_Google_Maps_1257569106217 Wikimedia Wikimedia

IF YOU EVER meet a map-maker (there are still plenty of them), ask them have they ever been to Argleton.

If they say yes, have them hauled to the nearest court to answer copyright charges. Or whatever the punishment du jour is for map makers.

The reason for this is that Argleton simply isn’t real.

But, you say, “I can see it on the map right there”. That’s because it is believed to be a copyright trap and has since been removed.

The idea stretches back as far as map-making itself. Cartographers, wary that their work was being copied, would add fake towns to their map. They would then scan competitors’ maps to see if others had ripped them off.


In later years, Agloe, New York, began popping up on Esso maps. It became so popular that people began visiting it and someone built a shop there. And so it became a real town. It is a focal point of the John Green book Paper Towns.


The official state map of Michigan featured two fake towns, both celebrating the University of Michigan Wolverines: Beatosu (Beat OSU – rivals Ohio State University) and Goblu (Go Blue – the colour the team wears).

Jakob Maria Mierscheid

Germany Reichstag Michael Sohn Michael Sohn

Jakob Maria Mierscheid MdB has been a fictitious politician in Germany since 1979. He has been on the official list of members of the Bundestag since 1979. It appears to be a joke going back to the 1920s, when Weimar Social Democrats would use the name to avoid paying taxes.

Lillian Virginia Mountweazel (1942–1973)

Hotels-Record Fees She probably didn't design this one. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

The 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia contains details on the fantastical life of Lillian Virginia Mountweazel. Her biography claims she was a fountain designer and photographer, best known for Flags Up!, a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes. There was an exhibition in 2009 in Dublin on her (made-up) life.


The 2005 New Oxford American Dictionary contains this word, defined as “the wilful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities,”. Rumour circulated that the dictionary had a fake word beginning with E and a man, presumably with too much time on his hands, examined all 3,200 E words and isolated six words that it could have been. Six of a panel of nine linguists picked esquivalience, which the editor admitted was true.

No trivial matter

peter_falk_columbo_2 Wordpress Wordpress

What is Columbo’s first name? If you said Philip, you’ve played a defective game of Trivial Pursuit.

In the 1970s, Fred L Worth published an encyclopedia of trivia questions. He slipped in the erroneous fact about the Lieutenant’s first name to catch anyone who might copy his book.

In 1984, he filed a $300 million lawsuit against the makers of the Trivial Pursuit board game. He referenced the fact that a question in the game gave Philip as Columbo’s first name. Trivial Pursuit’s makers didn’t deny using the facts, but said that facts are copyrightable. The judge threw the case out.

Read: Pharrell Williams and other mega music stars threaten to sue YouTube for $1 billion

Read: Google was asked to remove 345 million ‘pirate’ links in 2014

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