You know that feeling when you see something wrong on the internet? One man has corrected the same error in Wikipedia almost 47,000 times since 2006 – and each time he did it manually.
Giraffedata, aka Bryan Henderson, a 51-year-old software engineer from San Jose, California, doesn't add content to Wikipedia or correct factual errors. He does one thing: He corrects the phrase "comprised of".
As he writes in this Wikipedia article about his editing quest, Henderson replaces that clumsy phrase with something more suitable, such as "composed of". He says:
Many people do not accept "comprised of" as a valid English phrase for any meaning. The argument goes that "to comprise" means to include, as in "The 9th district comprises all of Centerville and parts of Easton and Weston." And thus, "the 9th district is comprised of ..." is gibberish.
And his campaign has yielded real results: After three years of editing, he had removed almost every instance of "comprised of".
By 2010 only 150 remained, in quotation marks. But a further 70 appeared every week, so at that point Henderson "entered a mode of editing the new occurrences as they were introduced", he writes.
Henderson says he edits "about 100 articles a week, typically within two weeks of the article being created or edited to require it".
An average edit takes him 10 seconds, he says.
A big problem is that some people don't like having Wikipedia pages they created edited or changed at all and some of Henderson's changes can be reverted. He says he even attracted "a stalker" who reversed 30 "comprised of" edits in a row.
He also touches on the more pressing question of WHY someone would spend so much time on this Sisyphean task:
I am one of the people who consider "comprised of" poor English. But that's not why I edit it out; I don't edit Wikipedia for personal taste. The fact that lots of other people feel the same way is what makes it seem like a good edit to me.
As one who subscribes to the anti-comprised-of doctrine described above, I can tell you it triggers the same "what an idiot" neurons in us as "could of" and "could care less". If I can spare any readers that discomfort without hurting anyone else, why wouldn't I?
Henderson has been awarded a string of awards from senior Wikipedians for his diligent editing.
And, remarkably, his 50,156 total edits only just gets him into the top 1,000 Wikipedia editors' list.
It's impressive, but nothing compared to Koavf, aka Justin Anthony Knapp, who has made 1.4 million edits and contributions to Wikipedia since 2005.
Quite wonderfully, Henderson's 52-year-old brother Robin, aka Laodah, shares the obsessive Wiki-editing habit.
His quest is to change "based around" to "based on".
So the next time you use Wikipedia, remember the people making an insane amount of grammatical corrections on your behalf.
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.