Lies, Spies, and Ultracrepidarians

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March 10, 2017 by libroshombre

Too many ultracrepidarians are running around these days. An “ultracrepidarian” is “someone who gives an opinion on things s/he knows nothing about,” according to “10 Words Every Book Lover Should Know,” an online article by Oliver Tearle. Ultracrepidarians abound online; that’s why fake news teems. Still, misinformation can differ in degree. The Onion, for instance, publishes online satirical hoaxes designed as news stories, but it’s upfront that all it publishes are spoofs. On the other hand,,, and are all owned by the same fake news troll and mimic the logos and URLs of ABC News, Drudge Reports, and USA Today. That’s malicious.

The Hoaxapedia in the website notes that “not just any deceptive act qualifies as a hoax. A small white lie, such as when an employee falsely calls in sick to take a day off work, doesn’t qualify as a hoax. Nor do most forms of criminal deception, such as identity theft, counterfeiting, perjury, or plagiarism. To become a hoax a lie must have

something extra. It must be somehow outrageous, ingenious, dramatic, or sensational. Most of all, it must command the attention of the public. A hoax, then, is a deliberately deceptive act that has succeeded in capturing the attention (and, ideally, the imagination) of the public.”

When does an innocent hoax turn into a malicious lie? The American Heritage Dictionary takes a broad view by defining “hoax” as “an act intended to deceive or trick, something that has been established or accepted by fraudulent means.” “Hoax” is most likely a corruption of “hocus,” which in the 1630s meant “conjurer, juggler,” and fifty years later evolved into “a cheat, imposter,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. So where does the Voynich Manuscript, owned by Yale’s Bieneke Rare Book Library, fit on the innocent joke-malicious lie index?

Debate over whether the manuscript’s a real document or a convincing forgery has raged among scholars for decades. The Bieneke website describes the Voynich Manuscript as follows: “Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century, the origin, language, and date of the Voynich Manuscript—named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich,

who acquired it in 1912—are still being debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text. Described as a magical or scientific text, nearly every page contains botanical, figurative, and scientific drawings of a provincial but lively character, drawn in ink with vibrant washes in various shades of green, brown, yellow,

blue, and red.” Many have tried but no one’s cracked the book’s code or made much sense of the drawings, but the book’s parchment was carbon dated to the early 1400s, and the inks pan out, too..

The manuscript’s first known owner was Georg Baresch, an obscure 17th century alchemist from Prague and wound up in library of the College Romano, now the Pontifical Gregorian University in the 1800s. Soon thereafter Italy unified into a national government, and the Romano library’s collection was confiscated. However, beforehand its most valuable books were “hastily transferred to the personal libraries of the faculty, which were exempt from confiscation,” according to Wikipedia. In 1912 some of the books were sold as fundraising for the College, and Voynich purchased 30, including his Manuscript.

Born in 1865, Voynich was a Polish revolutionary-turned-rare-book-dealer and bibliophile. He was son-in-law to George Boole, whose invented Boolean Logic that allows internet searching by combining “words and phrases using the words AND, OR, NOT and NEAR (otherwise known as Boolean operators) to limit, widen, or define your search. Most Internet search engines and Web directories default to these Boolean search parameters anyway,” according to For example, to find precise information on training terrier puppies that aren’t Airedales, you’d search for “dogs AND puppies AND terriers AND training BUT NOT Airedales.”

Ethel, Voynich’s wife, trod the edges of truthfulness, too. “The Gadfly,” her 1897 novel, was supposedly based on the adventures of her lover, Sidney Reilly, who was made famous by the BBC series, “Reilly, Ace of Spies.” Maybe that’s another hoax. Unlike morosophs (would-be philosophers and learned fools), for sure your public library provides reliable information on all points of view from creditable sources.

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