Have you ever believed something only to find out later that someone had deceived you? If so, you may have been the victim of a hoax.
A hoax occurs when a person or group of people purposefully make up a false story and pass it off as the truth. Hoaxes are different from simple misunderstandings or jokes because they are deliberate attempts to deceive others.
Hoaxes are different from practical jokes and pranks, too. Rather than simple and harmless, hoaxes tend to be more complex and larger deceptions. Often the purpose of hoaxes is to trick or cheat others.
The word “hoax” has been used since the late 1700s. It began as a shortened version of the verb hocus, which meant “to cheat” or “to impose upon.”
Hoaxes can be created for a variety of reasons. While some people create hoaxes to try to defraud people, others create hoaxes to embarrass people (especially politicians), encourage social or political change by raising awareness of an issue or promote a product by generating free marketing and advertising via the hoax.
If a hoax is created with a harmless purpose, such as to fool gullible people or to be funny, it’s usually referred to by another name. For example, April Fools’ Day jokes would usually not be considered hoaxes.
One of the most famous hoaxes of all time is known as the “Piltdown Man” hoax. In 1912, scientists found fragments of a skull and jawbone in a gravel pit near Piltdown, England.
For years, scientists believed these bone fragments were from a previously unknown early human being. They believed the fragments proved the existence of the “missing link” between human beings and apes that would prove Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
More than 40 years later, scientists discovered that the fragments were actually a complex deception. Rather than the remains of the “missing link,” the fragments were actually pieces of a real human skull paired with the jaw of an orangutan and the teeth of a chimpanzee.
To this day, no one knows who produced the fake remains or why they did so. The discovery of the hoax embarrassed many prominent scientists, who had believed the hoax and based further research on it for more than two decades.