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

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, Mindfulness, Word Play.

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)


1. Lisa - May 6, 2011

LOL! I might have to share this with my students as I start teaching a research based class online this summer. NO WIKI!

nrhatch - May 6, 2011

Thanks, Lisa. Please do!

This isn’t exactly the post I set out to write. I planned to discuss the varying definitions of words like “God” and got sidetracked. 😉

BTW: I haven’t had a chance to check out the links to your posts yet. But I will!

Lisa - May 6, 2011

I’ll make a note to include, or maybe I’ll just link to it.

No problem about my links. I did open comments on older posts today for a different reason, so feel free to comment if your read.

2. suzicate - May 6, 2011

Language is amazing isn’t it? As for Wiki, the hubs and I have a big controversy over it…if I cite Wiki he tells me to get another source or he won’t believe me because ANYONE can post on Wiki. However, Wiki is like the most simple place ever to get info, whether or not it’s true. Seriously, to prove this he showed me a a whole piec done on his grandfather…I was like wow, he’s on Wiki. He said of course his cousin put him on there, and yes he doubts the validity of some of the info!

nrhatch - May 6, 2011

Anytime we put all our FAITH into one source (no matter how INFALLIBLE we view it to be) we are putting on blinders to ALL contrary evidence, reason, logic, and experience.

Nothing is INFALLIBLE if it’s been touched by man. Nothing . . .

Not even Wiki. 😉

Lisa - May 6, 2011

I always tell mys students that they can start there for some basic info, but they must find better sources. It is a good place to find other sources, if they list the sources. (How many times can I say sources in one comment?) 😉

nrhatch - May 6, 2011

It’s a wonderful research “tool” (like religion) that can point us in the right direction, and give us leads to follow.

After getting some “pointers,” we must part ways and do the “hard work” ourselves.

And LOL at sources ~ sources ~ sources! 😀

3. Lian - May 6, 2011

Thanks for making me laugh! Good point you’re making too 🙂 Oh and the snow thing, I guess is the Eskimos biggest business so they’re allowed to have that many words for it 😉

nrhatch - May 6, 2011

Glad it made you laugh, Lian! Thanks!

What surprised me . . . the Wiki article says that it’s not the Eskimo or Inuit Tribes with all the words for snow . . . it’s the European Sami People, an indigenous circumpolar group.

Of course, I would have to check to make sure that Wiki is right. 😉

4. carldagostino - May 6, 2011

Just think of all the meanings of the simple word run. Each one would have an individual world for the different meaning. How does a person learn English ?

nrhatch - May 6, 2011

That reminds me of a song that my parents heard on their honeymoon in Bermuda, sung by a Calypso Band:

I’m gonna run, run, run like a son of a gun
I don’t know where I’m gonna go . . . but I’m really gonna run

That’s us, many of us . . . running scared.

5. Maggie - May 6, 2011

Wikipedia is a great procrastination device, but what you say is true: it’s far from infallible.

nrhatch - May 6, 2011

It’s a wonderful research “tool” (like religion) that can point us in the right direction, and give us leads to follow.

6. Paula Tohline Calhoun - May 6, 2011

Have you not read the wonderful novel, “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” by Peter Hoeg (Danish)? It’s a mystery, written in the mid 90’s. In any event the hundreds of names for snow play a part in the novel. I recommend the book – it is rather densely packed, but a good read.

Language will always either get us where we want to go or take us in the wrong and/or totally different direction. All “Wikis” (leaks or pedias) are unavoidably open to interpretation, as is everything. How we organize our thinking, or lack thereof, around whatever we read is the key to whatever door we are trying to unlock (or lock, as the case may be).

nrhatch - May 6, 2011

Nope, never heard of it. I’ll check out the reviews on Amazon. Thanks.

Yes . . . tools are tools that point the way. They should not be viewed as “Final (One-Size-Fits-All) Answers.”

7. viewfromtheside - May 7, 2011

that was quite a lot of circumlocution to get to the point


by the way the US drops letters from words, the English didn’t add them later

Cindy - May 7, 2011

I agree, I’ll stick to ‘proper’ English 🙂

nrhatch - May 7, 2011

Are you two ganging up on me? 😉

Well, when you’re right, you’re right. We’re the culprits mucking about with the Queen’s English. Rebels! The lot of us.

While writing it, I saw your theme and said, poifect!

8. eof737 - May 7, 2011

Oh you are funny… Probably an honest typo… made like everyone else. 🙂

nrhatch - May 7, 2011

This post got written in a “Roundabout” way ~ I blame it on Sidey. 😉

I went to Wiki just to see if it identified the # of Inuit words for snow. Saw that it was really the Sami people with all the words. Noticed the typo and decided to comment on it.

Yadda, yadda, yadda . . . the comment grew larger and larger and I ran out of room for the post I had actually planned to write.

Life’s funny like that. 😀

9. Tilly Bud - May 7, 2011


‘Artic’ can be an abbreviation for ‘articulated lorry’. Do they get many of those in the Arctic Circle?

Have to point this out: we Brits don’t add letters to your words; you dropped them from ours. After Independence, a concerted effort was made to have a distinct American language, and one way of doing it was to drop unnecessary letters.

Or shud that be ‘unesesary’ leters?

I really enjoyed this post. Wish I was going to be at your presentation.

nrhatch - May 7, 2011

I am thoroughly humiliated by my ignorance about the direction of travel in The Case of the Missing Letters.

As a result, I’ve canceled my presentation (“Stumbling Blocks to Communication”) previously scheduled for the Linguistics Conference in Santa Fe . . . due to the unforeseen realization that I don’t really know much about linguistics. 😎

10. kateshrewsday - May 7, 2011

Beautifully demonstrated, Nancy. Every source should be regarded with caution, Wiki included.

nrhatch - May 7, 2011

Thanks, Kate! As you are the undisputed master of writing in a delightfully Roundabout way (coming full circle back to the starting point), I can’t wait to read your contribution to Sidey’s theme.

I kept thinking of YES:

11. CMSmith - May 7, 2011

Good spoof. I liked the idea about word interpretations too. Communication is a tricky business.

I can still hear my Communications prof, Jack Hettinger saying, “Vet your sources.”

I’m scared to touch Wikipedia.

nrhatch - May 7, 2011

Thanks, Christine!

I rely on Wiki all the time for blog posts . . . if I’m looking for a quick answer to a not-terribly-important question, or I just need to jog my memory.

It’s an amazing tool to get started down the right path, but it’s not a good stopping point for issues that require depth and veracity.

12. Booksphotographsandartwork - May 7, 2011

All that talk about snow caused me to remember this movie and I think you would really enjoy it. It is very interesting but heartbreaking as well.


nrhatch - May 7, 2011

Thanks, Linda. I just checked the reviews, sounds intriguing . . . but C~O~L~D. 😉

13. oldancestor - May 8, 2011

I don’t want to spend enough time around snow to have more than one word for it.

nrhatch - May 8, 2011

Same here! 😀

14. earlybird - May 8, 2011

Good post – very amusing.

You perhaps never read a book called ‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’… that uses a lot of those 300 words!

nrhatch - May 8, 2011

Thanks, Early Bird!

I haven’t read it, but Paula (comment #6) mentioned it. Intriguing mystery to follow . . . tracing footprints in the snow.

15. viewfromtheside - May 8, 2011

I was having some fun yesterday telling someone about you and Wiki’s inaccuracies. He was really upset as he regards the Wikis as the truth. Sad to have to disillusion him

nrhatch - May 8, 2011

That made me laugh . . . out . . . loud!

I guess we all have to believe in something greater than ourselves . . . no matter how misguided the belief. 😉

Paula Tohline Calhoun - May 8, 2011

The trick is to believe in something “greater” than ourselves. If Wiki is one’s idea of “greater” than ourselves, well, Wiki help us! LOL!! ;-D

nrhatch - May 8, 2011

From my perspective, the real trick is to believe in ourselves. Once we know WHO we are, we know HOW to live:

Trust yourself and you will know how to live. ~ Goethe 😎

16. William D'Andrea - May 9, 2011

If you have doubts about anything you come across while doing research, the best thing to do is go to the original source. If possible, try to find a member of the Sami Tribe who’s logged onto the internet, and ask him or her about the number of words they have for snow.
Or see if you can log onto Wikipedia Management, and ask them if they also go to the original sources, to check things out, before they post them.
However, I think a member of the Sami Tribe, would give you a more accurate answer, than you would get from Wikipedia.

nrhatch - May 9, 2011

What if someone SAYS they’re a member of the Sami Tribe . . . but in reality they are a French ex-patriot sipping pina coladas at Trader Vic’s? People’s on line personas don’t always have any basis in fact. 😀

Fortunately, for most of my writing, I’m less concerned with getting it “right” for “everyone” than I am in getting people to think for themselves about themselves.

17. William D'Andrea - May 9, 2011

How about taking a cruise on an icebreaker to the land of the Sami People, and ask any number of them face to face?

nrhatch - May 9, 2011

Wow! That sounds EXPENSIVE . . . just to prove the number of words the Sami People have for snow? No. I can live with not knowing the exact number of words they have for snow, just like I can live with my doubts about the accuracy of the bible.

That’s my problem with the bible ~ I don’t trust the early church leaders and there’s no one around to interview about what they personally saw, heard, or discovered.

Even if I could go back in time and interview Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, could I believe them? Was their recollection accurate? Was it biased? Did they exaggerate to feed their glorious and fragile Egos? Or to inflate Christ in other’s eyes? Were they bragging?

I take it with a grain of salt and keep my eyes and ears open for direct evidence of the Loving Source of All.

18. William D'Andrea - May 9, 2011

I’ll pray for you. I hope you don’t object.

nrhatch - May 9, 2011

Wow! Are you going to pray that I become someone who accepts the infallibility of the bible because s/he read it in the bible? If so, I sure hope your “personified Christian God” ignores you ~ I like to sleep late on Sundays. 😉

I would offer to pray for you too . . . except I find that type of offer rather condescending. It implies that I know better what you need than you do . . . even though I don’t know you at all.

19. William D'Andrea - May 9, 2011

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.

nrhatch - May 9, 2011

Unity and love are the heart of creation
But your faith and creed foster separation
Your commandments would all mention love
If they’d been authored from above

So, I don’t need your Bible. And I don’t need to be saved.
And I don’t need to find Jesus. God already lights my way.

God dwells within me . . . as me.
God is the breath within the breath.

nrhatch - May 10, 2011

William ~ I am NOT going to post your last comment since it is nothing more than quoting an irrelevant excerpt from the bible. If people want to read the bible, they shall have to do so elsewhere.

20. William D'Andrea - May 10, 2011

Okay. I understand. You are the Queen and this blog is your castle, and we your suplicants must all be obedient to your whims.

Just remember this. Castles and cold and lonely places; and those who sit enthroned in them are cold and lonely people.

nrhatch - May 10, 2011

Thanks for your concern, but I’m neither cold nor lonely. 😉

I suspect that you’re angry and trying to upset me because I won’t give you free rein to say what YOU want to say.

C’est la vie!

What you think of me is none of my business. If you don’t care for the way I moderate discussions on SLTW . . . that’s your problem, not mine. Spirit Lights The Way is not Bible Study 101 . . . that blog is meeting somewhere down the cyber hallway. Feel free to join it.

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