Simple English Wikipedia has been around for a few years now, but I've only recently become aware of it. The concept is as simple as the title--a version of the sprawling Web-based encyclopedia Wikipedia that is more simply phrased and easier to read. According to the front page of the site, it is intended for non-native speakers, children, and those who may struggle with the English language.
The rules, also posted on the front page, are fairly clear:
1. Use easy words and shorter sentences
2. Write good pages
3. Use the pages to learn and teach
4. Simple does not mean little
Etcetera. A novel idea, right? As it turns out, though, there's quite a bit of unintentional humor to be found on the pages of Simple English Wikipedia, specifically those pages where things have gone far beyond "simplistic" and into the range of the surreal. It seems like some people misunderstood that Simple English Wikipedia was intended to be READ by those struggling with English, not WRITTEN by them.
After reading a particularly funny entry on the site for "car," I scoured it for a short while, finding similarly amusing tidbits. First, check out the original.
Simple English Wikipedia Entry: "Car"
"A car (also called an automobile) is a machine used for travel (a vehicle). Cars are different from motorcycles, and bicycles because they have four wheels."
Sound reasoning. Cars do indeed have a different number of wheels than say, a bicycle, or my feet. As a reference point, my feet have zero wheels. The following is a second excerpt about cars from a section entitled "Disadvantages"
"If two cars crash they can hurt the people inside or around them. Traffic jams happen when there are too many cars trying to go the same way. They can cause pollution if too many are used in a small area like a city, and the combined pollution of the world's cars is thought to be partly to blame for climate change."
We are then given the following photo:
On the site, the caption for the photo is "This is a car that was in a very bad car accident." I particularly get a kick out of the car being described as having been in a car accident. As opposed to say, a boating accident.
So clearly, it can be very difficult to write these articles "simply" without coming off as condescending. Who knows how helpful Simple English Wikipedia really is for its targeted audience? All I know is, it can be good fun to browse around. Here are some more excerpts from articles that I discovered.
Simple English Wikipedia Excerpts
"Google is one of the biggest and most famous websites for finding things (search engine) on the World Wide Web (WWW). They also do other things than searching."
I'm not even sure that this is easier to understand, given the really awkward phrasing. "They also do other things than?"
"Humour (also spelled humor) is anything that can make people laugh or feel happy. On the Internet there are lots of short words people use when something is funny, e.g., lol (laugh out loud), lmao, lmfao, rofl and rofllmfao[needs proof]."
That one actually isn't an excerpt but the entire entry. Bonus points for requesting "proof" that people are throwing around "rofllmfao" online. Somehow I don't think Merriam-Webster is going to make a ruling anytime soon on that one. Also, please note, the last two sentences I wrote are longer than the entire entry for "humor" on Simple English Wikipedia.
"William Shakespeare (April, 1564 - April 23, 1616) was a man from England who wrote plays and poetry. He lived and died a long time ago."
In theory, if this is how things work around here, shouldn't every single biography of someone from Shakespeare's time period or before begin "____ was a man from ____ who _____. He lived and died a long time ago?" If it's the page for Julius Caesar, would it say "A REALLY long time ago?" Note: I checked. It does not.
And it goes on like that for some time. Please feel free to chip in some other amusing entries you run across. Unfortunately, for both the usefulness and humor, Simple English Wikipedia contains only around 66,000 articles, as opposed to regular 'ole, high-falutin' English Wikipedia's 3.5 million.
Come to think of it, that's not really a bad idea. I hope someone actually creates an antiquarian and jargon language Wikipedia mirror, and we can call it "Confusing English Wikipedia."