April 02, 2004

Pesetsky's greatest linguistic April Fool hoax

An addendum to my post about linguistic April Fool's Day jokes: David Pesetsky informs me that his roof-collapsing hoax message was more widely believed because there actually was a freak April snowstorm that yeear; that's what gave him the idea.

But possibly the pinnacle of his career as a prankster was reached when he put out, on April 1, 1996, a notice purporting to come from MIT Press to the effect that Chomsky's book The Minimalist Program was being subjected to a product recall on grounds of low quality. It is close enough to the bone to make one wince. Those who never saw it might like to read on, and enjoy it in retrospect. But it must have been really something to have been there.

X-Sender: pesetsk@po7.mit.edu
Mime-Version: 1.0
Date: Mon, 1 Apr 1996 09:53:30 -0500
To: ling-grad@MIT.EDU, ling-fac@MIT.EDU, rtg@MIT.EDU
From: pesetsk@MIT.EDU (David Pesetsky)

I've been asked to forward this message.  To save you a trip to the MIT
Press offices or post-office Bev has volunteered to collect all your copies
and bring them to MIT Press.  Please bring her your copy by 5:00pm today,
April 1, 1996.

>Received: from PACIFIC-CARRIER-ANNEX.MIT.EDU by po7.MIT.EDU (5.61/4.7) id
>AA20956; Mon, 1 Apr 96, 05:33 EST  
>Received: from mhub0.tc.umn.edu by MIT.EDU with SMTP
        id AA28207; Mon, 1 Apr 96, 05:34 EST
>Received: from dialup-14-b-26.gw.umn.edu by maroon.tc.umn.edu; Mon, 1 Apr
>96, 05:36 EST
>From: "A. Fuhl, MIT Press" (fuhl@mit.edu)
>Reply-To: "A. Fuhl, MIT Press" (fuhl@mit.edu)
>To: pesetsk@mit.edu
>Subject: Minimalist Program Recall - please forward
>Date: Mon, 1 Apr 96 07:48:57 -0400
> April 1, 1996>
>Dear customer:
>As you know, MIT Press publications in linguistics are world-famous
>for high intellectual content and superb production values.
>Like everyone, we make mistakes occasionally.  When we make them, we'd
>like you to know that we care.  The only way we can do that is by honestly
>admitting our error and strive as best we can to correct them.
>Recently, in a much-anticipated event, MIT Press published a book by
>Noam Chomsky called "The Miminalist Program".  Unfortunately, it has
>been brought to our attention that the book contains mistakes, including     
>(but not limited to):
> 1. Faulty use of the Greek letters "alpha", "xi" and "zed".
> 2. Extensive misspellings in Faroese and Bantu data.
> 3. Picture of unplayable cello on the cover (broken C, G, D and A strings).
> 4. Omission of "not" in twenty eight passages identified by our editors,
> leading to unnecessary confusion, some of which has already led to
> unnecessary discussion in papers at recent conferences.
> 5. Indices on NPs omitted consistently in later chapters.
>Consequently, in an unprecedented demonstration of our commitment to
>quality control, in the interests of you, our customers, MIT Press has  
>issued a recall of the book.  We will replace all copies of the book
>received by April 1, 1996 with your choice of:
>       1. Pesetsky, Zero Syntax
>       2. Negroponte, Being Digital
>       3. Pinker, The Language Instinct, vol. 2, "the Wilderness Years"
> PLUS, you will receive, FREE OF CHARGE, the revised version of Chomsky's
>>Minimialist Program (white cover), when available.
>Thank you for your cooperation in this serious matter.
>               Sincerely,
>               A. Paul Fuhl
>               Total Quality Management Editor
>               MIT Press
>>April 1, 1996
>Cambridge, Massachusetts

The key indicator that this worked rather too well is that people immediately started trying to contact the MIT Press Bookstore to return their copies. The bookstore had to send out this message:

X-Sender: jeremias@po8.mit.edu
Mime-Version: 1.0
Date: Mon, 1 Apr 1996 14:54:22 -0500
To: ling-grad@MIT.EDU, ling-fac@MIT.EDU, rtg@MIT.EDU
From: jeremias@MIT.EDU (Jeremy Grainger)
Subject: APRIL FOOLS! Minimalist Program Recall - please forward
Cc: pesetsk@MIT.EDU, apierce@MIT.EDU, mitpress-orders@MIT.EDU, csan@MIT.EDU,
    amesj@MIT.EDU, moz@MIT.EDU, vbloise@MIT.EDU, tina@mitpress.mit.edu,
    ckelty@MIT.EDU, jjenkins@shore.net, dsmagall@cchbspub.harvard.edu,
    ehling@mitpress.mit.edu, mccorkle@MIT.EDU

Some folks, don't appear to have figured this out but, please note....

        *       *       *   THIS WAS A APRIL FOOL! *      *      *

Why else would it have been signed by "A. Paul Fuhl" ??

Kindly don't deluge the MIT Press Bookstore staff with your worries...
we have already had *several* enquiries, believe it or not!

{Very funny, David! We'll have to remember this, oh, say,
sometime next year... :)  }

Cheers to all and Happy Spring!

Jeremy Grainger
The MIT Press Bookstore   
(We DO love linguists - and we're not foolin' !)

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at April 2, 2004 03:21 PM