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What’s in a Name?

by Hersch

Over the years, resourceful Wikipedia editors have developed an ever-expanding array of techniques for making Wikipedia into a grotesque parody of an actual encyclopedia. On one of the more entertaining policy pages, Wikipedia professes to be not a soapbox, but experienced editors know that policy pages are simply weapons to be used against inexperienced editors. For the truly committed Wikipediot, Wikipedia is nothing but a soapbox, or to be more precise, an arena of combat in which the victorious warrior will gain control of the soapbox. Sometimes, however, there is no clear victor, and this is reflected in some of the tortured titles for Wikipedia articles.

One milestone battle in the history of WikiKombat was an article with the title “Allegations of Israeli apartheid.” As you may have surmised, when the article was introduced in 2006, the original title was “Israeli apartheid,” and indeed, there were numerous Reliable Sources™ asserting that such a thing existed. There was a group of editors (including legendary WikiWarriors Jayjg and SlimVirgin) who were horrified at the idea of having an article on this provocative topic. They were unable to get it deleted, so in lieu of that, they hit upon the idea of renaming it “Allegations of Israeli apartheid,” because after all, can anyone prove that it is really Apartheid? Do they call it that in Israel? Another fun article title from the same historical period was “Iranian Genocidal Intentions”, which apparently did not have enough Reliable Sources™ to cut the mustard.

The history of the various names of the “Allegations of Israeli apartheid”  article has many interesting twists and turns, but we’ll confine ourselves here to the highlights.  The group of editors who were chagrined at its existence were not satisfied with merely making the article about “allegations.” They still wanted it deleted, but it refused to die. So, in order to reduce the unfavorable PR impact, they decided to create an environment in which “allegations of apartheid” were less inflamatory by virtue of being commonplace. Article after article began to spring up at Wikipedia with similar titles: “Allegations of apartheid” in Brazil, China, France, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, the allegations were flying everywhere.


This all culminated in a richly comic arbitration case before the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee, with the decision being that no action would be taken, because the Arbs were “unable to determine which actions in this matter, if any, were undertaken in bad faith.” And the current name of the article has become Israel and the apartheid analogy.

There are many other articles whose names betray a history of finagling among rival teams of propagandists. A recent example is “2012 Chick-fil-A same-sex marriage controversy,” formerly “2012 Chick-fil-A gay-marriage freedom of speech controversy.” We haven’t carefully examined the history of the conflict over this one, but one may imagine other possible names which failed, such as “2012 Chick-fil-A fast-food bigotry imbroglio” and “2012 Chick-fil-A free enterprise vs. sodomy struggle.”

And here’s another example of an article which as undergone many (unsuccessful) name changes.

In topic areas where someone has an axe to grind, articles can proliferate like mad, with ever-more abstruse titles. Wikipediocracy regular Mason makes the following observation:

And if Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (THL) isn’t enough, there’s also Opinions on the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (THL), because of course opinions about a controversy need to be in a separate article from the one about the controversy itself. But not international opinions, those go in International reactions to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (THL). Which is entirely different from the Economic and social consequences of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (THL), of course.

But this being Wikipedia, shouldn’t we also be looking for article titles which are just downright trivial, demented and/or nonsensical? Of course we should. Here are some examples:


In some cases, it is actually necessary to read the article before the silliness of its title becomes apparent. For example:

…where the first sentence of the article, as of this writing, is:

Poland never formally had any colonial territories.


Well… let it be said that Wikipedia is nothing if not non-incomplete. In your face, Britannica!


Image credit –  Flickr/ tm-tm, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

4 comments to What’s in a Name?