My new favourite Wikipedia mini-controversy

This is great.  A couple of days ago,this (entitled “Cirith Ungol” was XKCD, one of my favourite webcomics out there, which serves up humour, wisdom, wit and wonder (sometimes not all at once) three times a week:

My all-time favorite example of syntactic ambiguity comes from Wikipedia: "Charlotte's Web is a children's novel by American author E. B. White, about a pig named Wilbur who is saved from being slaughtered by an intelligent spider named Charlotte.

I love the idea of the demographic of this comic — people who have read both Lord of the Rings and Charlotte’s Web.  But it gets way better.  XKCD always includes some interesting, odd or funny alt text that pops up if you hover over the image.  In case that isn’t working for you, here it is:  “My all-time favorite example of syntactic ambiguity comes from Wikipedia: “Charlotte’s Web is a children’s novel by American author E. B. White, about a pig named Wilbur who is saved from being slaughtered by an intelligent spider named Charlotte.”

Good one, right?  The way it’s written, you can’t tell if Charlotte is the one saving or the one potentially slaughtering.

The thing about Wikipedia, though, is that it’s easily correctable.  And the thing about an audience of hobbit and Wilbur fans is that it must include a lot of Wikipedia editors.  Sure enough, on a lark I went to the relevant article and found this edited sentence:  “Charlotte’s Web is a children’s novel by American author E. B. White, about a pig named Wilbur and his intelligent spider friend, Charlotte, who saves him from slaughter.”

The thing about a demographic of Ringer-Spi-hard-Wiki-editors is that they are probably contentious.  So look at the list of recent edits and the wiktroversy that has erupted:

That’s right:  people are now arguing about whether it would be right to correct an ambiguity that was pointed out in a webcomic because it was pointed out in a webcomic.

I hope that last sentence wasn’t ambiguous.  Or, if it was, I hope that Randall Munroe calls me out on it.

And, no, sadly, I am not the coiner of wiktroversy.  It’s been used once before, two years ago.

Dang.

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About davidlomax

Writer, teacher, husband, dad. Geek from way back. Author of the totally pre-orderable Backward Glass, out in October 2013 from Flux Books (http://goo.gl/4FOM2). View all posts by davidlomax

2 responses to “My new favourite Wikipedia mini-controversy

  • Barry

    are you allowed to write insightful geek from way back, or does that become ungeek like?

    • davidlomax

      I think if I wrote “insightful” it would just be bragging. I’m just trying to note that I was a geek way before it was trendy. It’s like how some people like to note that they liked the Beatles long before Ed Sullivan had them on.

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