Establishing Semantics For Mimesiology And Illusology

The purpose of this article is to 1) discuss the various meanings of a set of common words related to mimesis and illusion, and 2) establish meanings for use in future discussions. Establishing these definitions is important because people have specific intentions when they create creations. These intentions determine the nature of the creation. This is especially important for discussion about historical writings.

When I was brainstorming a title for this article, I coined the term “Mimesiology”. To my knowledge, this word did not exist until I created it, and I made it for the sake of referring to any study that requires knowledge about mimesis, otherwise known as mimicry. Mimesiology comes from “mimesis” (the act of imitation) and “-ology” (the study of).

I had been thinking about what term could refer to the field of study pertaining to how imitative creations come into being. One which I was thinking about was “deceptology”, but deception has a Latin root and a thing is only deception for as long as it tricks you. I also thought about “falsology” but it suffered from the same two issues of the previous term. And neither of those rolled off the tongue quite right. “Pseudology” shared two Greek roots but it was still exclusionary towards things which were not created with the intent of them being portrayed as anything other than what they truly are. Also pseudology is already a word that means “the art of lying”. Mimesiology was and is all inclusive for any studies related to how one thing can be imitative of another.

Not everything that is deceptive is imitative, and not everything that is imitative is inherently deceptive., and so a different term needed to be used for referring to that field of study that handles how creations deceive people. Ignoring the three terms I mentioned above, I chose illusology because it covers all things illusory and it rolls off the tongue better than any of the others.

Although I’ve only just recently coined the terms, mimesiological and illusological literature is vast and has a long history. Any literature related to the study of mimicry or deception is included in this genre.


Words such as forgery, fake, hoax, copy, etc. have been commonly used in general discussion more or less synonymously. However, these terms takes on a number of definitions when the discussions venture deeper into different fields. My discussion of these terms is still in its infancy. The collection of words and their meanings that I present are subject to change if or when better definitions are proposed.

Here is the concise list of 21 terms:

1 – A Creation

2 – Mislabeling

3 – Authentication

4 – A Model

5 – A Replica

6 – A Copy

7 – A Pastiche

8 – Stylistic Imitation

9 – An Interpolation

10 – A Recension

11 – A Fraudulent Creation

12 – A Forgery

13 – Counterfeit

14 – A Hoax

15 – A Foax

16 – Falsification

17 – Pseudepigrapha

18 – Mystification

19 – Plagiary

20 – Disinformation

21 – Misinformation

Here is the expanded list of 21 terms:

A Creation

A creation is something made by a party (a person or persons). It’s a term that includes anything created by people, such as tools, literature, art, and ideas. All creations were created with a specific intent and all creations can be interpreted in different ways.

As soon as a creation is created, it begins undergoing alterations. There are three main types of alteration; natural, authorial, and extra party. Natural alteration occurs by the forces of nature (weathering, insects, decay, flooding, the passage of time, etc…). Authorial alteration is known as recension, which I cover later on. I’m thinking about a better term for the final category, but for now I call it “extra party alteration”, which is alteration to a creation done by a party other than the creator of the original.


Mislabeling occurs when a creation is assigned a narrative which does not accurately represent it. A narrative intended to represent a creation is known as a label. An example of mislabeling can be seen in the forgery that is taken as authentic, or the authentic creation that is taken as a forgery. It can also be seen in the pastiche that is taken as an original, or in the replica that is masquerading as a copy. When something gets mislabeled, it can sometimes be known as “spurious”, defined as “not being what it purports to be”. I do not think this is a useful label, as a thing cannot purport to be anything other than what it is.

Sometimes an artist will sell a work as a copy but then someone else mislabels it for whatever reason they have for doing so. One reason that this has been done is to raise the value of a copy, thereby obtaining a larger paycheck for when they unscrupulously pawn it off on the unsuspecting collector. Another reason this type of mislabeling occurs is due to mistake. If a creation is found and believed to be one thing but then later proven to be another, that previous belief was a mislabeling of the creation.

Mislabeling can be accidental or deliberate. Umberto Eco used the terms “deliberate false identification” and “naïve false identification” to refer to these two types.[5, p.183]

Umberto Eco was a medievalist and semiotician who authored a chapter on the semiotics of fakes and forgeries. This chapter has been mentioned in quite a few of the relevant literature. I found it useful, but it focused mainly on the semiotic aspects of fakes and forgeries, where I have put more focus on the semantical aspects. It did make me think more about my approach to this topic, where originally I was heavily focused on the intent a creator had when making a creation, I now give more consideration to how that creator’s target audience receives and interacts with the creation. I still believe that the maker of a creation’s intentional label overrides any extra party’s labels.

Perhaps it is worth noting that it is one thing to the creator and another to the receiver or employer, for one man’s trash is another’s treasure. The creation then lives a double-life, authentic to one party and fraudulent to another. I think labeling a creation according to the true intent with which it was made is the best way to approach this because we can then definitively say what the object is on its own. This is something I want to think more about and discuss with other people more.


Authentication is the process used for revealing a creation’s authentic type. Sometimes authentication fails, resulting in mislabeling. The method of authentication varies depending on the type of creation. The goal, for those who wish to uncover a creation’s authentic type, is to have the methods be as precise and as accurate as possible. A few methods of authentication are physical or chemical testing, and textual analyses.

An Original

An original (or model) is a creation that has been used as the inspiration for other creations. All models are creations but not all creations are models. Many things are created that never go on to serve as models for future creations, but replicas, copies, imitations, hoaxes, and forgeries all require models in order to be brought forth.

Henry Keazor, Professor of Art History at Heidelburg University, wrote a chapter titled Six Degrees of Separation: The Foax as More, where he discusses the six degrees of separation between an original and a fake or forgery. After a brief discussion about how the concept and term of “original” has varied throughout time and cultures, accompanied by citations for additional reading, he ended up placing “original” in contrast to the other items on his list.

His six degrees were 1) the original, 2) the replica or replication, 3) the copy, 4) the pasticcio/pastiche, 5) the stylistic imitation, 6) the fake or forgery.[1, p.12] I think his definitions for each number were good except for number 4, which I discuss in more detail later on in this article.

A Replica

The replica (or replication) is produced when the creator of an original replicates that original. Umberto Eco called this the “Authorial copy”.[5, p.183] If da Vinci painted another Last Supper, it would be an example of a replica.

A Copy

The copy is produced when someone replicates an original made by someone else. If van Gough reproduced da Vinci’s Last Supper, it would be an example of a copy. Both copies and replicas can be forgeries. In the case of the replica, the original creator is the source of the fraud. In the case of the copy, it’s some party other than the original one.

A Pastiche

The pastiche is a creation produced when a party takes multiple elements or features from a different party’s originals, or the originals of multiple extra parties, and creates something out of those. Henry Keazor’s definition restricted pastiches to only those creations which take multiple things from a single other party. I don’t see the need for this restriction as the word pastiche comes from filling pies with various ingredients, and represents a medley of sources.

Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary first definition for pastiche defined it as synonymous with stylistic imitation (which is the next entry on this list) but in the second definition defined it as: “a musical, literary, or artistic composition made up of selections from different works”.’s definitions are the closest aligned to the definitions I would use.

Pastiches can also be fraudulent creations. It comes down to what the creator of the pastiche intended for it to do.

Stylistic Imitation

The stylistic imitation is produced when a party mimics the style of another party or era.

A Recension

A recension is produced when someone adds to their original creation. If da Vinci went back and painted a mustache on his Mona Lisa or if the author of the Gospel of Mark decided to change some things in his book at a later date, these would be called recensions.

An Interpolation

The interpolation is produced when someone adds a creation, made by anyone other than that of who’s work its being placed into. This could be seen if a mustache was drawn on the original Mona Lisa or if a line from Shakespeare was added to the Bible. This is also known as a “manipulated original”.

A Fraudulent Creation

A fraudulent creation is made with the intent to have it deceive a party. These creations fall into two categories: forgeries and hoaxes.

A Forgery

The discussions about what constitutes a forgery are numerous. My opinion is that a forgery is produced when a creation is made with the intent to have it deceive a particular party indefinitely. Paintings, statues, books, coins, and more can all be forgeries. The intent of the party making the creation is what determines if a creation is a forgery or not. This definition aligns with Edmund Chambers’ definition from 1891,[3, p.5] and with many others along the way to our present day.[1], [9]

Arthur Freeman, who, with his wife, built the largest library yet dedicated to literary forgery, posited that there are two main categories; “fortuitous” and “tendentious”.[4, p.17] Otherwise known as accidental and deliberate. I do not think these are valid categories. The only type of forgery is the deliberate forgery because a person cannot accidentally intend to create something which is meant to deceive indefinitely.

Umberto Eco’s chapter is influential and so I’ve collected some thoughts about his definition for forgery. To him,

“[A forgery is] any object which is produced—or, once produced, used or displayed—with the intention of making someone believe that it is indiscernibly identical to another unique object.”
Umberto Eco (1990)[5, p.180]

Umberto’s definition, like mine own, places intent in the definition of a forgery. I think it is useful to categorize a creation by the intent its creating party had for it. This is why I cannot accept Umberto’s definition, for his allows the intent of others to mask and distort that of the original party.

Umberto designated three types of forgery: downright, moderate, and ex-nihilo.[5, p.182] From what I understand, he defines downright forgery as forgery which imitates an existing creation as closely as possible, moderate forgery as forgery which somewhat resembles an existing creation, and forgery ex-nihilo as forgery which is not based upon any known creation. This last type still has a model in mind when being created, even if that model does not exist outside of the mind yet.

Bart Ehrman, in his book Forgery and Counterforgery, defined a forgery as “a book written with a false authorial claim”.[7, p .29] The limiting of forgery only to books is not useful. Even limiting it to writings in general excludes the majority of creations that can be forged.

Him and I do agree on the importance of intent, which he mentions in a footnote along with leads for further reading.[7, p.30-31] People have intents when creating things. Determining these intents can be helpful for understanding exactly what happened in the past, and also what can happen in the future.

Dr. Richard Carrier was in a MythVision Podcast livestream on YouTube talking about how the Biblical Book of Daniel is a forgery. I got the chance to ask him for his definition of a forgery and he said he followed Bart Ehrman’s definition. However, Dr. Carrier gave a somewhat different definition than the one I quoted earlier from Bart. Among other things, Carrier said, “A forgery is basically pretending to be the author that you’re not and expecting to get away with it. … it’s not like an exercise in fiction”.[8, 27:15] While this is still limited to authoring writings, it does factor in the intention of indefinite deceit that I include in my definition.

In summary, I think defining a forgery as “a creation made with the intent to have it deceive for as long as possible” is the best working definition so far.

A Hoax

The hoax is produced when a creation is made with the intent to have it deceive a person or persons temporarily.

A Foax

The foax is produced when a creation cannot be assessed one way or the other between forgery or hoax. This is when a work was created to be deceptive, but it’s unclear as to whether or not the creator was going to expose that at some point. The term “foax” was coined by Henry Keazor.[1, p.22]

A Counterfeit

Paula Cohen (2012) described a difference between forgery and counterfeit. The fundamental difference in their opinion is that the forger is more akin to a fine artist who makes specialized pieces and the counterfeiter is more of a mass-producer for cheaper items. In this sense, a Rembrandt which was carefully painted using specific pigments and styles so as to mimic the original as closely as possible would be considered a forgery, created by a forger, and a Rembrandt which was printed off which 10,000 others would be considered a counterfeit, created by a counterfeiter.[2, p.13]


Falsifications are intentionally deceptive edits to a creation by a party other than the one who made that creation.

I think that this is what Bart Ehrman calls “falsification”.[7, p.61]


A pseudepigrapha is created when a party either falsely attributes the authorship of their own writing to someone else or falsely claims that someone else’s writing is their own. There are two types of pseudepigrapha: plagiarisms and mystifications.

The creation of a pseudepigrapha depends on a first party author creating and attributing it to (mystification) or taking from (plagiarism) a second party author.

The word pseudepigrapha was used in the 1620’s to refer to “books or writings of false authorship”.[6]

This word, pseudepigrapha, has traditionally been used to refer to “apocryphal classical or biblical texts”, but the concept can and does expand beyond those limitations.[4, p.16]


“Despite its evident interest for understanding literature, mystification has been little studied. Scholars writing in English have been particularly inattentive to the form.”
– Julia Abramson (2005)[9, p.19]

Mystification occurs when a party attributes their own creation to a different party with the intent of exposing the true authorship at some point. In this sense, mystification is synonymous with hoax. Mystification is typically restricted to literary creations, but I don’t see the need for such a limitation.

My favorite book on this topic is Julia Abramson’s Learning From Lying, Paradoxes of the Literary Mystification, published in 2005.[9] I found this book to be a captivating introduction to the topic and full of relevant information for future studies. She defined mystification the same way that Henry Keazor defined hoax; a temporarily deceptive creation meant to have its true origins revealed.[9, p.12, 14] To drive this alignment home, she even refers to mystification a “temporary hoax” in her book.[9, p.18] But this raises the question of whether she thinks there is such a thing as the “perpetual hoax”, a thing which might as well just be called a forgery. Also, is it useful to give mystification and hoax the same definitions? As of now, these are just two different words for the same thing. A deeper study into the origins of these two words might reveal a way to apply them to different things but I’m not aware of a study of that nature and I have not yet had time to conduct it myself.

A similar product is made by a party who believes they are transmitting a deity’s work, or a ghost’s, or some other entity of that sort. Also, ghost writers, authors, etc… fall into a similar category. However, I don’t think these qualify as mystification, for the intent to deceive is not the same.


A plagiary is created when a party claims as their own the original created by a different party. It can occur intentionally or unintentionally. In the case the it is unintentional, the person does not recognize that taking someone else’s creation as their own does not make it their own. This can also result from cryptomnesia, where someone believes they are the originator of a creation because they forgot the creation’s true origin.

Mystification and plagiarism stand at odds with each other because where mystification is a person posturing their work as someone else’s, plagiarism is the opposite, where a person uses someone else’s work as their own.


Disinformation is produced when a person purposefully creates false information.


Misinformation is produced when a person accidentally creates false information.

Both mis- and disinformation result in mislabeling.



[1] – Keazor, Henry. “Six Degrees of Separation: The Foax as More.” Faking, Forging, Counterfeiting: Discredited Practices at the Margins of Mimesis, edited by Daniel Becker et al., Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2018, pp. 11–40. JSTOR, Accessed 18 May 2021.

[2] – COHEN, PAULA MARANTZ. “The Meanings of Forgery.” Southwest Review, vol. 97, no. 1, 2012, pp. 12–25., Accessed 19 May 2021.

[3] – Chambers, E. The History and Motives of Literary Forgeries: Being the Chancellor’s English Essay for 1891. Oxford, Horace Hart, 1891. Accessed 8 Jun. 2021.

[4] – Stephens, Walter, et al. Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450–1800. Illustrated, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019. Accessed 8 Jun. 2021.

[5] – Eco, Umberto. The Limits of Interpretation (Advances in Semiotics). Indiana University Press, 1990. Accessed 10 Jun. 2021.

[6] – Online Etymology Dictionary. Pseudepigrapha. Accessed 12 Jun. 2021.

[7] – Ehrman, Bart. Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. 1st ed., Oxford University Press, 2012. Accessed 12 Jun. 2021.

[8] – MythVision Podcast. How We Know The Book Of Daniel Is A Forgery – Dr. Richard Carrier. YouTube, 4 Jun. 2021. Accessed 12 Jun. 2021.

[9] – Abramson, Julia. Learning From Lying: Paradoxes Of The Literary Mystification. 2nd ed., UNKNO, 2005. Accessed 19 Jun. 2021.

[10] – “Pastiche.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jun. 2021.

[11] – Pastiche. Accessed 20 Jun. 2021.

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