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 20 terms:
1 – A Creation
2 – Mislabeling
3 – Authentication
4 – An Original
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 – A Hoax
14 – A Foax
15 – Counterfeit
16 – Pseudepigrapha
17 – Mystification
18 – Plagiary
19 – Disinformation
20 – Misinformation
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 cited in a number of relevant readings for this field. 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 various audiences receive and interact 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.
Historical investigator Joe Nickell identified three main principles of authentication:[15, pp.11-12]
1 – Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (ECREE)
2 – Occam’s Razor, the best explanation is the one with the fewest assumptions
3 – The burden of proof is on the person making the claim
Suzanne Bell’s Fakes and Forgeries (2009) is a good general introduction for anyone wanting to learn more about how forensic science is used for authentication. It’s about 100 pages long and covers forgeries of art, literature, money, and other objects, like drugs and medicine, as well as ways to determine what is legit and what’s fraudulent.
For a more academic introduction, see Paul Craddock’s Scientific Investigation of Copies, Fakes, and Forgeries (2009). This book is about 600 pages long and is a lot more thorough. The strongest feature of this work is the reading recommended throughout the text accompanied by a comprehensive bibliography. The main downside to this work is that it focuses heavily on art history but the methods of authentication do carry over in some areas.
In the section Paul has titled “Authenticity studies as an academic discipline”, he mentions that;
“The problems that fakes and forgeries bring to collecting and curatorship are well understood but the subject of authenticity does not seem to be seriously studied or taught to prospective art historians/curators, much less to materials scientists or even to archaeometrists…”
Paul Craddock (2009)[17, p.6]
He goes on to say that there are no journals dedicated to the subject of authentication. He points out that there “…is currently no professional regulatory body to set standards of practice and to offer individual practitioners advice or legal protection, such as exists for valuers and assessors…”.[17, p.6] This can result in serious potential legal repercussions for running a commercial authentication business.
These books also focus heavily on works dating to after the 1700’s. Given my interest in ancient to early modern history, I’m still looking for a good book that focuses on authenticating objects that are 300 years old or older, so any recommendations are welcome.
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, similar to the way that I have done.
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.
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.
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 forged replica, the original creator is the source of the fraud. In the case of the forged copy, it’s some party other than the original one.
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’s 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”. Dictionary.com’s definitions are the closest aligned to the definitions I would use.
Paul Craddock included this definition for pastiche, “something made up of unrelated pieces”.[17, p.11] This definition is vague and falls short of better definitions that I just mentioned. He also designated pastiches as one of the four main categories of fraudulent copies or alterations. I think this is a poor designation in light of the great collection of terms and definitions here.
Pastiches can also be fraudulent creations. It comes down to what the creator of the pastiche intended for it to do.
The stylistic imitation is produced when a party mimics the style of another party or era.
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.
The interpolation is produced when a party edits a creation made by a different party. This could be seen if a mustache was drawn on the original Mona Lisa or if a line from Shakespeare was added to the original script of the Bible. This is also known as a “manipulated original”.[1, p.29] This is essentially synonymous with what Bart Ehrman called “falsification”.[7, p.61]
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.
The discussions about what constitutes a forgery are numerous, and they have lead to multiple conflicting definitions, as noted by William Casement in his article, “Is It A Forgery? Ask a Semanticist“, published in 2020. My opinion is that a forgery is produced when a creation is made with the intent to have it deceive a specific 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., , 
I see it fitting to reiterate here that concepts of what constitutes a fake or a forgery heavily depend on cultural context. My purpose in putting this list together was to note the variations in the usage of these words as well as establish meanings for how I plan on using them. Also, this is a really basic outline of all this. I plan on expanding it over time as I continue studying.
Synonymous with that definition of a “forgery” is Professor Harold Love’s definition for a “fake”. Chapter 10 of his Attributing Authorship, published in 2002, is titled Forgery and Attribution. Here, he defined a fake as “a work composed with the intention to deceive and then promulgated under the name of another … the real authors go to great pains to conceal their presence”.[13, p.183] At the end of that chapter, he labeled faking as the “cancer of scholarship” and called for all convicted fakers to be publicly executed, a punishment I personally find to be far too severe and reminiscent of England’s Bloody Code.[13, p.192] I think Henry Keazor uses the term fake and forgery synonymously as well.[1, p.29]
Paul Craddock (2009) drew a distinction between fakes and forgeries. To him, a forgery is “a whole new work in imitation of something else” and a fake is “an object that has been altered such that it appears to be something else, usually more valuable”.[17, p.11] Again, as with pastiche, in light of the greater analysis of relevant words, these are not useful definitions.
Suzanne Bell’s pocket reference to fakes and forgeries (2009) defined forgery as “an object that is not genuine and is made in an attempt to deceive”. This definition works for the context they use it in and I think it’s fine for general discourse. The absence of including an element of time restricts its specificity in the larger collection of vocabulary.[16, p.95]
Arthur Freeman, who, with his wife, built the largest library yet dedicated to literary forgery, posited that there are two main categories; fortuitous (or accidental) and tendentious (“if not 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. He also puts more weight on defining a creation by how it is received as opposed to what it was intended to do by its creator, which may be why he avoids stating a forgery is created by a deliberate attempt to deceive.[4, p.17]
“[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. Chapter three of this book is titled Terms and Taxonomies. In it, he discusses forgery and related phenomena in their ancient context. It has a lot of good information for anyone wanting to learn more about forgery in the ancient world. The definition he gave for forgery could use some work though, as well as some of his other definitions in that chapter.
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. Levi Roach also put emphasis on intent in his recent microhistory of forged royal and papal documents from around the turn of the first millennium. Although, he too lacked the inclusion of a time element.[18, p.14]
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 a specific party for as long as possible” is the best working definition so far.
The hoax is produced when a creation is made with the intent to have it deceive a person or persons temporarily. This is typically done either as a practical joke or as a way to embarrass a party. It is closely related to mystification, which I cover later.
Henry Keazor is the one who coined this term.[1, p.22] I think he says that the foax is produced when a creation morphs from a forgery into a hoax or vice versa. I’m not sure of its usability. If the creating party intends to have the creation be used for either or, then I could see this being a useful term, but I don’t know of any examples of this.
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 with 10,000 others would be considered a counterfeit, created by a counterfeiter.[2, p.13]
A pseudepigrapha is a literary creation intended to deceive through false authorship. Among the main types of pseudepigrapha are forgeries, mystifications, and plagiaries. I discuss the last two of those after this term.
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] As early as the 1620’s, the word referred to “books or writings of false authorship”.
Reportedly, New Testament Professor Eve-Marie Becker made the distinction between pseudonyms and pseudepigrapha. In the case of the prior, a work is attributed to a fictitious author. In the latter, to a real one.[7, pp.29] I think this is an interesting distinction to make, as both words refer to texts bearing false authorship, but the categorization is made more precise by using these definitions. The meanings and etymologies of the two terms are not too varied. However, Bart Ehrman disregards this distinction and treats one as a product of the other.[7, p.29]
“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]
A mystification is created 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, and it requires the reveal for it to be complete. 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. 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] This definition is in line with how Anthony Grafton defined it in his Forgers and Critics.[12, p.5] To broaden this alignment, she referred to a mystification as being a “temporary hoax”.[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.
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 and later reveal is not the same.
A plagiary is created when a party claims a different party’s creation as their own. It can occur intentionally or unintentionally. In the case that it is unintentional, the person does not recognize that taking someone else’s creation as their own does not make it their own. There isn’t an intent to deceive anyone, even though they are stealing the work. This can also result from cryptomnesia, where someone believes they are the originator of a creation because they forgot the creation’s true origin.
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.
 – 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, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1wxr9t.4. Accessed 18 May 2021.
 – COHEN, PAULA MARANTZ. “The Meanings of Forgery.” Southwest Review, vol. 97, no. 1, 2012, pp. 12–25., www.jstor.org/stable/43821007. Accessed 19 May 2021.
 – Chambers, E. The History and Motives of Literary Forgeries: Being the Chancellor’s English Essay for 1891. Oxford, Horace Hart, 1891. https://archive.org/details/cu31924029550989/mode/1up. Accessed 8 Jun. 2021.
 – Stephens, Walter, et al. Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450–1800. Illustrated, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019. Accessed 8 Jun. 2021.
 – Eco, Umberto. The Limits of Interpretation (Advances in Semiotics). Indiana University Press, 1990. Accessed 10 Jun. 2021.
 – Online Etymology Dictionary. Pseudepigrapha. https://www.etymonline.com/word/pseudepigrapha?ref=etymonline_crossreference. Accessed 12 Jun. 2021.
 – Ehrman, Bart. Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. 1st ed., Oxford University Press, 2012. Accessed 12 Jun. 2021.
 – MythVision Podcast. How We Know The Book Of Daniel Is A Forgery – Dr. Richard Carrier. YouTube, 4 Jun. 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNDYE-tLiG4&t=1612s. Accessed 12 Jun. 2021.
 – Abramson, Julia. Learning From Lying: Paradoxes Of The Literary Mystification. 2nd ed., UNKNO, 2005. Accessed 19 Jun. 2021.
 – “Pastiche.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pastiche. Accessed 20 Jun. 2021.
 – Pastiche. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pastiche. Accessed 20 Jun. 2021.
 – Grafton, Anthony, and Ann Blair. Forgers and Critics, New Edition: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship. New, Princeton University Press, 2019. Accessed 21 Jun. 2021.
 – Love, Harold. Attributing Authorship: An Introduction. Illustrated, Cambridge University Press, 2002. Accessed 21 Jun. 2021.
 – Casement, William. “Is It a Forgery? Ask a Semanticist.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 54 no. 1, 2020, p. 51-68. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/747148. Accessed 21 Jun. 2021.
 – Nickell, Joe. Real or Fake: Studies in Authentication. Illustrated, University Press of Kentucky, 2009. Accessed 22 Jun. 2021.
 – Bell, Suzanne. Fakes and Forgeries (Essentials of Forensic Science). Checkmark Books, 2009. Accessed 26 Jun. 2021.
 – Craddock, Paul. Scientific Investigation of Copies, Fakes and Forgeries. 1st ed., Routledge, 2009. Accessed 27 Jun. 2021.
 – Roach, Levi. Forgery and Memory at the End of the First Millennium. Princeton University Press, 2021. Accessed 29 Jun. 2021.
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