User:Art LaPella/Devil's Dictionary of Wikipedia Policy

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Those confused by the title of this page may refer to the Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. (Those who don't recognize satire are warned that this page isn't saying what it seems to say.) Wikipedia is a remarkably good information source for unpolitical topics, but it isn't necessarily because of the following:

Arguments to avoid in deletion discussions include nearly any definable criterion imaginable. The decision to delete information forevermore is far too important to rest on any criterion you can put your finger on. Such a fateful decision must take all the intangible nuances into account. And only the intangible nuances. So how do we sense the nuances? Through everlasting arguing, ideally characterized not by fallible criteria like Google hits, but by chanting "Yes it is! No it isn't! Yes it is! ... " Great honor and recognition descends on the shoulders of whoever can shout "Yes it is!" or "No it isn't!" the most forcefully, and an especially forceful performance can be recognized if the opponent finds something more productive to do.

Banning means misbehavior shall not be tolerated! We shall argue, argue some more, argue some more and more, and we might even say you may never edit here again! If you take the 30 seconds necessary to reregister and edit here anyway, we shall argue some more! And more! We might even check your IP address to see if you might be a Wikipedia:Sockpuppet! But only after a week of melodrama, and remember, Wikipedia:CheckUser is not for fishing! Crystal 128 babelfish.png And if you are duly pronounced guilty, you can take another 30 seconds to reregister and start all over again! Or maybe, we might even block your IP address! We shall block a whole range of IP addresses just to make sure! And if you use a completely different IP address, we shall, um, we shall threaten to teach your children the words to God Bless My Underwear!

Be bold means be bold and do it my way. But don't be reckless means but don't do it your way.

Categories are an elaborate game played and fought over in micrometric detail by editors. And only by editors; almost nobody else cares. For instance, there's a whole subsystem dedicated to alphabetizing names like "MacGuinness" together with "McGuinness", just in case somebody lists thousands of names in a category, searching for "McGuinness" as entry number 2000 rather than just typing it into the search box. But the game is played mainly by editors, not readers. For example, everyone else in my home reads Wikipedia articles, but none of them could tell me what categories are, without confusing them with references. statistics suggest that people click a Wikipedia:Portal mainly out of curiosity, not to navigate Wikipedia through portals. They are much more likely to go elsewhere (presumably bored) than to click a category when they get there.

Censored. "... some articles may contain objectionable text, images, or links... ". What kind of objectionable text? It usually means something sexual, but it doesn't say that. It lists some exceptions like vandalism, but not enough. In particular, this policy has been used to protect information that might conceivably be used by terrorists, so rejoice in Wikipedia's freedom of information when you see a glowing mushroom cloud over your city. But surely this policy wouldn't be used to protect a politically incorrect discussion of differences among ethnic groups. Freedom of speech means that nothing else matters, except that my story must get out to the public and make me look important; and if you don't believe that, ask the paparazzi, they'll tell you. But if you do want to censor something, remember that this policy requires you to use a censored word for "censored", such as "inappropriate" or "unnecessary".

Civility means to avoid "personal attacks, rudeness, and aggressive behaviours that disrupt the project and lead to unproductive stress and conflict", according to Wikipedia:Civility. For instance, blocking an uncivil violator of this policy would be a personal, an attack, rude, and aggressive, and result in stress and conflict, and if you're blocking me it surely disrupts the project unproductively. So enforcing the civility policy is uncivil. So is enforcing any other policy, whether by blocking, banning, or just asking them to stop. So ignore all the policies! (Actually, the policy's fine print says "to treat constructive criticism as an attack, is itself disruptive" but doesn't objectively resolve the contradiction.) That isn't a mere oversight; further down it says "This applies equally to all Wikipedians: It is as unacceptable to attack a user with a history of foolish or boorish behavior, or even one who has been subject to disciplinary action by the Arbitration Committee, as it is to attack any other user." OK, OK, yes I know some people really follow policies anyway. That's because civility really means whatever Humpty Dumpty says it means, no more, no less. We rely on administrators' common sense not to rely on the civility policy as written or Wikipedia wouldn't work at all, but it does get confusing whenever someone tries to interpret the policy as written. The punishment should fit the crime and honesty is the best policy, at least to some extent. After I wrote this, the policy was fixed and unfixed again.

Cleanup tags tell everyone that an article needs to be "cleaned up" – that is, there isn't anything hard to fix; it's something that the guy who added the tag could have cleaned up himself in a few seconds. So why didn't he? It takes almost as long to add the tag as to just fix it. And finding and deciding what needs cleanup is a very subjective judgment, so someone trying to clean it up probably won't perform the edits that the tagger had it mind anyway. Will someone decide to clean up an article just because it has a tag ordering him to clean it up? Or will he prefer to clean up untagged articles, so he doesn't have to guess whether the tag should be removed? I know! Cleanup tags are an invention of sneaky vandals! If they replace an article with "poop" it will be reverted in seconds by a bot, but if they use a cleanup tag, they can ruin the appearance of the article for months!

Cool-down blocks "intended solely to 'cool down' an angry user should never be used". In practice, this means no blocks for a period of less than 24 hours. What does the number of hours have to do with the purpose of a block? Sorry, we can't talk about that because the true purpose of a block must be kept mysterious, for the reason described below in the Punishment entry.

Copyright. All facts must be verifiable, that is, taken from some other text, but without copying it verbatim. Changing just a few words isn't enough. You need to change the text enough to respect the copyright, but not so much that the result is no longer verifiable. So just how much do you change the text? Wikipedia has lots of stuff to read about copyrights, but the only guidance it has on that question is that some texts don't have to be changed at all, but usually they do. Wikipedians know the difference between plagiarism, original research and the golden mean when they see it. I have thus proven that Wikipedia has two kinds of editors: lawyers with experience in copyright law, and psychics who don't need to be told.

Country links. Always name the country in which something occurs for context, and always wikilink to it for reference. Or something. For instance, if someone wants to read about the tiny town of Index, Washington, population 157, notice that it specifies that the town is in the United States, and wikilinks it. Thus, Wikipedia foresightedly recognizes that anyone interested in the town of Index will see that it's in the United States (reasonable) and suddenly be possessed by an urge to read all about that unfamiliar country. (huh?) Such links are specifically prohibited at Wikipedia:Only make links that are relevant to the context#What generally should not be linked, but nevertheless the first five links listed at Wikipedia:Most referenced articles are United States, United Kingdom, England, Canada, and France.

Dispute tags should be removed for the thirtieth time because your stupid objection is so incoherent, it doesn't even deserve to be called a real dispute. That finally ends the dispute, as you can easily see because there is no dispute tag announcing it at the moment.

Edit warring means obstructing any outrage I want to commit by reverting it. See Wikilawyering.

Encyclopedic means it should resemble an encyclopedia. Encyclopedias contain material that is very difficult to understand. So beware of explaining anything too clearly, because if people can understand and use it, it isn't encyclopedic.[1] Remember, we're here to impress people with how smart we are, not to give them information they can use. For instance, "traverse yon enclave betwixt hitherwards and the bailiwick of Mephistopheles" impresses people with our IQ much more eloquently than if we simply translated it as "go to hell".

Featured articles are a wonderful way to waste hundreds of man-hours (or is that person-hours now?) to get a single article to be just right, or at least just right according to Wikipedia standards. In theory, it's like the Super Bowl of Wikipedia editors, so it's a wonderful way to get prestige. In practice, it's more like the Super Bowl of memorizing style rules that nobody else cares about, although they have more obscure rules than anyone can remember even for a Featured Article. (Like WP:DASH. And not-so-obscure rules, such as "Don't cite a page with the duplicate 'pp. Pg.' See how often that would have happened in this "featured" article, just before it went on the Main Page.) All this is occasionally accompanied by hand-wringing over the fact that only about one in a thousand articles is a Featured Article, so don't be deluded by the false hope of extending those allegedly high standards across a significant fraction of Wikipedia. Stay away from Wikipedia:Lists of common misspellings, Wikipedia:WikiProject Disambiguation, or Template:Active Wiki Fixup Projects. Those projects make it easy to improve articles in the range of about an article a minute (see also AutoWikiBrowser), but where's the prestige in that?

The Five Pillars of Wikipedia:

  • Arguing
  • Vanity
  • Obfuscation
  • Wikilawyering
  • Melodrama
  • Political correctness
  • Pretending to leave Wikipedia in a huff
  • Miscounting pillars

The Fringe theories guideline is a mighty weapon to be used in the everlasting war between the Pseudoscience Cabal and the Academic Orthodoxy Cabal. The main issue isn't whether Age of the universe should say 6000 years or 13.73 billion years; more often it's whether pseudoscience can be described at all. The most dangerous pseudoscience is promoted by academia, especially in the so-called "social sciences" (see the Sokal affair), but that isn't what they have in mind.[2] Some pseudoscientists do behave as a cabal, especially if they try to use Wikipedia to gather financial supporters for their nonsense, or even to gather patients for quack medicine, in which case lives are potentially at stake. But usually, the pseudoscience side of this war isn't led by outspoken believers and deceivers – it's led by a form of political correctness that wants to pretend they can treat all editors the same no matter how they misbehave, as required by policy (see Civility). The Academic Orthodoxy Cabal has found that the PC2's (Pseudoscience Cabal + Political Correctness) Achilles heel can be assaulted by pretending that the AOC isn't ignoring consensus, civility, sockpuppetry, dispute resolution including arbitration rulings, and the ignoring itself, while removing pseudoscience and even while unblocking when AOC stalwarts are blocked, as it would be politically incorrect for the PC2 to call the AOC liars. This leads to endless years of debate over trivia in which neither side can say what it really means. So let's amend the FRINGE guideline to say explicitly that the AOC is as unquestionable as Wikipedia:Office actions. Then the rest of us can rationally and openly decide if there is a better way to resist pseudoscience; I'm not altogether sure there is. It could be explained to newbies by giving AOC members titles that befit their royal privileges.

Hatting is Wikipedia's way of directing our attention to its juiciest, most entertaining infighting.

Ignore All Rules, including this one. More seriously, I have no objection to the text or the interpretation of this rule/non-rule, but its title is completely unrealistic, confusing and self-contradictory. It makes us explain repeatedly that if we aren't going to use a rule this time, and if this time is no different from other times, then why should we keep the rule at all? See WP:EXCEPTIONS.

Involved administrators are administrators involved with resisting a faction long enough to be effective, and thus disqualified.

Manual of Style. It doesn't matter how many impossible things we order you to do before breakfast. It doesn't matter if anyone can understand or remember all the rules, much less obey them. It doesn't matter how many rules are so obscure that trying to enforce them would be more disruptive than it would be worth. It doesn't even always matter enough to enforce our rule, when someone violates it on the very page that announces that rule, even though someone calls our attention to it. After all, the point of a Manual of Style is to make rules, and it says right here in the Chicago Manual of Style ... What does matter is that older encyclopedias have a manual of style, so we need the prestige of resembling them – even though their manuals are useful only because they can fire editors for not reading them. What matters even more is that you recognize that I'm so intellectual that I consider putting a comma over there to be a bigger atrocity than the Rape of Nanking.[3]

A Mentor (excluding voluntary mentorship) is Wikipedia's politically correct euphemism for a parole officer.

Namespaces are the prefixes on pages such as "Wikipedia:", which distinguishes pages about Wikipedia itself from regular encyclopedia pages about the rest of the universe. Why do we need those prefixes? According to Help:Namespaces, "Namespaces allow, among other things, a separation of content from policy and discussion". That is, if you were clicking any link that looked interesting, you might otherwise find yourself on a page about Wikipedia itself rather than a page where you might learn something—assuming you didn't want to learn about Wikipedia editing. Why would you click such a link if you didn't want to go there? I'm not sure, but if there is a reason, we could accomplish the same thing using Wikipedia:Categories. That would make the software easier to maintain, because we would have fewer exceptions to general rules. Unfortunately, that would deny us the pleasure of forcing you to type the word "Wikipedia:" before every policy page. What's worse, if you didn't have to remember unnecessary prefixes, you might actually be able to find the page! How can we show how superior we are, if the rest of you can do the same things we do?

Neutral Point of View means my point of view, naturally. My point of view takes everything else into account, so mentioning your point of view would be undue weight. The worldwide consensus supports my point of view, omitting anyone supporting your point of view because people that stupid obviously can't be Wikipedia:Reliable sources.

Off-topic means your side is always off-topic.

Policies and guidelines are each enforced and obeyed sometimes, and ignored sometimes. Theoretically, policies are taken more seriously than guidelines. But in real life, statements like "I'll do it anyway because that's just a guideline, not a policy" or "I'd better do that because it's a policy, not just a guideline" are rare. But let's not lose sight of our goal: prestige, not function. So always check the summary at the beginning of a rule to find out if it's a policy or a guideline. Don't commit the bureaucratic faux pas of calling a guideline a policy, if you want to be taken seriously here.

POV pushing means opposition to my own POV pushing.

Punishment. The blocking policy says: "Blocks are intended to reduce the likelihood of future problems, by either removing, or encouraging change in, a source of disruption. They are not intended for use in retaliation, as punishment, or where there is no current conduct issue which is of concern." Blocks also aren't intended to "'cool down' an angry user" according to WP:COOLDOWN. So just how does a block encourage change? It isn't by explaining how the offender could improve, because Wikipedians do that endlessly with or without blocking. And if a short block doesn't accomplish change, they try a longer block, not just a longer explanation. It must be that the offender hopes to avoid another block by changing his behavior. Why would he avoid a block? Because a block is unpleasant. But it isn't punishment! To summarize, torturing infidels on the rack isn't punishment; it's "encouraging change in a source of disruption".

Stub tags push over small trees because you want big trees.

Summary style means that you read the general article to get the general idea of the concept and each subconcept, and you read the sub-articles to study each subconcept in detail. This is accomplished by copying part of a huge general article into a subarticle, and then shortening the text left in the main article. How much shorter? Oh, removing a few sentences ensures that the reader who doesn't find his answer in the main article, generally doesn't find it in the subarticle either. So afterwards, when adding a new fact, remember to add it only to the main article, because nobody reads the subarticle anyway. This often results in a "summary" that is longer than the article it is supposed to summarize. Ideally, the summary and the subarticle should tell two different, contradicting stories.

Tendentious editing means opposition to my own tendentious editing.

Vandalism warnings result in a block if the full range of warnings have been exhausted in 24 hours (I can't find the 24 hour limit in the rules any more, but the limit is still pretty short.) It's strange that the related talk page headers are monthly instead of daily. The result looks like this:

June 2008
  • Thank you for experimenting with Wikipedia. Your test worked, and has been reverted. Next time please use the :Wikipedia:Sandbox. June 1, 1:00
  • Please don't vandalize Wikipedia. June 1, 5:00
  • Vandalizing Wikipedia like that can get you blocked! June 1, 10:00
  • Thank you for experimenting with Wikipedia... June 2, 2:00

Wikilawyering means obstructing whatever outrage I want to commit by citing policy. See Edit warring. Wikilawyering is both a crime and a requirement. That contradiction is resolved by the essay I linked, but why read that when the word "wikilawyering" can simply be read as "wiki"+"lawyer"+"-ing"?

Wikipedia is not a battleground, so never obstruct my battling. As the policy states, "... this does not give you an excuse to do the same in retaliation".

Wikipedia is not a dictionary. If a user types in the word "orbit", for instance, we mustn't tell him or link him to everything we know about orbits. That wouldn't be encyclopedic. First, the user must guess whether his ancestors would have looked for the piece of information he wants in a paper dictionary, a paper encyclopedia, or a paper textbook. If he wants a mere "dicdef" (which is how those of us "in the know" refer to dictionary definitions) from Wikipedia, then he hasn't passed through the proper bureaucratic channels, and we shall avenge his impudence by removing any such definitions from Wikipedia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Python, Monty (2003). "Journal of Finagling a Research Grant by Spouting Academic-Sounding Nonsense" 7. p. 696. 
  2. ^ Carrey, Jim (1983). "Journal of Regurgitating Crap Others Have Gotten Away With" 18. p. 524. 
  3. ^ Mouse, Mickey (2007). "Journal of Thermonuclear Devices You Have the Capacity to Internalize and Detonate in a Zone of Insufficient Insolation" 3. p. 494.