What’s the capital of Ukraine, Kiev or Kyiv? Does traditional mayonnaise contain lemon juice? And was Steven Colbert a serious candidate in the 2008 US presidential elections?
Welcome to Wikipedia edit wars.
What Is an Edit War?
If you’re old enough, you may remember a time when the information on Wikipedia was somewhat unreliable. You could never be sure what you were reading was absolute fact, especially regarding niche topics.
Today, the reliability problem has largely disappeared. More than 35 million people have registered to edit an article on the English-language version site. Of those, 300,000 have edited Wikipedia more than 10 times, and 150,000 have made an edit in the last month.
Because of the numbers involved, it should come as no surprise to learn that editors sometimes disagree with each other. They tweak articles ad nauseam, with compromises not always forthcoming. When this situation arises, you’ve got an edit war.
Here are 10 of the funniest, strangest, and most notorious edit wars. We’ll leave you to make up your own mind about which side is right!
1. Aluminium vs. Aluminum
Aluminium or Aluminum? People often characterize it as a battle of British English versus American English, but that’s not entirely true.
English chemist Sir Humphry Davy is credited with naming the metal. He initially chose aluminum, keeping the spelling in line with platinum, molybdenum, and tantalum, all of which were named after their oxides.
Later in 1812, British scientist Thomas Young suggested aluminium. He argued it should match potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, and strontium. Scientists had discovered them around the same time.
Surprisingly, American scientists were the first to adopt the “-ium” ending. It spread throughout the world in the 19th century and is still use outside North America today. The US migration back to the “-um” ending began in the 1860s.
In 1990, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) declared aluminium to be the correct spelling, and the world’s scientific community officially adopted it.
This edit war has 6,000 changes and counting.
2. Grand Theft Auto IV: Niko Bellic
Niko Bellic is the main protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV.
In the game’s backstory, Niko fights in an unnamed war. Given the storyline and the in-game references, it’s widely considered to be the Bosnian conflict of the early and mid-1990s.
However, despite much analysis, it’s impossible to pin his nationality to one of the participating countries. Wikipedia editors have repeatedly removed references to Niko as Serbian, Slovak, or Bosnian.
Even GTA IV’s executive producer, Dan Houser, weighed in on the debate. He refused to commit, vaguely saying that Niko was from “from that grey part of broken-down Eastern Europe.”
Niko’s nationality has been changed 12,000 times so far.
3. Tropical Storm Zeta
Hurricanes can happen outside of hurricane season. Though they're rare.
Hurricane Alice formed on December 30th, 1954.
Tropical Storm Zeta Hit December 30th, 2005.
The two storms are the only known Atlantic storms to span two calendar years.
— Kendra "Gloom is My Beat" Pierre-Louis (@KendraWrites) November 30, 2017
In theory, hurricane seasons are well-defined. The season in the Atlantic basin—which affects Florida and the Gulf of Mexico—officially runs from June 1 to November 30. However, in practice, experts measure the season from when the first hurricane forms to when the last hurricane dissipates.
Almost all hurricanes fall within the official date range. However, 2005 was different. The final storm of the year was Tropical Storm Zeta. It formed on December 30 and dissipated on January 7. It became only the second Atlantic tropical storm in history to span two years.
Zeta posed a dilemma for Wikipedia editors. Should it be categorized as the last storm of 2005 or the first storm of 2006? The decision has been changed 3,500 times and counting.
(Note: If you live in a hurricane-prone area, make sure you receive emergency alerts on your phone.)
4. Kiev or Kyiv?
Although the spelling “Kiev” was first seen in England in 1804, Kyiv is the correct version.
After Ukraine’s independence in 1991, it published rules on the translation of geographic names. The document asserted that Kyiv was the official spelling.
Everyone in the international community now uses Kyiv, including the United Nations and the European Union.
Most news publications have also switched over. Two of the last holdouts are the BBC and the New York Times.
5. How Tall Was Andre the Giant?
WWF legend Andre the Giant was one of the most popular wrestlers of the 70s and 80s. He suffered from gigantism, leaving him towering above his opponents in the ring.
But the debate over precisely how much he towered over them won’t go away. The Wikipedia page has been changed 4,000 times.
Andre’s real height has never been fully agreed upon. Some say he barely grew above his late-teenage height of 6’10”, while the WWE’s official documents vary between 7’4″ and 7’5″.
6. Iron Maiden: Rock Band or Torture Device?
For any word, term, or phrase which has multiple meanings, Wikipedia editors need to agree on the main page.
For example, if you search for “E.U.,” you’ll end up on the page for the European Union. The editors have rightly agreed that it’s more famous that Edinburgh University, the Europa Universalis strategy game, and a small commune in Northern France. The other articles are available through the term’s disambiguation page.
However, in the case of Iron Maiden, the Wiki community is divided over whether the British heavy metal band or the German torture device from the Middle Ages is more well-known.
Editors have changed the article that serves as the main page for the search term “Iron Maiden” almost 10,000 times. There’s no end in sight.
7. Sulfur vs. Sulphur
Another US versus UK spelling conundrum with more than 4,000 edits.
Sulfur has been in use since the 5th century BC in Ancient Greece, whereas Sulphur was the Latin spelling. The “-hur” version wasn’t seen in more modern times until its reintroduction in France in the 14th century.
In the 20th century, the US stuck with the Greek version; Britain used the Latin spelling.
In 1990, the IUPAC ruled Sulfur was correct. Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry migrated in 1992.
8. The Year 2000
Ah, 1999 and the turn of the millennium. Santana’s smooth was number one and everyone wanted a Furby for Christmas. And who could forget the Millennium Bug; it’s still one of the worst programming errors of all time.
Except none of that is true. By now, it’s a well-worn fact that because there was no year 0, the new millennium started at midnight on December 31st, 2000, making January 2001 the first month of the 3rd millennium AD.
Despite the facts, it seems some Wikipedia editors can’t agree. The text has seen more than 3,000 changes.
People are willing to fight for their condiment of choice. In the case of mayonnaise, it seems no one can decide whether lemon juice should form part of a traditional recipe.
The oldest lemon-containing recipe goes back to 1820, but there’s a less emulsified version of mayo without lemon dating from 1815.
At the moment, Wikipedia calls lemon juice “optional.” But given the information has already been changed 3,000 times, it is unlikely to stay that way for long.
Check out our list of best recipe sites on the web for more insight into the ingredients.
10. Aphex Twin
We’ll leave with an ongoing debate about which music genre Aphex Twin’s records fall into.
Specifically, no one can reach agreement on whether his music is “intelligent dance music” (IDM). Even the name of the genre itself has generated controversy (are other types of dance music “stupid”?).
Aphex Twin himself has rejected the term. However, despite 3,500 edits, Wikipedia still lists IDM as one of his associated genres.
Learn More About Wikipedia
Okay. Now it’s over to you. Where do you stand on the 10 arguments? Make sure you let us know in the comments below.
And remember, the site isn’t all about bickering editors. Wikipedia has lots of unusual articles for you to check out. There’s even a Wikipedia game you can play to cool down if you get into one of those edit wars.