THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 15

Subject:  Crowdsourcing – Wikipedia

Event:  Wikipedia launched, 2001

On March 13, 2012, The New York Times announced that after 244 years, The Encyclopedia Britannica would no longer produce its print edition.

First published in 1768, the Encyclopedia Britannica became the most recognized and authoritative reference work ever published in English.  Its more than 4,000 contributors included Nobel Prize winners and American presidents.

In the 1950s, The Britannica was sold door-to-door, and many American families invested in the multi-volume repository of knowledge, paying in monthly installments.  The last print edition, produced in 2010, consisted of 32 volumes and weighed 129 pounds. Its price tag was $1,395.

An incomplete sphere made of large, white, jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each puzzle piece contains one glyph from a different writing system, with each glyph written in black.
The Wikipedia wordmark which displays the name Wikipedia, written in all caps. The W and the A are the same height and both are taller than the other letters which are also all the same height.

Although it went out of print in 2012, the true end of the Encyclopedia Britannica began 11 years earlier, on January 15, 2001, when Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched their free, web-based encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Instead of Nobel Prize winners, Wales and Sanger took the counterintuitive approach of inviting the public to write and edit its content.  This approach, commonly known as crowdsourcing, allows Wikipedia to capitalize on the internet’s power to reach a wide number of both writers and readers.  As The New York Times wrote in 2012, 

. . . Wikipedia has moved a long way toward replacing the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds. The site is now written and edited by tens of thousands of contributors around the world, and it has been gradually accepted as a largely accurate and comprehensive source, even by many scholars and academics. (1)

Wikipedia’s reputation as a reliable source grew stronger in 2005 when the peer-reviewed journal Nature published a study comparing science articles in The Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia.  The scientists comparing the articles discovered no significant difference in the accuracy of the two encyclopedias’ content (2).

As of 2020, Wikipedia features over 6 million articles in English as well as additional content in 285 languages.

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  When compared with ‘The Encyclopedia Britannica,’ what made ‘Wikipedia’ such a counterintuitive idea in 2001?

Challenge – My Favorite Wiki Topic:  Of all its millions of articles, what is one Wikipedia article you would recommend?  What are some interesting factoids found in the article?

Sources:

1-Bosman, Julie. “After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the PressesThe New York Times 13 March 2012.

2-Giles, Jim.  Internet Encyclopedias Go Head to Head. Nature  14 Dec. 2005.

https://www.nature.com/articles/438900a

Tags:  Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, crowdsourcing

January 15: Snowclone Day

Today we celebrate the birth of the word snowclone, which happened precisely at 10:57 pm on this day in 2004.  The creator of the neologism, or new word, was Glen Whitman, an economics professor at California State University, Northridge. Writing in his blog, Whitman was looking for a snappy term to describe the increasingly popular practice, especially in journalism, of adapting or slightly altering a cliché.  For example, folklore tells us that Eskimos have a large number of words for snow.  This oft-repeated factoid spawns spinoff phrases that fit the following formula:

If Eskimos have N words for snow, X have Y words for Z.

A quick Google search reveals the following snowclones:

If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, fibromyalgics should have them for pain.

If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, the Nicaraguans have a hundred related to the machete.

If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, Floridians should have at least as many for rain now.

If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, we have let bloom a thousand words for fear.

Glen Whitman exudes pride when talking about his lexicographical invention, the bouncing baby “snowclone”:  “If I can claim no other accomplishment when I die, at least I’ll have one neologism to my name!” (1).

The word that was born in a blog is now being cataloged by blogger Erin Stevenson O’Connor at his website snowclones.org.  The following are some of the additional members of the snowclone species which have grown out of a variety of popular culture sources:

In X, no one can hear you Y from the tagline for the movie Alien:  “In Space, no one can hear you scream.”

I’m not an X, but I play one on TV from a 1986 cough syrup commercial:  “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”

X is the new Y from the world of fashion:  “Pink is the new black.”

X and Y and Z, oh my! from The Wizard of Oz movie line:  “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

I X therefore I am from philosopher Rene Descartes’ famous quotation:  “I think, therefore I am.”

This is your brain on X from a famous anti-drug public service announcement:  “This is your brain on drugs.”

My kingdom for a(n) X! from a famous line from Shakespeare’s play Richard III:  “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”

Today’s Challenge:  Send in the Snowclones

What familiar proverbs might you adapt into your own snowclones?  Use the proverbs below along with the Snowclone Formulas to generate your own ideas.  Select your best snowclone, using it as the title of a paragraph.  In your paragraph, explain the wisdom behind your snowclone proverb.

Familiar Proverb                                                              

Snowclone Formula

The bigger they are the harder they fall.                   

-The Xer they are the Yer they Z

Actions speak louder than words.                                

-Xs speak louder than Ys

The pen is mightier than the sword.                           

-The X is mightier than the Y.

Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.                         

-Don’t count your X before they are Yed.                                                             

Don’t judge a book by its cover.                                    

-Don’t judge a X by its Y.

Necessity is the mother of invention.                         

-X is the mother of Y.

Too many cooks spoil the broth.                                  

-Too many Xs spoil the Y.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Snowclone: “A multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of different jokey variants by lazy journalists and writers” -Geoffre Pullman

1-McFedries, Paul.  Snowclone is the New Cliché.  Spectrum.ieee.org. 1 Feb. 2008. http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/snowclone-is-the-new-clich.