Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Compare cell phone plans using Wirefly's innovative plan comparison tool ×
Wikipedia

One Man's Quest To Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake 425

An anonymous reader writes with this Fascinating profile of one particular Wikipedia editor Giraffedata (a 51-year-old software engineer named Bryan Henderson), who has spent the last seven years correcting only the incorrect use of "comprised of" on Wikipedia. Using a code to crawl for uses of "comprised of" throughout all of Wiki's articles, he'll then go in and manually correct them (for example, using "consists of" or "composed of") and has made over 47,000 edits to date.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

One Man's Quest To Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake

Comments Filter:
  • Monomania (Score:5, Funny)

    by war4peace ( 1628283 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @02:04PM (#48971013)

    Comprised of the ability to withstand the urge of doing anything else but this.

    • by show me altoids ( 1183399 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @02:30PM (#48971357)
      "He'll then go in and manually corrects them." Slashdot needs this guy to proofread submissions.
    • Re:Monomania (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hussman32 ( 751772 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @03:07PM (#48971679)

      While some people may find his actions cromulent, I personally think his work embiggens us all.

    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @04:36PM (#48972907)

      I don't get why we tolerate people that have vices that are actually far more harmful. But an improper use of spelling or grammar, causes people with such an uproar.

      My personal hypothesis bases on no facts whatsoever. Is that teachers in the attempt in instill proper grammar and other language skills, actually went to far and caused people to see grammar and language as a moral issue, and not just a skill, to insure that ideas are commonly understood.

      Many of these people going after language issues, are often just fighting the natural migration of language where the meaning is well understood and isn't affecting peoples understanding of the information.

      • My guess is that they are attempting to direct language. For instance spelling bees in Spanish would be absurd since Spanish has had a pretty vigorously defended spelling system. English has always(Old-English) been (Proto-Germanic) a bit of a hodgepodge (Anglo-French) of disparate (latin) bits and pieces (French). As a result there is no consistency. I agree that it would be nice to clean up and standardize our spelling/grammar but obviously it's a futile task.

      • Re:Monomania (Score:4, Informative)

        by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @05:19PM (#48973451) Homepage Journal

        My personal hypothesis bases on no facts whatsoever. Is that teachers in the attempt in instill proper grammar and other language skills, actually went to far...

        Corrected: ... actually went too far...

        Sorry, given the story topic, I couldn't help myself.

      • I have two issues with your post. First, the use of some kind of standardized grammar aids in comprehension by decreasing the difficulty of interpreting the meaning. If you reduce the number of re-parses that the reader has to do due to unexpected/non-standard word/punctuation use, the information comes through smoother and cleaner. Second, the reader will notice the "register" of the text and tend to give less credence to the information if it doesn't match what they expect. People don't expect idiosyncras
      • Re:Monomania (Score:4, Interesting)

        by war4peace ( 1628283 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @07:05PM (#48974515)

        Apples and oranges.
        Tolerating people with vices falls under a different category than tolerating grammar blunders.
        Some things in languages are subject to change, yes. Random example: "all things considered" versus "all things considering". While the latter is considered as being incorrect, it is actually correct in some cases, when, let's say, you weigh components of an equation while building your own conclusion. "All things considered" technically refers to your train of thought ending before you draw a conclusion (implying you have enough time to do so), while "all things considering" means that the situation is ongoing and based on current set of events you decide to take *this* course of action.

        Language is everchanging, yes, but some of its components need to be represented correctly to eliminate inconsistencies, especially where said inconsistencies might give a totally different meaning to what's being said, effectively corrupting conveyed information. Another reason is more of a personal perception: whoever consistently makes blatant mistakes is much more likely to not respect both themselves and the audience. Shortly put, they're less likely to be trusted by me, not in the "I won't lend you money" sense, but in the "it's riskier to do business with you" sense.

        I don't care if the person next to whom I party is less literate but I do care if I am supposed to do business with them. Just today I cut a small deal with a company which sent me an e-mail telling me they extended their offer until 31st of February. This mistake meant (to me) they're prone to overlooking shit. If one can't properly verify a 3 row e-mail, how am I supposed to trust them to properly verify 100K lines of code?

        So yes, shortly put it's about self esteem, attention to details and how prepared one is to care about details, learn proper ways of doing things and not mess up because "hey, it happens".

        Disclaimer: English is not my native language.

  • by Marginal Coward ( 3557951 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @02:07PM (#48971057)

    he'll then go in and manually corrects them

    (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

  • Similarity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @02:09PM (#48971085)

    This twitter account is similar: Correcting users on Twitter who type "sneak peak" with "sneak peek", we have "Stealth Mountain". https://twitter.com/stealthmountain

    Not sure either of these qualify as 'news', but what the hell, it's a slow news day anyways.

    • by mekkab ( 133181 )
      Mod Parent up, because I came to post this exact thing. In fact, the fascinating thing about Stealth Mountain is the amount of absolute abuse he 'suffers' from those who don't appreciate his corrections. And it's too bad he hasn't posted recently; I can't imagine it's due to a lack of tweet-fodder to work with!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      http://theoatmeal.com/comics/sneak_peek

    • on /. these days are copy/pasted submissions from Hacker News [ycombinator.com] anywhere from a few hours to a few days later.

  • Hasn't anyone tried to verbalize that to him?

  • by eexaa ( 1252378 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @02:14PM (#48971155) Homepage

    Next up: The Wget Guy manually downloads a "hand-tailored" copy of wikipedia and sells it for living on DVDs.

    Oh wait.

  • From the definition of comprised:

    Idioms
    4. be comprised of, to consist of; be composed of:
    "The sales network is comprised of independent outlets and chain stores."
  • Speaking of mistakes (Score:5, Informative)

    by jdavidb ( 449077 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @02:17PM (#48971197) Homepage Journal

    Using a code to crawl for uses of "comprised of" throughout all of Wiki's articles

    Wikipedia is not "Wiki." Wikipedia is a wiki. There are many wikis in the world, and they are not all Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the publication, and wiki is the medium. "All of Wiki's articles" is like saying "All of Newspaper's articles."

    Maybe I can get away with this offtopic pedantic comment since this whole article is about a guy spending years trying to fix small errors. :)

    • Using a code to crawl for uses of "comprised of" throughout all of Wiki's articles

      Wikipedia is not "Wiki." Wikipedia is a wiki. There are many wikis in the world, and they are not all Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the publication, and wiki is the medium. "All of Wiki's articles" is like saying "All of Newspaper's articles."

      Maybe I can get away with this offtopic pedantic comment since this whole article is about a guy spending years trying to fix small errors. :)

      To be completely pedantic, you don't actually know that he confined his search to just Wikipedia. The article revolves around Wikipedia but he might be crusading across the entire internet, for all you know. Many other Wiki systems allow user contributions just like Wikipedia.

    • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @03:14PM (#48971783)

      " There are many wikis in the world, and they are not all Wikipedia."

      This is true. "Wiki" is a girls name in Aotearoa. It is the shortened form of Wikitoria

    • There is a Wiki [c2.com], the original one. Wiki is its name. It's quite good too, at least if you're interested in software development.
  • I suppose that is his.

  • How about getting rid of "this light bulb uses 3 times less power than this other one!". It's not mathematically correct to say. You can day "bulb a uses 30% of the power of bulb b" or "bulb b requires three times the power of bulb a", but saying that something is three times less just makes no sense.

    • but saying that something is three times less just makes no sense

      Generally, yes. But there are times that a variation of that construction is useful. When Thing B is being described as already (for example) using less energy than Thing A, and you then bring up the even more efficient Thing C, it becomes meaningful, even useful, to say that Thing C, uses even less energy than Thing B (both being compared, even if indirectly, to Thing A).

      But in almost every use that generally comes up, you're right. It's far more useful to say, "Think C consumes a third of the energy t

  • "he'll then go in and manually corrects them "
  • How many of those edits were accepted fixes, and how many were epic edit war battles fought tooth and nail over 100 reverts with the Wikirati elite editor brigade?

    • by mekkab ( 133181 )
      I realize it's anathema to expect any one to actually read the article, but it's addressed. He keeps a 6-month database of previous edits and never re-edits (at least, not for another 6 months).
  • I've known for many years that "comprise" (usually used as "comprised", "comprises", or "comprising" depending on context) means the same as "composed of", so that "comprised of" means "composed of of" which is ridiculous.

    BUT, this has been so heavily misused for so long, and increasingly even in respectable publications that should know better and by otherwise skilled and educated writers, that I'm starting to give up. Not to the point of ever saying "comprised of" myself, but to the point of not bothering

  • So, some Aspie is on a nerd quest and this is news worthy?

    I bet the women swoon, and he's fun at parties -- or, possibly, the other one.

    Dude, seriously, have you not learned to not broadcast this stuff in 51 years? If you're high functioning to hold a job, surely you've figured out to dial back the "dork" a little in public.

    Now, excuse me, I have to go sort my pencils and re-stack the toilet paper.

  • Wikipedia is supposed to be the encyclopedia anyone can edit. And the editors of the articles chose to use comprised of. No one editor should be exerting such undue influence on the whole of the Wikipedia articles.

    It is not spam.... but I would put it on equal footing to an editor deciding they don't like links to articles on a certain website, then searching for every article referencing it in order to move the link to the bottom of the list.

    Clearly the widespread usage means there is not any broad

  • The unsung heroes who can't help but correct people. Obsessively. I've been following a similar person on imdB who consistently corrects people's plot theories about Memento and Primer (and a few others): http://www.imdb.com/user/ur128... [imdb.com] He's been doing it, routinely, for years.
  • The Wikipedia Typo Team [wikipedia.org] has a lot of people who "adopt" particular misspellings by periodically searching for them and fixing them. I've been doing it since 2006 and I'm a little short of 100,000 edits. Of course I am not quite so fixated as Giraffedata - I also work on other projects, collect interesting vandalism [blogspot.com], and create the occasional article.

    There's plenty of room to contribute in small ways. People who mainly do things like this are referred to as WikiGnomes [wikipedia.org].

    • by neminem ( 561346 )

      Your site is amazing. Thanks for linking - just too bad you apparently haven't done anything with it since 2013?

  • ...you can (and should) be replaced by a RegEx.

  • This is a mistake many programmers (like Mr. Henderson) make. Human languages are not like programming languages, where there's a compiler that either accepts it or doesn't. There are no rulebooks for English, and many (if not most) of the supposed "rules" you may have been taught actually have more exceptions than exemplars. The only real rule is that your target audience understands you without being distracted by your weird way of saying it.

    So I'm sorry, but pretty much any change that requires referen

    • by jfengel ( 409917 )

      "Comprised" has become spoiled, to use the lexicographer's term for it. The proper use of it ("The USSR comprised 15 republics") sounds pedantic. Improper use ("Salt is comprised of sodium and chlorine") is lame, because the word "composed" is so similar and unarguably proper. At best, they're synonyms; at worst, that redundancy looks foolish.

      So it ends up being not used at all in formal speech until it has completed its turn to its new meaning. And that new meaning is going to be a slightly prissy-sounding

      • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

        So it ends up being not used at all in formal speech until it has completed its turn to its new meaning. And that new meaning is going to be a slightly prissy-sounding synonym for "composed".

        The turn has completed. Much like the use of "hacker" to refer primarily to people who break computer security measures, the meaning has changed and no amount of spirited railing against it is going to change that.

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @02:50PM (#48971487) Homepage
    This guy really nees to watch Erin MckEan's TED talk. [ted.com] Basically she is part of the large movement to throw out this kind of stupidity.

    Languages come in two types: Living and Dead. Dead languages have solid grammatical rules that must be obeyed. Living languages are in flux, constantly evolving. What this person did is NO different than a British person going through all of Wikipedia and replacing the word Humor with Humour or Favorite with Favourite.

    Words and Grammar CHANGE. Enough people use the word AINT, it gets imported into the language.

    Why? Because living languages are comprised of words and phrases that take their meaning from the common usage, not from a book. If people understand a meaning, that is the meaning.

    There is no language police outlawing people, no punishment - except for public disapproval and opinion - for misuse. This guy is not the public and has no right to disapprove of how the public uses the language.

    • by fibonacci8 ( 260615 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @03:10PM (#48971741)

      Words and Grammar CHANGE. Enough people use the word AINT, it gets imported into the language.

      You've spelled "ain't" wrong.

    • It's easier just to draw a line and say that if it hasn't been recognized by a dictionary, it shouldn't be used. Otherwise you have to decide to draw some arbitrary line between what slang or uncommon usages to accept and what slang to reject. Far easier just to go with the accepted form and allow changes if the accepted form changes. Just because a language is alive doesn't mean it should be allowed to run wild in all places.

      Never mind any words or phrases which have become so largely and collectively m
  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @02:55PM (#48971547)

    Now that this is publicly known you can be sure there will be trolls who will mess with the guy.

  • What bothers me most is the apparent symmetric relation of this word. For example, you can say the US comprises 50 states. Or you can say the 50 states comprise the US. It can mean "be made up of" or "make up". I don't get it. Are there any other words like this where the order of articles doesn't matter? Isn't this a transitive verb? What's the object? Fill in the blank: Alaska and Alabama are two of the states ______ the United states is comprised. Isn't the answer "of which"?
  • But but but, "comprised of" is Vogon Poetry!

  • "Grammar Nazi" springs to mind, especially as language evolves to support things like this. Apparently the Oxford dictionary allows it anyway [slashdot.org].

    I would have to say that a venture like this is (at least) a massive waste of time. For all its good, there are loads of problems, quirks, inconsistencies, and unnecessary complexities within the English language already. Nit picking a minor aspect such as this is like worrying about the quality of the window washer fluid you use for a car whilst ignoring the incre
  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @03:22PM (#48971869) Journal

    Global search: "utilize"
    Replace with: "use"

    Global search: "baited breath"
    Replace with: "bated breath"

    I could do this ALL day, man.

    • Re:Next up... (Score:4, Informative)

      by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @04:03PM (#48972459) Homepage Journal

      I would, literally, also change most occurrences of literally to figuratively.

      Then there are news articles about people who get evacuated, and not even in a hospital. If you can't substitute the word "empty", don't use the word evacuated.

      And this is a lost battle, but a burglar burgles, he doesn't burglarize, unless he turns others into burglars.
      Similar with ruggedized, which more often than not should be replaced with rugged.

      But perhaps most of all, when people write "I could care less" when they mean "I couldn't care less".

  • My pet peeve would have to be using "compliment" and "complement" interchangeably.

  • With the proviso that he turn the usually butchered summaries into actual English sentences! We're not asking for much, just an actual summary that doesn't contain more than 30 errors.

  • If something gets used often enough, it becomes an accepted usage. Languages change all the time.
  • KGO-Radio (810AM San Francisco) had an afternoon talk show host in the 1980's who declared war on the word, "basically," because people were abusing it all the time. After a while, he basically gave up.
  • by morgauxo ( 974071 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2015 @03:47PM (#48972217)

    I think I will go on a quest to get rid of as many occurances of "X times LESS than ..." as possible.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I applaud this man's efforts. Copy editing and proper English have gone down the tubes in writing today. It's become so bad that even major news outlets are publishing egregious errors in headlines and teasers, as well as in article body content, daily and at an alarming rate. Sad to see that there is no higher standard anymore and everyone writing like a 14-year old, C-level English student.

There must be more to life than having everything. -- Maurice Sendak

Working...