AskDefine | Define hoax

Dictionary Definition

hoax n : something intended to deceive; deliberate trickery intended to gain an advantage [syn: fraud, fraudulence, dupery, humbug, put-on] v : subject to a palyful hoax or joke [syn: pull someone's leg, play a joke on]

User Contributed Dictionary



Hoax is derived from hocus, from the Hoc est in 'Hoc est corpus meum' or 'Hocus pocus', meaning "This is my Body". Hoax then meaning: 'This is'.


  • RP: həʊks
  • GenAm: hoʊks
  • Rhymes: -əʊks




  1. Anything deliberately intended to deceive or trick.


anything deliberately intended to deceive or trick
  • Czech: podvod , mystifikace , žert
  • Finnish: huijaus
  • French: canular, mystification
  • German: Streich, Trick
  • Japanese: ペテン
  • Hungarian: átverés
  • Italian: frode
  • Portuguese: fraude


  1. To deceive (someone) with a hoax.

Derived terms


to deceive someone with a hoax

Extensive Definition

This is about false information. For the film, see The Hoax.
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. 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.
Governments often 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. "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 legend
This 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

19th century

  • Idaho, the northwestern US state, was named as the result of a hoax. Lobbyist George M. Willing suggested the name, claiming it was a Native American term meaning "gem of the mountains." It was later discovered that Willing had made up the word himself. As a result, the original Idaho Territory was renamed Colorado. Eventually, the controversy was forgotten and the made-up name stuck.

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.
  • 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 revealed 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.

21st century

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. Plimption later reworked the material into a novel.

Famous musical hoaxes

Other musical hoaxes

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.
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. As the article revealed, the image had been composited from two photographs taken in entirely different locations.



hoax in Czech: Hoax
hoax in Danish: Hoax
hoax in German: Hoax
hoax in Spanish: Hoax
hoax in Esperanto: Hoakso
hoax in French: Canular
hoax in Indonesian: Hoax
hoax in Italian: Bufala (burla)
hoax in Hungarian: Hoax
hoax in Dutch: Hoax
hoax in Japanese: 悪戯
hoax in Polish: Mistyfikacja
hoax in Portuguese: Hoax
hoax in Russian: Мистификация
hoax in Albanian: Hoax
hoax in Sicilian: Buria
hoax in Slovak: Hoax
hoax in Serbian: Ланчано писмо
hoax in Swedish: Hoax
hoax in Ukrainian: Містифікація
hoax in Chinese: 惡作劇

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

bamboozle, befool, beguile, betray, bluff, cajole, cheat, cheat on, chicane, circumvent, clinquant, con, con game, conjure, counterfeit, cozen, deceive, deception, defraud, delude, diddle, double-cross, dummy, dupe, fake, fakement, flam, flimflam, fool, forestall, forgery, frame-up, fraud, game, gammon, get around, gull, gyp, hocus-pocus, hoodwink, hornswaggle, humbug, imitation, impostor, imposture, juggle, junk, let down, mock, outmaneuver, outreach, outsmart, outwit, overreach, paste, phony, pigeon, pinchbeck, play one false, put something over, put-on, put-up job, rip-off, scam, sell, sham, shoddy, simulacrum, snow, snow job, spoof, string along, swindle, take in, tinsel, trick, two-time, whited sepulcher
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