My en-wikt story

En-wikt, of course, means the English-language version of Wiktionary. I discovered this online dictionary shortly after Wikipedia, whose sister project it is. As with the latter, the ‘anyone can edit’ philosophy has its advantages and its disadvantages.

In my opinion, the greatest advantage is that under an English headword you can theoretically find translations to any language, attached to the appropriate senses if there are more than one. The only proviso is that somebody knew them and put them there. If you’re not a linguist and look at the translation tables for, say, brother, I’m sure you’ll see there names of languages you didn’t even know existed. Likewise, any word in any language is held as worthy of an entry, listing not just its English equivalents – see, for example, gille.

Similarly to translations and other-language entries, you can find words (and words’ senses) you’d otherwise only see listed in specialized dictionaries. You can hardly expect the Oxford English Dictionary to contain ‘mixed marriage’ in its poker sense or a go term like byoyomi – let alone accompanied by a direct link to the relevant ‘pedia article.

The greatest disadvantage is naturally the questionable reliability. If you comit a typo it can take ages before anybody (including you) notices and amends. There are enthusiasts who don’t know and thus fail to mention that the word they found in a medieval book’s glossary wasn’t used since the 15th century and so on. (I’ve no idea whence came the information that ‘calf’ can mean ‘a small island, near a larger island’, and that the Gaelic for this sense is ‘cava’, apparently the only Gaelic word using the letter ‘v’. Yet I don’t doubt the edits were done in good faith.) And of course, in addition to human mistakes there are all those would-be jesters, even though there aren’t such swarms of these as those pestering the ‘pedia.

But I wanted to talk about a different disadvantage, and that’s how addictive editing in WT (its other abbreviation) can be.

Initially, I only meant to occassionally add there (under my then Web nicknaname, Duncan MacCall) information it took me some trouble to dig up elsewhere – so I wouldn’t have to painstakingly search for it again if I forgot it. However, I fell victim to my tendency to having everything as complete as possible. The more you do, the more things which still haven’t been done you notice. And the temptation of doing them is often irresistible.

There was another, just as important aspect to my Duncan MacCall existence. I discovered the discussion rooms. For the first time in my life I was daily among people who were finding languages as interesting as I did. So that for several months my feelings towards en-wikt could only be characterized by the word ‘infatuation’. En-wikt was the website as far as I was concerned.

Nevertheless, it didn’t stay that way, mostly because of three things. The first was my being overworked. Just before I left, I had all requests for Scots and for Czech except etymologies treated and was ready to buckle down to Gaelic ones. And I could be proud of being one of the most prolific editors (in less than ten moths after my first edit I appeared here). But to have achieved this took some time. Indeed, there were days when between work and sleep I was hardly doing anything else than en-wikt editing.

Secondly, while not an admin, I became one of the people most often taking part in discussions. Interesting as these were, they were growing more and more exasperating for me. More and more often I was frustrated by either a discussion’s or a vote’s outcome, or by something I myself had said and saw in retrospect as quite stupid. In fact, the last straw which made me leave was this discussion, which grew so heated as to be uncivil. At one moment I just read the latest comments, went for a fag to consider whether I wasn’t impulsively doing something I’d later regret, and said my goodbyes.

The third problem, which I maybe only fully realized after leaving, was that paradoxically I was losing my English. Dealing with single words most of the time may have been improving my vocabulary, but having little time left for reading continuous texts I was losing the feel of the language, of whether the way I structured a sentence was or wasn’t natural. At the same time I was losing the ability of thinking either in Czech or in English without subconsciously looking for the words’ translations into the other tongue. If the truth be told, my Czech-related en-wikt work was one of the main reasons why I began to hate the language.

Of course, I was changing my overall Web identity from the Duncan MacCall to the Thrissel / Keith Robertson one anyway, but the question was what to do about it at en-wikt. (I didn’t consider simply editing no more an option.) Sure, have a few months’ rest. After that? Return under the old nick or under the new one? And if the latter, admit they both belong to the same real-life person or not? In the end I decided for the latest. Even though it meant no longer truly being a full member of the community.

So that fourteen months since creating his account, User:Thrissel has got over 10,000 edits, and the pie chart at his Editcounter page is monochromatic. I have already done more mainspace edits as Thrissel than I had as Duncan. Fully concentrating on Gaelic, I’m one of those responsible for its curently being the 27th language by number of en-wikt entries. I don’t as yet appear on this list, but I suppose it’s highly probable I will by the end of the year.

Nevertheless, addicted or not, I’m getting tired. It’s taking too much of my time; it increasingly resembles drudgery; the fear that I may be an enthusiast doing more harm than good as mentioned above, and the contrary fear that nobody uses en-wikt for looking up Gaelic words, are gnawing at me more and more. And unable as I am to become ‘one of the boys’ once more, the feeling of loyalty to the community has been steadily evaporating. I guess I’ll work the way I do until I get to that list (I admit being prone to editcountitis), but then slow down a lot. I have enjoyed it a lot, especially in the olden days, but it’s time to move on. I don’t mean to stop editing altogether; I don’t mean to keep doing several hundred edits each month either.



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