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Linguistics: A Bit of a Sticky Wiki May 6, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, Mindfulness, Word Play.
47 comments

Wikipedia ~ Crossword (in Public Domain)

Some words are easy to define . . .

If I say pencil to someone who speaks English, most educated people will realize that I am talking about a writing implement.

If I say paper to someone who speaks English, I might be talking about something to write on . . . or something to read from . . . or the paper I’m about to present on “Stumbling Blocks to Communication” at the Linguistics Conference in Santa Fe.

With words like paper, a bit of context is usually all that it takes to ascertain which definition of paper I’m using.

Other words, of course, have less uniform definition . . . even among English speaking people.

If I say lift, a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus might picture an elevator while a gentleman of short stature might picture the wedge hidden in his shoes to elevate his height.

A trucker accustomed to hitchhikers might think I’m looking for a ride.

Again, in context, a word like lift is usually sorted out in short order (Hey!  Who you callin’ short?!) without ruffled feathers (or fists) flying.

And then there are more esoteric words . . .

Some words are not susceptible to uniform definition due to cross-cultural differences, or because the concepts they attempt to embody are too big for one word.

For example, the European Sami People, an indigenous circumpolar group, do not have one word for snow ~ they have hundreds.  At last count, 337!

How do I know that?

Wikipedia told me . . . so I know it must be true:

Yes, Wiki loves me
Yes, Wiki loves me
Yes, Wiki loves me
‘Cause Wiki told me so

Actually, in this case, I expect that it is true . . . because Wikipedia cited Cambridge University Press as the source ~ and we all know how smart those folks at C.U.P. are, don’t we?

Here’s what Eskimo Words For Snow, footnote 4, has to say:

ACIA 2005, Artic Climate Impact Assessment, Cambridge University Press, pp 973 “The Sami recognize about 300 different qualities of snow and winter pasture – each defined by a separate word in their language.”

Wow!  300 words for the “same thing” ~ that’s amazing.

I wonder if that’s a World’s Word Record.  It must be.  What other word besides snow could be susceptible to so many different definitions and interpretations?

Wait a minute . . . hold the presses!   {{S~C~R~E~E~C~H~I~N~G  H~A~L~T}}

Let’s back up for a minute . . .

What the hell is an Artic . . . ?  Is that some kind of New Age abbreviation for Artichoke?

Hmm . . . Artichoke Climate Impact Assessment?

Maybe the smart guys at C.U.P. were studying the impact of Global Warming on Artichokes?  No.  That doesn’t seem quite right given the context.

Unless, maybe, the Sami people grow artichokes in one of their 300 different kinds of snow and winter pasture?  I doubt it.  I think that artichokes are even more susceptible to frostbite than I am.

Wait!  I know.  Artic is probably text speak for Article!

No . . . that can’t be right . . .  Article Climate Impact Assessment makes no sense.

Got it!  Artic must be how the English (a/k/a the Brits) spell the word Arctic.

Hmm . . . seems odd.

The Brits are more prone to adding extra letters, color to colour, not dropping them out with no explanation.

Besides . . . I don’t see Artic in the Oxford English Dictionary.   It could be in the Cambridge Dictionary, I suppose.  Hmm . . . does Cambridge even have its own dictionary?  Probably not.  Maybe.  I don’t know.  I’m confused . . .

OMG!  Could it be a typo?

No way!

There is No Way that Wikipedia included a typographical error in a footnote to one of its articles.

The editors at Wikipedia are as infallible as the Bible!  No mistakes.  No mis-translations.  No intentional monkeying around with what to leave in . . . and what to leave out.

Whatever Wiki says goes in my book.  I have faith in Wiki ~ it’s the Gospel Truth.  Wikipedia would never make a sloppy mistake in a footnote to an article as important as Eskimo Words For Snow.

Wiki knows that millions and billions of people all across the globe, in every nook and cranny (except China), rely on Wikipedia for its carefully crafted and edited pieces on everything from Artichokes to Zebras.

There is no way that Wiki made a mistake.

No way!

But what if they did?

OMG!  What if they’ve made other mistakes in other articles on other subjects?

What if my reliance on Wikipedia is nothing more than Blind Faith resulting from indoctrination and brainwashing and mind control?

A belief in an omnipotent and omnipresent being that doesn’t even exist!

If I can’t rely on Wiki for articles and information on something as certain and definite as snow . . . there’s no point in continuing this post to its conclusion.

I hadn’t even reached the really esoteric words that almost no one knows how to define.

You know, words like Christian, and Christianity, and . . . dare I say it . . . G~O~D!

Well, now that I know that Wiki is NOT infallible . . . I’m not going to use it as the sole source of information on a subject any longer.

From now on, I’m going to cross-reference everything that Wiki says.

I want to make sure I don’t get duped like that again.

No rules.  Just write!

Related posts:  Nothing’s Gonna Shake My Faith * A World Without Words * Stuff and Nonsense * Weekend Theme ~ Roundabout * Roundabout (Sidey) * Reading Between The Lines (PTC ~ Reflections) * Roundabout, or the Life of a Spit Roasting Dog (Kate) * Roundabout (Gospel Writer) * Roundabout (Early Bird) * Watchermacallit (The Only Cin)