Monday, June 6, 2011

Culture: Wiki Word

For about as long as I can remember the wiki has been filled with Wiki Words that don't fit into any sensible category of "trope" or "work". This Troper, for example, was often used in trope examples to mean "I". Most tropers realized that on a wiki, use of the pronoun "I" was gauche, and rather than make the inference "because articles are supposed to look like they were written by the same person", they thought "if I just use a TV Tropes-specific pronoun that should be fine." Similarly, I Am Not Making This Up was shorthand for "emphasis on improbability", and "X Just X"meant "so self-explanatory I don't need to explain it".

These phrases became popular through imitation. People saw the words in pretty blue links on the wiki, assumed they were regular turns of phrase, and so they reproduced these memes themselves. It's not a process that allows for much aforethought- I used them myself after I first saw them, but after about a month I was struck by how ridiculous they sounded and swore them off, mainly because they were rhetorically lazy. X Just X in particular- kind of the entire point of the wiki is to explain things, so either the example immediately makes a mockery of itself by explaining anyway, or it's a worthless example for those not already familiar with it.

As simple an explanation as that is for why these phrases existed, I never really thought about these terms psychologically. I did think in the general trope repair mode of "users are ruining the wiki by turning everything into a stupid in-joke" because, particularly in the forum environment, this kind of combative, blame-centered thinking is very popular, albeit only against people not actually in the forum as forumites could get their feelings hurt by reading mean words. It certainly is an easier way of looking at the problem, anyway. This Troper and I Am Not Making This Up were dealt with via extreme prejudice- after multiple extended discussions, the Wiki Words were permanently redlinked and forbidden to ever be mentioned again.

However, with X Just X, at some point the original content of the page was removed entirely and replaced with a detailed explanation as to why X Just X is unoriginal and stupid. When I saw this, I made my own contribution to the page, putting a disclaimer at the bottom with bolded words stating outright that this Wiki Word was to be deleted on sight, especially if whoever was reading this page had come from another page where it was used as a Wiki Word. Overall, it wasn't that long before the problem disappeared- all over the wiki usage of X Just X simply disappeared until it was negligible.

I don't know who made the decision to modify X Just X in this way- there was nothing in the discussion pages, the forums, or the page history explaining this. But it was difficult to argue with the fact of this action's success. With substantially less energy than it took to get rid of I Am Not Making This Up or This Troper, an extremely annoying wiki tic was nearly completely eliminated without even any real complaints. To me, this was a plank worthy of emulation- if a phrase is being misused, rewrite the page to counter this complaint. The (not Wiki Worded) phrase "not to be confused with" was often used on pages with broad titles to similar effect.

This reasoning appeared throughout my detailed proposal for TV Tropes action, as well as in other later proposals I suggested for dealing with problem pages (Nightmare Fuel in particular was a chronic one). In all cases the forum was adamantly opposed, again on the philosophical grounds of "major page change needs consensus" and "making up rules is bad". This opposition seemed to be concerned about a slippery slope toward controversial page actions- after all, if a page is in bad enough shape to warrant one major change, next thing it might be renamed, all of which would necessitate long, painful arguments.

There was a time when that argument would have held weight with me. But having spent time interacting with regular editors, I had found that most tropers were perfectly willing to entertain reasonable explanations for page action and didn't dwell on it overmuch if they were given it. Some, for certain, felt that the removal of This Troper "ruined the wiki", but they were simply a loud minority that probably would have fell silent if they were made aware of the "articles should look like they were written by the same person" rule. Regardless, the forums I had returned to were terrified of conflict, or more specifically, of having to respond to conflict. Keeping the peace was now a priority over creative solutions.

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