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Wikipedia word salad

One of my spies has forwarded this citation from the Wikipedia entry on Algiers. Two days later, the passage remains in tact on the site, despite the presumably assiduous attention of volunteer editors:

El Harrach, according to the name of the river which crosses this district. The mouth of this river played a very important part in the catch of Algiers and the Dogvane, this rock opposite Algiers occupied by the Spaniards. Indeed, at the beginning of the 16th century, with the call of the one of the dignitaries of Algiers autochthones who saw the progressive loss of the authority of the city in front of the occupation of the Dogvane by the Spaniards, one of the Barberousse brothers hid his fleet there before taking Algiers by surprised by the south-eastern side. This district of Algiers will be named Square-House by the French, who will make of it the industrial park of the city. Thus, during colonization, as well El-Harrach as Hussein-Dey will be satellite towns of Algiers where Algerian autochthones more or less will cohabit with French, but in clearly separate zones. This city will be a residential district for an easy layer of French, but a true ghetto for the Algerians, especially those pushed by the rural migration. El-Harrach was also a city which wrote a large page of sporting history with boxes and it football. After independence, El-Harrach will become gradually a district of Algiers, and later on chief town of Daira with a new cutting in districts, like Mohammadia, Belfort, Bellevue, the Park, Wadi-Smar, Five-Houses, the dunes, the Maritime ones, Beaulieu, etc.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:11 AM | | Comments (12)


Bucky! Is this you, gettin' him all fired up again??

Please tell me I wasn't supposed to understand that?!

I think it needs more commas.

P.S. I wasn't Prof. McIntyre's stringer on this post.

It looks like a fourth-grader wrote it.

In tact? In deed.

This reminds me of some boring college texts, where you're half asleep read a page or two and find you can't remember what the heck happened. Except I'm wide awake (and sober), and I'm still not getting anything.

I have to say that I'm impressed with the use of transitions, e.g. indeed and thus. I've never seen them make a text more confusing.

This was added on 21 December 2007, apparently being a machine-translation of the the article on Algiers from French-language Wikipedia. As seen on the discussion page associated with that article, there was immediately a discussion on if it would be better to revert the article to an earlier version and wait for a human translation that didn't require so much copyediting or use the machine translation as a foundation that could be copyedited. Obviously, the copyeditors got bored after a while and moved on. Note that the latest post on that discussion page is someone noting this blog post.

Wikipedia tends to have a lot of volunteers who make bot-assisted corrections of mispellings and editors who correct false statements. There are relatively few copyeditors who can take the often choppy writing that results when there is a different author for every sentence or paragraph, as is common on a large wiki, and rewrite it so it has one voice. I suppose good writers are as rare on the website as in the real world.

To get a sense of the multitude of writing style problems that Wikipedia articles experience, see the list of brightly colored boxes that editors put on the top of articles to indicate a problem. Help from people who can smooth out choppy writing, without losing meaning, is always welcome and creating an account is not necessary. Hint hint.

I am good at commas, but I am sort of tied up until American Idol ends.

Understanding machine translations at a glance is one of the more useful skills we are learning from the Internet, surely?

Without defending Wikipedia, it's not quite so unintelligible if you know French, and it illustrates in an interesting way some of the differences between idiomatic French and idiomatic English. In French, for example, you can quite casually slip into the future tense in writing about events in the past from an imaginary temporal vantage-point in the even more remote past. In other words, you can, paradoxically, use the future tense in writing about the past. The writer focuses on the taking of Algiers by the Barberousse brothers (whoever they were) at the beginning of the 16th century, and then goes on to describe subsequent historical events in the future tense. You can pull this trick in English, too, but you have to be more careful about signalling to the reader what you're up to.

I'm so glad I only use Wikipedia to check facts about celebrities and other famous people.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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