San Serriffe is a fictional island nation created for April Fools' Day, 1977, by staff members of Britain's Guardian newspaper. An elaborate description of the nation, using puns and plays on words relating to typography (such as "sans serif"), was reported as legitimate news, apparently fooling many readers who did not understand the joke and did not understand that there was a reason that the island was also known as Hoaxe. In more recent years knowledge of typography has spread through widespread use of computers, and so the jokes are much more likely to be spotted.
The first version of the hoax appeared in the British newspaper The Guardian on April 1, 1977. A seven-page supplement was published in the style of contemporary reviews of foreign countries, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the island's independence, complete with themed advertisements from major companies. The island was reused for similar hoaxes in 1978, 1980 and 1999.
The original idea was to have it located in the Atlantic Ocean near Tenerife, but due to the ground collision of two Boeing 747s there a few days before publication, in the original Guardian newspaper report it was moved to the Indian Ocean, near the Seychelles Islands.
San Serriffe was one of the most famous and successful hoaxes of recent decades; it has become part of the common cultural heritage of literary humour, and a secondary body of literature has been derived from it. The remainder of this article draws from these many sources.
San Serriffe is depicted by The Guardian
an island nation in the southern oceans
. Owing to a peculiarity of ocean currents
, its exact position does vary. A recent report locating it in the Bering Sea
was presumably an error. On April 1
, The Guardian
reported that San Serriffe is currently floating just off New Zealand's South Island, but if the rate of movement really is 1.4 km per year as published, San Serriffe should stay in the Indian Ocean for several millennia.
San Serriffe is an archipelago
consisting of two main islands
and a number of smaller ones. Of the larger islands, the more northerly (the Caissa Superiore
or Upper Caisse
) is roughly round and the more southerly (the Caissa Inferiore
or Lower Caisse
) round but with a promontory extending south-westwards from the south-east, at Thirty Point
. The two major islands are separated by the Shoals of Adze
, dominated by Cap Em
. A major inland feature is a swamp, known locally as the wodge
|Railways of San Serriffe (as surveyed, 1977)
The capital, Bodoni
, is in the centre of the Caissa Superiore, and is served by an international airport
. It is linked by fast highways to the major ports, including Port Clarendon
and Port Elrod, which both provide ample commercial shipping facilities.
Upper Caisse in particular, is well served by a network of railway lines serving the capital, Bodoni, the airport, and the major coastal towns, including the phosphate mining and processing region in the North East. the main line, originally built by the Great North Bodoni Railway Company, even boasted its own golf club, at Port Baskerville.
A ferry connects Adze on the south coast of the northern island to Cap Em on the north coast of the southern island and there were plans to build a west coastal line as far as Gill Cameo, but it is not known if this line was ever completed.
Possibly due to its remote and shifting location, the full history of San Serriffe has never been adequately told, but these basic details are known.
- 1421. "Discovered by adventurers recruited by John Street, an English admirer of Henry the Navigator. The crew made their historic landfall in the Shoals of Adze." (Guardian, April 1, 1977)
- 1432–1439. Colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese.
- 1659. Annexed by Great Britain.
- 1815. Ceded to Portugal.
- 1824–1836. The condominium (a term of uncertain meaning).
- April 1 1967. Independence; a social democratic government takes control.
- June 1967. Colonel Hispalis seizes control.
- August 1969. General Minion seizes control.
- May 11 1971. General M.-J. Pica assumes responsibility for the government, and subsequently institutes martial law and assumes full dictatorial powers due to "foreign terrorist infiltration". This leads to nationwide protests, escalating into civil war and 23 years of ensuing chaos and anarchy.
- May 12 1997. First general elections. Antonio Bourgeois swept to power.
The native people of San Serriffe are the Flong
. However, the dominant group are of European stock, the descendants of colonists, known as colons
. There is also a large mixed-race group, known as semi-colons
. In the last available census (1973
), as reported in the April 1
, 1977, Guardian
, the population of the island was 1,782,724, with approximately 640,000 colons and semi-colons; 574,000 Flongs; 271,000 Creoles
; 117,000 Malaysians
; 92,000 Arabs
; and 88,000 persons of other ethnic groups.
For many years following independence in 1967
, San Serriffe had an autocratic form of government under military strongman General Pica
. However, democratic elections were held in 1997
. The winner was the charismatic Antonio Bourgeois
Among the cultural highlights of life in San Serriffe are:
The relaxation of the islands' strict anti-pornography laws under the Bourgeois government has led to the publication of a series of risqué novels by Serriffean journalists, collectively referred to as the "Times Nude Romances".
The bitter-sweet swarfega
is prepared in various ways to create unique Serriffean dishes. Because of this, the local cuisine lacks the oily character of some related styles.
The national bird of San Serriffe is the kwote
, a member of the guillemot
San Serriffe has made little impression on the international sporting world, apart from their epic defeat of England
. The application of the national Rugby Union
team, the Kwotes, to participate in the Rugby Union World Cup 1991
was rejected by a Twickenham
official on the grounds that "we don't have any four-figure scoreboards, old boy." However the islands' annual endurance challenge race, involving running
, mountain biking
, and windsurfing
from Cap Em to the German immigrant village of Ems in the Caissa Inferiore
(popularly known as the Two Em Dash
), now attracts international participants, and it has been some years since it was won by a Serriffean athlete.
- Special Report: San Serriffe. The Guardian, 1 April, 1977 (7pp)
- Visit San Serriffe, The Guardian, 1 April, 1978
- Bachaus, Theodore (pseudonym of Henry Morris) (1978). ''The World's Worst Marbled Papers: Being a collection of ten contemporary San Serriffean marbled papers.... Port Clarendon, San Serriffe: San Serriffe Publishing Co. (but actually Newtown, PA: Bird & Bull Press).
- Bachaus, Theodore (pseudonym of Henry Morris) (1980). The Private Presses of San Serriffe. Port Clarendon, San Serriffe: San Serriffe Publishing Company (but actually Newtown, PA: Bird & Bull Press).
- Bachaus, Theodore (pseudonym of Henry Morris) (2001). The Booksellers of San Serriffe. Port Clarendon, San Serriffe: San Serriffe Publishing Company (but actually Newtown, PA: Bird & Bull Press).
- Foolish things, David McKie, The Guardian, 1 April, 2006 explaining how the original hoax came about and the impact it caused
- Some rough guides to San Seriffe, The Guardian, 5 April, 1999
- How young Tony Blair tuned into a new type of politics, The Guardian, 2 April, 1999
- Return to San Serriffe, Berlin Sans, The Guardian, 1 April, 1999
- The leader's rise to power in San Serriffe, Mark Arnold-Forster, The Guardian, 1 April, 1977
- Spiking the cultural roots, Tim Radford, The Guardian, 1 April, 1977
- - Ongoing April Fools Project.
- Museum of Hoaxes account of the history of the hoax