Around April Fool’s Day in 1708, Jonathan Swift, ever mischievous, set out to humiliate one, John Partridge, a noted English astrologer and almanac-maker.
Under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq., Swift published “Predictions for the Year 1708,” which foretold Partridge would die of a “raging fever” on March 29 that year. To deepen the prank, Swift then fabricated a letter from a purported acquaintance confirming Partridge had died as predicted.
Swift’s prank was wildly successful. People in the community even began undertaking funeral preparations when they heard the alleged news. But Swift’s hoax is fascinating for another reason—at least for word lovers.