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Good old days, in which fifth-symbol-lacking lipograms roam'd our librarious litany

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By Bri

I'd like to credit the inspiration behind writing this to a piece by Samo Burja in Palladium Magazine that got me thinking about the tendency of institutions to evolve over time to incorporate more and more inwardly-focused and rules-bound processes.

Can you write an article lede l*d* l*ad intro without any Es?

A heavily faded hardcover book that says GADSBY and stuff
Gadsby. If you find one of these, hang onto it. You'll thank me later.

From shortly after its creation in the early wiki-days of 2003, until a point in November 2006, the article Gadsby (novel), about a work that is a lipogram, was itself a lipogram. In other words, both the novel, and the Wikipedia article about the novel, were written without the letter "E". There had been some attempts before 2006 to revert the article to standard English, but it looks like either the joke was too good to spoil, or the sense of fun and wonder in creating not just an incredible free contribution to human knowledge extended to the fun and wonder of trying out constrained writing.

What happened on that fateful day in November? Why did the forces of normality and mundanity win? Was it a sign of the future of a rigid, formalized, bureaucratized, and un-fun experience for contributors? Will another recursive word-experiment ever be possible again?

As for the original author, an anonymous user – perhaps they joined us as a named account, and are still around? The editor who broke the three-year E-less run is now an administrator, and the person who first lipogram-ized it hasn't been seen since 2020.

Fun volunteerism

A screenshot of WP:Wikifun
Wikifun "is no longer relevant or consensus or its purpose has become unclear".

Lipogram-izing the article was a Wikifun challenge in 2004. Now, Wikifun was not exactly a big deal, but it wasn't outlandish at the time, nor attended by the officially irredeemable. Remember when Wikifun was allowed? Or any fun? We all knew it was too good to last.

The anti-anti-lipogrammers used edit summaries like "Deleted non lipogrammatical sentence" as late as 2008. The word "novel" appeared in the lede sporadically, apparently shoving aside "work of fiction" to come home to roost for good in late 2008.

In-article comments asked well-meaning editors who were not in on the joke not to add the dreaded vowel, even being upgraded to ASCII art in a December 2008 edit just before they were removed. Things went on like that, with strictly under-the-radar fun allowed, until late 2010, when an official, sternly worded editnotice, with promises of "administrator action or warnings" for those who dare to restore the fun, was added.

The editnotice is still in place, and I sure don't encourage anybody to test it. They helpfully say you can go have your fun on another website, an active community devoted to all manner of wiki-flavored jokes and japes. You can tell it's from 2010 because this other website is Uncyclopedia.

Random coincidence, or portent?

green glyphs in a vertical pattern on a black background with the appearance of a CRT
Whether the noosphere is a step closer to utopia or a step into a living hell is up to its inhabitants.

What else happened in November ought-six? Google made its first billion-dollar purchase.

Coincidence, or are these both symptoms of the beginnings of the modern, corporatized, hyper-real, buttoned-down, no-fun-allowed (unless profitable) World Wide Web? Or to use a more modern word, "cyberspace" – whose usage has more often than not seemed to me to ironically miss the intent of the term's creator (or at least its popularizer). William Gibson was not praising a future digital Eden: quite the opposite, he was sharing his dystopian future visions with us as a warning.

In this issue
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  • I would also suggest that Wikipedia humour is still not completely gone. The beloved High five#Too slow image set is famous, and we've all run into similarly amusing items that happen to be correct and useful as well. If you can make a joke that also works as an effective way to explain a concept, then all the praise to you! Sometimes people just need to know whether Gadsby is a novel or not. ~Maplestrip/Mable (chat) 14:40, 16 January 2023 (UTC)[reply]


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