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August 24, 2006 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Neutral Moresnet - a wedged-shaped, almost Esperanto speaking, janiformed currency using, one-step anthem playing, created because of a zinc mine, mini-state, that is now nothing more than some border markers. [more inside]
posted by tellurian (25 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
More information and pictures on Kelmis. Also an account from a visitor in the early 1900's.
posted by tellurian at 9:01 PM on August 24, 2006

Just as cartographers put fake cul-de-sacs into their maps to catch violators of copyright, "Moresnet" is well-known in publishing circles as a copyright trap/hoax conceived and perpetrated by the editors of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

(The hoax was perpetuated, popularized in the US, and eventually "exposed" in a series of articles authored by HL Mencken and appearing, in 1926, in his magazine The American Mercury.)
posted by orthogonality at 9:14 PM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I’m going Regents Street, because that is bridging Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus. So it is an absolute definitive Lateral, which you can reverse on if the situation is right, so you have a double value. It is a Bridger, and it is a Lateral, a very useful one early on.
posted by uosuaq at 9:30 PM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

An in-joke in London press and publishing circles, references to the fictional "Moresnet" became something of a shibboleth among the younger generation of an odd mix of disreputable middle-class journalists and privileged "Oxbridgians" of the immediate pre-WWI generation, a way to clown with a wink and a nod in front of, or to expose the pretensions of, older gentlemen of a certain class, some who rising to the bait would claim to have actually visited "Moresnet".

This ended abruptly after a crisis in the Foreign Office in 1913 prompted a worried older career civil servant to demand a country study of "Moresnet"; upon receiving the obviously concocted report, the civil servant used it to brief a very unamused Permanent Undersecretary. The resulting embarrassment and its repercussions quashed the ardor of the jokers, and the next year, Britain was at war.

Mencken, having suffered at the hands he general anti-German sentiment in the US during the war, became strongly anti-British, and, something of a prankster himself (he regularly made up news "stories" as a junior reporter for the Baltimore Sun), thoroughly enjoyed the joke and even more deriding the credulity, both of the "Great American Booboisie" who believed the his first articles on "Moresnet", and the British Foreign Office he exposed in the final article.
posted by orthogonality at 9:36 PM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm confused. It's a hoax but it appears in the Treaty of Versailles? It's a Lateral and a Bridger on Regents Street?
posted by tellurian at 9:39 PM on August 24, 2006

Orthogonality - I am glad someone else knows that bizarre story!

Funnily enough, the same fictional country became a source of contention yet again, when compromised agents working for the Soviets as part of the Red Orchestra in World War II used mentions of "Moresnet" to attempt to allert their handlers that they had been turned. Unfortunately, the handlers duly incorporated the false reports into their dispatches, causing Stalin to issue his famous Order 229 which called for the "routing of the Germans from the Urals to Moresnet."
posted by blahblahblah at 10:04 PM on August 24, 2006

Oops, made a transcription mistake, Order 229 called for the Soviets to leave not a "a single engine, or a single railway truck, and not a pound of bread nor a pint of oil," behind when they fled the advancing Germans. Stalin's Order 292 was the one that mentioned Moresnet as if it were real, though it was later edited out of official documents, once he discovered the mistake.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:09 PM on August 24, 2006

Well, colour me amazed! (unless you two are having a lend of me)
posted by tellurian at 10:24 PM on August 24, 2006

The neutral territory of Moresnet actually existed. Its creation was provided for in the 1816 border treaty between Prussia and the Netherlands and it is mentioned in the Treaty of Versailles. I don't know if there's false info in the Britannica article, but the territory itself existed.
posted by gubo at 10:28 PM on August 24, 2006

Can we get some evidence from the Moresnet-deniers?
posted by tepidmonkey at 10:32 PM on August 24, 2006

they are.
posted by owhydididoit at 10:35 PM on August 24, 2006

either that, or it's a very successful hoax.
posted by owhydididoit at 10:36 PM on August 24, 2006

Here's a mention in a book on international law published in 1906 (before the Britannica article).
posted by gubo at 10:54 PM on August 24, 2006

Wait! So... is it a hoax or isn't it?

What a great setting for a story.
posted by diplomacydiplomacy at 11:13 PM on August 24, 2006

Here's an account published in 1848 by Viscount Castlereagh, that mentions Moresnet. [Thanks for the tip gubo, I haven't used Google Book Search before].
posted by tellurian at 11:36 PM on August 24, 2006

*swallows hook, line and sinker*
posted by tellurian at 11:39 PM on August 24, 2006

Note: the Moresnet-deniers haven't provided any links, unlike the pro-Moresnet people. Are the "Moresnet is a hoax" lot just meta-hoaxers?
posted by imperium at 12:40 AM on August 25, 2006

If I'm recalling correctly, the whole "Moresnet" hoax supposedly began as one of those elaborate Oxbridge (i.e., Oxford and / or Cambridge Universities) joke, and apparently the name "Moresnet" itself alludes to that. WWI, the first modern war, killed off a tremendous proportion of the British upper class, the very men (boys, really) who had gone to the Oxbridge schools. Some in fact were killed inside the very "borders" of their erstwhile invention, "Moresnet".

Of course, it's these very men who, as their class became politically eclipsed postwar, moved into publishing and journalism and irrelevance post-WWI (note for instance the "City" (i.e., financial and upper class) men futilely trying to fill in for the working class during the General Strike of 1926). Post-war, this remnant nostalgically perpetuated the hoax in part almost a memorial to their fallen compatriots, or perhaps to their own youth and innocence.

Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, his satire of both journalism (based on his own work as a reporter for the Daily Mail), and of the disintegration/ increasing irrelevance of the British upper classes in the '30s, supposedly contains allusions to the "Moresnet" hoax. It's unclear whether or not Waugh was aware of Mencken's expose a decade before, or even if that informed his allusions in Scoop. Waugh, though now known the "outsider" Anglo-Catholic convert and author of Brideshead and his WWII trilogy Men at Arms, was born Anglican, attended public school (British "public", i.e., private and exclusive), and matriculated from Hertford College, Oxford, ideally situated to be inducted into the hoax.

But in any case, it became and it's become a tradition among a certain class of "in-the-know" journalists, authors, and encyclopaedists to salute the 1911 Britannica editors -- and their own immediate predecessors -- by perpetuating the hoax. The hoax had become not only an elaborate in-joke, but a tradition. It's an odd process, as it's never quite clear to an outsider whether a particular writer is saluting that bygone era by taking part in the hoax, or has been taken in by the hoax, (and that adds to the hoax's flavor). The lack of primary sources to the contrary aids this process -- no archive contains a disproof of "Moresnet" any more they disprove Faulkner's equally fictional Yoknapatawpha County. and by now, there are plenty of "authoritative" secondary sources, from the 1911 Britannica on, supporting it.

Every so often, a journalist who's attended Oxbridge or read Mencken will re-expose the hoax in a human-interest story ("Clever editors establish European county"), but the venerable and much-loved nature of the hoax ensures it's maintained (with a wink and a nod) in the "official" sources. I'm surprised it shows up as much as it does in Google, given that Mencken's American Mercury had, for its time, a very wide circulation, but even that widely read magazine only reached, three generations ago, a small proportion of the population, which is the same sector that now perpetuates the hoax.
posted by orthogonality at 12:58 AM on August 25, 2006

Great joke, guys!

"Oops, made a transcription mistake." heh.
posted by painquale at 1:42 AM on August 25, 2006

A day out in Moresnet...
posted by runkelfinker at 5:23 AM on August 25, 2006

They had me going, too, until I looked it up in my geographical dictionary. (It's pronounced mo-rez-NAY, if anyone's interested.) Great post and hoaxily wonderful commentary!
posted by languagehat at 5:37 AM on August 25, 2006

"Some in fact were killed inside the very "borders" of their erstwhile invention, "Moresnet".

Considering the BEF never got anywhere near the intersection of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands (where Moresnet is located) at any time in WWI, and the territory's 344 hectare size, "hyperbole" is about the kindest word I would use to describe that statement.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 7:25 AM on August 25, 2006

Wikipedia doesn't think it's a hoax. But who knows?

Presumably by 'almost Esperanto' you mean that Moresnet's version of the language was completely lacking in nouns, and the world to its inhabitants was a heterogenous series of independent acts.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:43 AM on August 25, 2006

It's not a hoax. It's in printed reference works, not just Wikipedia; ortho and blah were havin' a little fun on a slow summer day (like the paper that published that stupid cow-dialect story), but let's not let it get out of hand.
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on August 25, 2006

languagehat [It's not a hoax]. Sure, there are printed reference works, but now after a Google investigation of the orthogonality and blahblahblah claims [although they cite no references]. A more in-depth reading of my previously cited reference casts a different light and the Memoirs and Correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh, Second Marquess of Londonderry points towards a hoax/conspiracy that traditional historians may have fallen foul of. Mencken was possibly a half-brother of Castlereagh's mother on her sister's side. It was a terrible upbringing that he had to suffer. So it's understandable that he should harbour such a terrible hatred for the Oxbridigians (as mentioned by orthogonality). Don't let truth get in the way of a good story.
posted by tellurian at 8:33 AM on August 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

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