The Phantom Reference.

Anne-Wil Harzing’s 2017 white paper “The mystery of the phantom reference” describes an annoying phenomenon:

Through my work with Publish or Perish I get in touch with many academics who are doing bibliometric work, oftentimes as a “research hobby”. In one of these exchanges, Pieter Kroonenberg, a Dutch emeritus professor in Statistics, told me about an interesting puzzle he had come across. When looking at the author guidelines for an Elsevier journal that he intended to submit to he noticed the following reference:

•   Van der Geer, J., Hanraads, J.A.J., Lupton, R.A., 2000. The art of writing a scientific article. J Sci. Commun. 163 (2) 51-59. [The journal name can also be found with its full title Journal of Science Communications]

He was intrigued to see that one of his former colleagues Prof. John van de Geer had a “hidden side”, publishing about the art of academic writing in addition to his work on experimental psychology and multivariate analysis. But, wait a minute…, this reference referred to Van der Geer instead of Van de Geer. Still…, the paper looked interesting so he ventured to look it up. However, despite strenuous efforts he was unable to find it. An (Italian) journal with a similar name did exist, but its full name was Journal of Science Communication rather than Communications and it had only started in 2002. Looking at the original reference again, it did strike him as a little odd for a journal to have published 163 volumes in a discipline that normally equates volumes to years. Moreover, the second author seemed to have only ever published this particular article, which obviously is rather strange for someone writing about the art of writing a scientific article.

To cut a long story short, the article appeared to be completely made up and did not in fact exist. It was a “phantom reference” that had been created merely to illustrate Elsevier’s desired reference format. Even so, Pieter found that in the Web of Science there were nearly 400 articles citing this non-existing reference and many more citing articles appeared in the more comprehensive Google Scholar. The fact that academics don’t always take the necessary care in their referencing behaviour is something that is not unfamiliar to me. Early on in my career, I even wrote an article about this: Are referencing errors undermining our scholarship and credibility? But even so, how could authors cite a publication that didn’t in fact exist?

I’ll let you read the details at the link; here’s Harzing’s conclusion:

Just like many other mysteries, our mystery of the phantom reference ultimately had a very simple explanation: sloppy writing and sloppy quality control. An academic incentive system that makes publication in Web of Science listed conference proceedings popular invokes the law of big numbers. Thus the actual number of mistakes rose to be high enough to be noticeable, even though the mistake was only committed by a tiny fraction of the authors.

In a way we can be glad that our phantom reference IS a phantom reference. If this had been an existing publication, the mistakes might have had far more serious consequences. Four hundred inaccurate citations might be a drop in the ocean in a sea of hundreds of thousands of publications. However, for many individual authors four hundred citations might make the difference between a mediocre and a good citation record or getting a job or not.

Hence, the key conclusion I would draw is: be careful before taking unusual citation levels at face value. Do some due diligence, or let someone with bibliometric knowledge do so. If something looks fishy, it probably IS fishy!

I got the link from MetaFilter, where at least one commenter is very bitter about the common practice of not bothering to read the papers you cite, another says “Ironically, I went down a rabbit hole looking for this exactly paper a few years ago,” and a third writes:

One of my more gleeful moments from just a few years back was figuring out the source of an ongoing citation error in Protestant apologetics (in this case, two people with the same last name getting scrambled together, meaning that the citation goes to the wrong book). Very ongoing. As in, it originated in a quotation from an article published in 1838.


  1. There is a similar citation mystery in the Dictionary Society of North America Fall newsletter, under the heading “Mysterious Disappearance of Beatrix Visser ’t Hooft: Part 1” at the bottom of the linked page. If anyone recognizes that name, perhaps there will be a conclusion in Part 2 next Spring.

  2. Very interesting! I can understand why anyone publishing this kind of horseshit would want to use a pseudonym:

    As if to reiterate Johnson’s famous definition of the lexicographer as “a harmless drudge”…, makers of dictionaries like to assert that they are echoes and mirrors of society. Such irresponsible, pseudo-objective descriptivism holds that the job of a lexicographer is merely to record meanings and usages where and how they occur. In reality, lexicographers are gatekeepers and code controllers of a patriarchal, sexist, ableist, ageist, elitist, exclusivist, and racist society.

    If they do have an update, please let us know!

  3. Stu Clayton says

    Do some due diligence

    I have encountered that indiligent formulation several times. It seems the people who picked up “due diligence” from the garbage pile of stock expressions left half of it behind. Diligence is “exercised”. Also, “some due diligence” is like “slightly pregnant woman”.

    But who am I to peeve when everybody’s happy ?

    Edit: to peeve is to exercise undue diligence. So I guess peevers should undo some undue diligence.

  4. “due diligence” is from our friends the lawyers, I think. At least, those are the people who seem to use it most in Washington bureaucratic circles, and it’s been adopted by non-lawyers.

  5. Yes, it’s escaped its cage and now runs free.

  6. John Cowan says

    Wikt’s (presumably fictitious) examples s.v. due diligence:

    Consumers are required to use their credit cards with due diligence, which includes making sure that strangers cannot find or see their PIN.

    You are required to exercise due diligence by immediately reporting unauthorized withdrawals from your account and unauthorized use of your credit card.

    The term is defined verbosely as ‘appropriate, required, reasonable care or carefulness’. There is also a specialized sense, however: due diligence in corporate mergers and acquisitions is a process in why the buyer determines the assets and liabilities of the bought company. $EMPLOYER makes a modest competence by finding words and phrases that lawyers think to be significant in such documents (for example, act of God and pandemic have been of interest lately), thus sparing the expense of having a lawyer flip though pages and pages of boilerplate to get to the important stuff. Perhaps appropriately, $EMPLOYER charges them by the page (although there are volume discounts).

    A WP story s.v. act of God:

    A particularly interesting example is that of “rainmaker” Charles Hatfield, who was hired in 1915 by the city of San Diego to fill the Morena reservoir to capacity with rainwater for $10,000. The region was soon flooded by heavy rains, nearly bursting the reservoir’s dam, killing nearly 20 people, destroying 110 bridges (leaving 2), knocking out telephone and telegraph lines, and causing an estimated $3.5 million in damage in total. When the city refused to pay him (he had forgotten to sign the contract), he sued the city. The floods were ruled an act of God, excluding him from liability but also from payment.

  7. John Cowan says

    I meant to add: about $369 million in damage today.

  8. he had forgotten to sign the contract

    Sic semper fraudatoribus!

  9. It was interesting that Anne-Wil Harzing was apparently quite unfamiliar with how LaTeX works while she was preparing that white paper. She seems puzzled by a number of things that she encountered in the course of her study (whereas it took me barely a moment to realize what must have happened).

    In the last case (#18) the phantom reference wasn’t listed in either the article or the reference list, which threw up the additional puzzle of why the Web of Science would report this article as citing our phantom reference.

    In fact, errors like this happen all the time, when programs scrape the LaTeX source files associated with a publication for metadata and references. The problem is that the automated data collection programs may not correctly identify content that has been commented out (with “%”) in the source file. It’s common when working with a LaTeX template to comment out material that the author doesn’t want to have appear in the final output, yet which they might want to refer back to later on. (LaTeX templates are typically designed to serve a dual purpose; they demonstrate the code needed to produce different types of output in the publication style, and they also, when compiled, provide a formatted version of those same directions, in the correct style.)

    It is unclear to me how our phantom reference came to “support” statements relating to semi-conductors, electrocoagulation, blood pressure, or cancer drug resistance. My hunch is that it might be a combination of “anonymised” referencing through the system of numbered referencing, which makes spotting errors harder for authors and editors, and a bug in the typesetting or proofing software used.

    While Harzing’s first hypothesis here (about numbered references) probably has some truth to it, the suggestion that there was a bug responsible is totally off base. LaTeX citations are all handled automatically, with each item in the bibliography associated with a text identifier, which is what is used to indicate where there should be an inline citation. Numbering and ordering of the references can all be done without human checking required. However, when the identifiers used are not well chosen (like “ref1”, “ref2”, etc.), it is easy to make mistakes and cite the wrong thing in the wrong place.

    I realize that Harzing’s field is the economic and social sciences, but I think it is a bit worrying that somebody putting herself forward as an expert consultant on academic publishing could actually know essentially nothing at all about LaTeX (which is used by plenty of people in economics, psychology, etc. who are doing quantitative work and thus need to typeset mathematical expressions).

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    The often low-level lawyers and bankers and whatnot who do due diligence are not necessarily “exercising” diligence because they are not the contemplated principal to the contemplated transaction. Rather, the principal is exercising due diligence by hiring teams of supposedly competent or at least diligent professionals to do “due diligence” for him/her/it.

  11. The “‘t Hooft Visser” article says in a footnote that it had “appeared first, in a different form, in Gravitas 3, no. 3 (Autumn 1996), 53–55.” No such journal appears in WorldCat. I wonder if the whole thing was meant to be a credible parody, but I honestly can’t tell. It’s beyond horsehit: I found it hilarious.

    The topic reminds me of a project of the National Lampoon, a notorious one among many. In the 1973 “Prejudice” issue they composed a parody of bad homespun hate lierature aimed at the Dutch, presumably representing the most innocuous group, in American eyes, to aim such literature at. It had stuff like this. More here.

  12. I remember that issue! God, I loved the Lampoon in those days.

  13. @John Cowan: The first quote is indeed probably fictitious (and possibly written by somebody with limited understanding of consumer cards): “Consumers are required to use their credit cards with due diligence, which includes making sure that strangers cannot find or see their PIN.” Credit cards (unlike debit cards) do not universally have PINs (and when they do, those PINs are not used for standard credit transactions).

  14. Stu Clayton says

    Let others do the diligence
    To which you are in duty bound.
    Exercise intelligence !
    Lie low and pass the buck around.

  15. I recommend Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, a recent anthology of the Lampoon with a lot of history and behind-the-scenes stories.

  16. David Marjanović says

    I bet this Anne is a male Andreas. That’s a thing in the Netherlands and would explain why the name is hyphenated with Wil.

  17. @David Marjanović: I wondered about that too, but, no, she’s a woman, although she is indeed Dutch.

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    “Visser t’Hooft” sounds suspiciously like an American parody of a Dutch name and I was wondering if there was some sort of joke encoded in the meaning of its parts and/or some pun-like soundalikes. But wikipedia assures me (unless the article is itself an elaborate hoax) that it was the real surname of a very sober and serious and perhaps well-known-in-his-time fellow. Although I guess I can’t exclude the possibility that the name does sound vaguely like something comical or dirty in Dutch and the distinguished gentleman was oft afflicted by vulgar puns to that effect being made outside his earshot?

  19. Another one with that surname.

  20. I wonder if the whole thing was meant to be a credible parody, but I honestly can’t tell.

    A perfect paragon of a prime Poe.

  21. I bet this Anne is a male Andreas. That’s a thing in the Netherlands and would explain why the name is hyphenated with Wil.

    Huh. Behindthename does have a masculine name Anne (Frisian), but gives an etymology of: ‘Germanic element arn “eagle”‘ (Arnold, Arnaud, etc) rather than Andreas.

  22. Jen in Edinburgh says

    It’s the French Annes and Maries (as part of a long string of male names) that confuse me.

    Wikipedia thinks female Wil is short for Willeke, but then listed three Wils (in a page I can’t find again!) who were all Wilhelmina/Willemien.

    Interesting as a Mary-Lou kind of name, with the shortening built in.

  23. Another phantom article putatively from 1875 Proceedings of the New Orleans Academy of Sciences Supplement a was “reprinted” within “Three Unrecognized Demotic Texts,” 12 pages, (with text related to the Coptic Gospel of Thomas) sent to Discussions in Egyptology (printed in some copies but replaced in others), 1990. The author; “Batson D. Sealing [!]” It is listed in WorldCat. Formerly listed as owned by the Brooklyn Museum, but they have withdrawn the claim.
    There is another phantom author, whose supposed name I don’t recall now.

  24. January First-of-May says

    Wikipedia thinks female Wil is short for Willeke, but then listed three Wils (in a page I can’t find again!) who were all Wilhelmina/Willemien.

    I think that “Willeke” is itself a hypocoristic, so saying that Wil is short for Willeke is like saying that Al is short for Alex. Technically correct (to an extent) but not very relevant.

  25. I originally thought a man might be given a feminine middle name to honor an ancestrix or other female relation, but Wikipedia:Maria (given name) says:

    The name is also sometimes used as a male (middle) name. This was historically the case in many Central European countries and still is the case in countries with strong Catholic traditions, where it signified patronage of the Virgin Mary (French-speakers often did the same with Marie).

    WikiP:Anne (name) confirms the Frisian masculine version, and mentions a couple of non-Netherlands men with that name.

    Since it certainly looks like a non-rhotic variant of “Arne”, I guess the masculine Anne should be pronounced with an open back unrounded vowel, in contrast to the open front unrounded vowel of the feminine Anne.

  26. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Jose Maria seems more unremarkable, somehow.

    Anne was the said Mary’s mother, but I don’t know if that’s enough to explain the French instances.

  27. I had a friend in high school named Anne-Marie. I thought it was a little odd; hyphenated first names were not a common thing in the Willamette Valley. There were instances, of course, but it seemed like those were usually explained by the parents having two names and being ultimately unable to choose. That didn’t seem to apply to Anne-Marie though, since she had a twin sister.

  28. I don’t suppose the twin sister was Marie-Anne.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    was the first of these that I ever noticed.

    The Boy Named Sue is a different phenomenon, of course. Perhaps it appealed to Johnny Cash as his parents didn’t give him a proper name at all … not even Sue.

  30. The opposite, too: there are some Marie-Josephs out there, but that seems very outdated.

  31. J.W. Brewer says

    To Brett’s point, I can’t speak to the Willamette valley, but back when Mary and its variants still played a very dominant role in naming baby girls in the US (i.e. until quite recently), stock Marian compounds were also extremely common. The SSA database ignores hyphens, which I think (although I’m not 100% on this) means that an Anne-Marie gets recorded under Annemarie rather than Anne. But in any event if you look at the top 1000 girls’ names for my year of birth, beyond the basic Mary/Maria/Marie trilogy you have a huge number of transparent compounds: Rosemary, Marianne, Maryann, Rosemarie, Marybeth, Annmarie, Annemarie, Maryellen, Maryanne, Maribeth, Maryjo, Annamarie, Mariann, and Marylou — and this is without including names like Marlene or Marilyn where the compounding is etymological and might conceivably have been opaque to a given set of parents choosing the name. I expect each compound varied in what proportion of bearers spelled it hyphenated versus joined-up, but I definitely knew a hyphenated Anne-Marie or two when I was growing up. And this excludes girls with just “Mary” in the “first name” field of the database who their entire lives have always been called e.g. Mary Sue or Mary Beth rather than just Mary alone (as well as the others who have been uniformly known by opaque nicknames like Molly or Polly).

  32. Polly is a nickname for Mary — I never knew that!

  33. @languagehat: No, the twin’s name was Katherine, although at eighteen she still went by Katie. However, I did know some pairs of (identical) twins with what I thought were awkwardly similar names, Dan and Dave, or Julie and Judy.

    @David Eddyshaw: I would think the best known man with Maria as a middle name would be Erich Maria Remarque. The “Maria” is, of course, only half the oddity of his name; it always seems quite peculiar to me that the author of Im Westen nichts Neues should have such a prominently French surname.

  34. it always seems quite peculiar

    Surely you mean “remarkable.”

  35. I would think the best known man with Maria as a middle name would be Erich Maria Remarque.
    Not Rainer Maria Rilke?

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    Like Hans I would think of Rilke before Remarque, but I certainly can’t put myself forward as the homme moyen sensuel for that sort of thing.

  37. Trond Engen says

    Daisy for Margaret. I used to think that was how the marguerittes came to be called daisies, but it’s the other way around. I turns out that daisy is the (/an) inherited name for the flower, day’s eye.

    I was told this by my son this summer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I told him years ago after first learning it here.

  38. I’m not sure that I would ever think of Rilke, even in a month of Saturdays. Interestingly, Rilke’s full name was Rene Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke, so he must have made a specific choice to keep Maria as the middle name he actually used.

  39. I think of Carl Maria von Weber, but that’s because they play him a lot on our local public radio station.

  40. David Marjanović says

    In Austria, where the boy named Sue wouldn’t be legal, Maria is allowed as a second given name for boys. Extinct nowadays, though.

    Jean-Marie Le Pen comes to mind.

    Wikipedia thinks female Wil is short for Willeke, but then listed three Wils (in a page I can’t find again!) who were all Wilhelmina/Willemien.

    Wilhelmina : Wil : Willeke :: Donald : Don : Donny

    That said, I know an official Anneke and an official Hanneke, so the Inland Dutch diminutive suffix -eke [əkə] doesn’t necessarily indicate nicknames anymore. (Coastal Dutch has -tje [tɕə] as in Antje.)

  41. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Peg/Peggy is the real equivalent of Polly, with Meg as its twin form.

  42. Also José María Olazábal. He’s from the Basque region of Spain, sez Wiki, but I don’t know if his last name is of Basque origin.

  43. David Marjanović says

    Of course it’s Basque, by virtue of making no Indo-European sense whatsoever. 🙂

  44. Carl Maria von Weber would probably be the second name I would think of. Von Weber* was nearly a contemporary of Beethoven; although von Weber was younger, they both flourished in the first quarter of the nineteenth century and died in 1826 and 1827, respectively. However, von Weber’s work is usually felt to be much closer to the later nineteenth “romantic” movement than Beethoven’s. Of course, Beethoven too made many innovations, and his style is clearly intermediate in the development between the most influential orchestral composers of the “high classical” and “high romantic”** periods, Haydn and Brahms. However, many of von Weber’s compositions really do sound like something that might have been composed in 1860, rather than 1820

    * The “von” came from a probably bogus claim, which probably originated with Carl’s father, Franz Anton von Weber, that they were descended from an otherwise extinct old noble von Weber family.

    ** I could maunder on for a long time about how the applying the names of stylistic movements like “classical,” “romantic,” and “modern”— which have definite (if sometimes still potentially confusing) meanings in literature and, secondarily, the visual arts—to musical styles is not merely inapt but pernicious. It creates a misleading (and reductionist) frame that really hampers useful critique and analysis of the underlying differences between such musical styles.

  45. David Marjanović says

    an otherwise extinct old noble von Weber family.

    Can’t be terribly old, because Weber is just “weaver”.

  46. Trond Engen says

    The Basque surnames are the coolest.

  47. -zabal is ‘wide’, which appears in a number of common surnames.

  48. @David Marjanović: You mentioning that makes me wonder, how did English get the doublet of web and weave? Both go back to Old English.

  49. Also, I neglected to comment earlier that Bilbo plays on the etymology of daisy in the one riddle (apart from the unfair one*) that he personally makes up during his duel with Gollum.

    An eye in a blue face
    Saw an eye in a green face.
    ‘That eye is like to this eye’
    Said the first eye,
    ‘But in low place
    Not in high place.’

    * Virtually all riddle contests in fantasy and folklore end with an unfair riddle. There is this example from Danish folklore, where the question is not intended to be fair, but the solution is even more unfair. Odin, when faced with a difficult riddle contest, would eventually ask what the All-Father had whispered in Balder’s ear before the latter’s death; this has the dual advantage of being unanswerable and revealing that the old man is in fact Odin himself, who, as god of lore, is never going to bested in a riddle contest anyway. And Samson’s** riddle to the Philistines is completely unanswerable to anyone who had not witnessed the recent miracle of the honey in the lion’s carcass.

    In fact, I can’t think of any back-and-forth riddle contests that do end fairly. It seems like there ought to be examples somewhere, but I can’t recall any.

    ** The stories of Samson are really three separate stories that have been concatenated together, but which were probably original about different Hebrew folk heroes. The protagonist of the riddle and jaw bone story, for example, while being incredibly badass, shows no indication of super strength. His story was presumably attached to the story of Samson the strongman because each tale involves a Jewish hero with a potentially tricksy Philistine wife/concubine.

  50. The Basque surnames are the coolest.

    I vote for Dravidian ones (I think), like Saravanamuttoo:

    One of the most prominent personalities in this sector is Emeritus Professor Herbert H. Saravanamutto who is still actively teaching in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Prof. Saravannamuttoo worked as young engineer on the Rolls-Royce Olympus engines of the Concorde supersonic transport aircraft, and he is the author of best-selling textbook entitled Gas Turbine Theory from Pearson Educational Canada, which has already seen six editions over the last 50 years.

  51. Mary as a male middle name was not unusual in Catholic Ireland. Strictly a middle name, never the second element of a double first name. Most middle names are not publicly broadcast, Mary or otherwise. Joseph Mary Plunkett is the only counterexample that springs to mind; I’m surprised his Wikipedia article is plain “Joseph Plunkett”.

    In the 1980s Gay Byrne joked of himself that his first name was embarrassing and his middle name was Mary.

  52. In Austria, where the boy named Sue wouldn’t be legal, Maria is allowed as a second given name for boys. Extinct nowadays, though.
    The only person I know personally who has Maria as his middle name is already in his early sixties. So maybe that means giving Maria as a middle name to boys has gone out of style in Germany, too. On the other hand, he’s a former colleague and I had to handle his personal data for work reasons, otherwise I would never have known, even though we’re good friends. So maybe there are young people out there with that middle name who simply don’t advertise it.

  53. David Marjanović says

    Most people have middle names, never use them, and never use middle initials either. My mother sometimes forgets those of her 5 siblings, and I don’t think hers is on most of her official documents.

  54. David Marjanović says

    how did English get the doublet of web and weave? Both go back to Old English.

    Weave is the regular cognate; the Wiktionary etymology of web is: “From Middle English webbe, from Old English webb, from Proto-Germanic *wabją, from Proto-Indo-European *webʰ- (“weave”).”

    We’re looking at a collective noun in *-ją (very common in German: Gebirge “mountain range”, Gebüsch “bush as mass noun”, Gerede “lots of silly talking/rumors”…), which triggered both umlaut and West Germanic consonant stretching (in this case from [β] to [bː]).

    German Gewebe “tissue” and Spinnweben pl. “collective spiderweb remains” must have copied the b back in; the regular weppe is apparently attested in MHG.

  55. PlasticPaddy says

    Could Wappen be related to weppe, i.e. if the crest was a piece of cloth attached to the shield? The entry in DWDS is rather confusing but seems to say that Wappen meant both crest and weapon but then Waffe became the term for the weapon.

  56. The Basque surnames are the coolest.

    All the Basque I know (sentence-wise) is the first two sentences in Mendizábal’s primer:

    Iz Mendizabal naiz. Yo soy Mendizábal.

    ¿Mendizabal iz al naiz? ¿Soy yo Mendizábal?

  57. David Marjanović says

    Wappen is the Low German root cognate of Waffe; chivalric vocabulary is often Low German.

    ¿Mendizabal iz al naiz? ¿Soy yo Mendizábal?

    Good question.

  58. From Otto Jespersen’s How to Teach a Foreign Language:

    The story goes that a Swedish dialectologist who was on a tour to investigate how extensively the strong form dog (died) was in use, asked a peasant: do you people here say “jag dog” or “jag döde”? The peasant was not a grammarian; he answered sensibly: well, when we are dead we generally do not say anything.

  59. January First-of-May says

    I would think the best known man with Maria as a middle name would be Erich Maria Remarque.

    Ditto, though without looking it up I would probably have spelled his last name “Remarck”. (The historically-correct “Remark” doesn’t look sufficiently last-name-y.)

    The peasant was not a grammarian; he answered sensibly: well, when we are dead we generally do not say anything.

    I’ve been told – about eight years ago, so I no longer recall much of the details – that, during a study of some North Caucasian language, a researcher noticed a distinct lack of noun class 4 agreement forms in their verbal paradigms, and decided to remedy this gap by asking their informants.

    It so happened that the noun class 4 in that language mostly consisted of inanimate objects, which made creating example sentences with such nouns in the subject position somewhat inconvenient. However, the word for “lion”, which was a loanword, also happened to fall into class 4.

    As such, the researcher constructed a large amount of sentences featuring said lion as the subject for some increasingly inappropriate verbs – and after a while, the exasperated informant responded with something to the effect of “no, you cannot say that, because this is not something that a lion does!

  60. David Eddyshaw says
  61. David Marjanović says

    The title is explained on p. 7.

  62. PlasticPaddy says

    Re Remark, the grandparents of Erich Paul (as an author he replaced Paul with Maria as a hommage to his mother) spelled the name Remarque. The original French name seems to have been Remacle, still a name in Belgium and Picardy.

  63. David Eddyshaw says
  64. David Marjanović says


  65. María as a masculine middle name is entirely unremarkable in Spanish-speaking contexts to this day. I had both a José María and a Juan María in my high school class. IIRC the situation is similar in Italian.

    José as a feminine middle name I’ve only ever encountered in the specific collocation María José, though.

  66. There is a similar citation mystery in the Dictionary Society of North America Fall newsletter, under the heading “Mysterious Disappearance of Beatrix Visser ’t Hooft: Part 1” at the bottom of the linked page. If anyone recognizes that name, perhaps there will be a conclusion in Part 2 next Spring.

    There wasn’t a followup (or at least, searching for Visser only brings up the appearances in Part 1).

    For the curious, the original article is here:

    and the notes on contributors:

    I wondered if the issue had been published April 1, but no.

    Besides, for true shenanigan makers, any time is a good time for shenanigans.

  67. ktschwarz says

    a very sober and serious and perhaps well-known-in-his-time fellow

    Indeed Willem Visser ’t Hooft was high-profile enough to be quoted in the OED twice, once with his name spelled correctly:

    ecumenism, n.
    1948 There is still in much of our present ecumenism a strong element of relativism.
    W. A. Visser 't Hooft in Univ. Church in God's Design iv. iv. 183

    and once with the apostrophe misplaced:

    technology, n.
    1949 There is no inescapable necessity for society to succumb to undirected developments of technology.
    in W. A. Visser t' Hooft, First Assembly World Council of Churches 75

    Nobel physicist Gerard ’t Hooft instructs English-speakers not only how to spell the ’t (apostrophe, not open-quote), but how to pronounce it, how to capitalize it (not), and how to alphabetize it. He’s also in the OED, correctly spelled, under “Bose–Einstein particle”. (Random facts encountered while investigating apostrophes.)

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