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Taking the Alphabet Soup with a Grain of Salt

By Hersch

As is sometimes the case with highly insular organizations, Wikipedia has developed an elaborate jargon, incomprehensible to outsiders. It has been made even more bewildering to the uninitiated by being expressed almost exclusively in the form of acronyms. Increasingly, this serves to defend the project against newcomers who actually believe that “anyone can edit”; in content disputes, it gives the advantage to entrenched persons who can cite policy with great facility (and greater selectivity.) Here is a survey of some of Wikipedia’s most popular acronyms, with some jaundiced commentary on the definitions:



AGF (WP:AGF) – Assume good faith.

In theory: come on, people now, smile on your brother. We’re all in this together to provide accurate information to a benighted world. If someone seems to be applying policy in an oddly incorrect and seemingly self-serving manner, it is surely an honest mistake.  

In practice: when you are busily gaming the system in order to tilt a particular article toward your preferred bias, and someone calls you on it, you may indignantly cite this policy. “Moi?”

AN (WP:AN) – Administrators’ noticeboard.

In theory: a place where Wikipedia administrators and other interested parties can freely discuss problem users and resolve complex issues.

In practice: here you may swiftly assemble a lynch mob for any occasion, and with a little luck, get the precipitous action that you desire. Or not.

ARBCOM (WP:ARBCOM) – Arbitration Committee.

In theory: the buck stops here for dispute resolution.

In practice: here you may put on your powdered wig and expound your arguments at great length, with faux-legalistic gravitas. This will have little effect on the Committee, which is anxiously trying to avoid disturbing the status quo.

BLP (WP:BLP) – Biographies on living persons.

In theory:  the policy that says Thou Shalt Not Defame. 

In practice: to the extent that it is enforced, this is the policy that says Thou Shalt Not Defame. There is really no down side to this policy, and it is deeply resented by the Wikipedia Old Guard.

COI (WP:COI) – Conflict of interest.

In theory: we presume that Wikipedia discourages biased editing, and therefore, if someone has a real-life position that might tend to bias their editing of a particular topic, he or she probably shouldn’t be editing there.  

In practice: this is a handy policy to cite if you find yourself in a dispute with a credentialed expert. Of course, if you had a  genuine conflict of interest, would you disclose it?

What does it all mean?

HA (WP:HA) – Harassment.

In theory: Wikipedia discourages editors who are involved in contact disputes from trying to make life miserable for their opponents in hopes of driving them away.

In practice: context is everything. Remember, when you are following your opponent from article to article in order to cause him maximum vexation, or trawling the net for info on his girlfriend’s employer, you are Defending the Project Against a Disruptive User. When he does it to you, it is WP:Harassment.

NPOV (WP:NPOV) – Neutral point of view.

In theory: Wikipedia seeks to discourage bias in articles, so all points of view must be included, in proportion to the degree of emphasis they receive in Reliable Sources.™ This is the “no viewpoint left behind” policy.

In practice: this means your bias should receive greater emphasis in an article relative to the emphasis given to your opponent’s bias.

RS (WP:RS) – Reliable sources.

In theory: information added to articles is supposed to be cited to reputable published sources that engage in some sort of fact-checking, or else to some newspaper.

In practice: This is often the essential arena of your typical WikiBattle. It goes without saying that your sources are reliable, and your opponent’s are not.

SPI (WP:SPI) – Sockpuppet investigations.

In theory: since the Wikipedia editing process operates by consensus, one wouldn’t want to distort the apparent consensus by having one user participate using multiple accounts. Also, once an editor has run afoul of an admin and gotten himself banned, one would not wish him to return under a new assumed identity. Why, that would be disruptive.

In practice: The quickest and most effective way to prevail in a dispute over article content is to get your opponent denounced and banned as a sockpuppet. See also WP:9STEPS.

V (WP:V) – Verifiability.

In theory: Wikipedia could not possibly be held responsible for the accuracy and truthfulness of its content. Therefore, everything must be verifiably cited to published sources that can take the rap if the heat comes down.

In practice: “All the news that’s in print, we fit.”


Photo credit:  FlickrjACK TWO , licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Photo credit:  Flickr/edenpictures , licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

7 comments to Taking the Alphabet Soup with a Grain of Salt

  • David Wainwright

    I’m so glad that I left Wikipedia. I’m not sure what is worse, the endless list of Wikiacronyms or the fact that the terms are blatantly exploited. Another favorite acronym of hard-core Wikipedians is IAR (Ignore All Rules).

    Theoretically, IAR allows editors to avoid rigid legalism, and make the decisions best represent the spirit of the project. In practice, IAR means that editors and admins can do anything they want anytime they want. Anarchy!

    To best understand the Wikipedia culture, read George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” and “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

  • Jiro Toshiyori

    Don’t forget WP:DICK.

    In theory: don’t be disruptive. Includes a disclaimer that you’re not supposed to use it to call other people dicks.

    In practice: Since invoking this essay implies calling someone else a dick, the disclaimer basically says “here’s a nice essay. Now never use it (except for self-reflection).” As people are unlikely to obey a disclaimer like that, the effect is that there’s a semi-official way to call someone a dick on Wikipedia.

    • Hersch

      WP:DICK is not official policy, nor will it ever be. It goes against too many of the fundamental precepts of the project. If you enter that shortcut into the search field at Wikipedia, you get what is called a “soft redirect” to Wikimedia “Meta-Wiki,” where it is considered safe to discuss such matters.

  • Lörd öf Füry


    In theory: Alerting fellow users to a likely case of canvassing and/or sockpuppeting.

    In practice: Poisoning the well against someone (especially an IP) whose opinion you disagree with but whose arguments you cannot refute.

  • The idea that accurate information, never mind “the truth”is the product of consensus is the the rankest of superstition. There is absolutely no reason to believe that even one accurate encyclopedia entry will be produced from even the consensus of named experts in a field so adding anonymity and a license to entirely fake qualifications to write on a topic only adds to the absurdity of the pantomime.

    Wikipedia’s “General Disclaimer” is the opposite of what a responsible reference work would assert. It is exactly because the named authors and editors of real reference works guarantee that they’ve made a good faith effort to produce accurate, reliable information that there is any reason for anyone to take them seriously . Wikipedia is the emblem of a decadent culture in which a lie is as good as the truth if you can sell it as such.

  • Tony

    Maybe this is a dumb complaint, but one area this has always annoyed me in is images. There isn’t really an easy way for a novice user to get an image deleted for any reason. WP:CSD requires you to know the specific reason why an image should be speedily deleted (copyright violation?, wrong copyright for Wikipedia?, redundant?) and it requires that you know how to use templates correctly. WP:PUF requires the use of three templates, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get it right (much less even find the place). And finally, there’s WP:FFD. Once you get the templates correct, there’s no guarantee that anything will be done, whether it’s from users arguing that we really do need that image (regardless of its copyright status, in which case, off to WP:NFC) or because of the impressive backlog that the page has amassed.

  • […] Some of the Wikipedia jargon used in this essay may be unfamiliar to the layman. For a concise explanation of the acronyms used, see “Taking the Alphabet Soup with a Grain of Salt.” […]