The news media have been responsible for some of the greatest April Fools’ Day pranks in history. In 1977, the London newspaper The Guardian published a seven-page supplement commemorating the anniversary of the independence of San Serriffe, a completely imaginary small island nation located in the Indian Ocean. The article described the geography of the nation — it consisted of two main islands, which together formed the shape of a semi-colon; the northern one was called “Upper Caisse” and the southern one, “Lower Caisse.”
The island’s natives were of “Flong” ethnicity, but there were also the descendents of Europeans settlers who had colonized the nation: “colons.” The two groups had intermarried over the years; their offspring were “semi-colons.”
The capital of the nation was Bodoni and the national bird, the “Kwote.”
In the supplement, there were even advertisements from real companies. Texaco announced a contest whose winner would receive a two-week vacation to the island’s Cocobanana Beach. Kodak placed an ad saying, “If you have a picture of San Serriffe, we’d like to see it.”
The day it ran, The Guardian was flooded with calls for more information. Travel agents and airline companies complained to the editor because the news had been disruptive to their businesses — customers refused to believe that the islands were only imaginary.
Stolen from today’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac.