"both of them second-generation Parisians"
11 May 2009, 8:47 PM
If you do a Google search for "both of them second-generation Parisians", what do you think you’ll find? No, that doesn’t count, you already clicked. You have seen that it’s about Claude Monet. But who wrote that phrase? Because, frankly, it’s an odd phrase, tossing in seemingly irrelevant information in awkward English, and there are 1,650 instances of it on the Web, according to Google (which is notoriously untruthful about large numbers, true, but Ask.com has 66 instances and Yahoo has 2,420 instances, so whatever the actual number at any given moment, it’s a lot). Somebody must have written it first, but who?
At the moment, the bottom link on the first page is to the Wikipedia entry. If you were heading down the list, poking around, the second link would tell you that the biographical information is from Wikipedia. But the other four out of the top five wouldn’t mention Wikipedia, and one of them has an author and copyright notice listed. And the sixth result, higher on the list than Wikipedia, is from something called the Cambridge Encyclopedia, on the site of StateUniversity.com. Maybe Wikipedia took the phrase from the Cambridge Encyclopedia, and some of the other pages copied it from one or the other. Or maybe the originator is António Dulcídio S. Pinto Coelho, who is listed as the author on TheGlobalArt.
Well, do you have a guess? My instinct was that Wikipedia, as it often does, incorporated the text from some old encyclopedia or other. Or, rather, that somebody at some point entered a bunch of stuff from some old encyclopedia or other, and it stuck around in Wikipedia through revisions. That’s what it smelled like, anyway. I’ve seen that a lot with entries lifting chunks of text from the first edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica.
This was wrong. I don’t know if there’s any easy way to find out for any given Wikipedia entry when a particular stretch of text first entered it, but hunting through the history showed that on the third of November, 2006, the words of them were entered into the text, so that it read “Monet was born to Adolphe and Louise-Justine Monet, both of them second-generation Parisians…”. A few weeks earlier, on the 18th of September, that information was taken from a sentence at the end of the paragraph (“His mother was a singer, both parents were second-generation Parisians”) to be inserted in that clause in the first sentence. That sentence entered the entry on the 24th of March of that year; it seems to be the first appearance of the information.
So, going back and looking forward. In March, somebody adds a bunch of stuff to the Wikipedia article, much of which is awkwardly written. There are repeated revisions. In one of them, the piece of information is moved from one sentence to another; later, that sentence is revised again by somebody else. That could account for the awkwardness of it; the editor is trying to avoid losing a piece of information that was in the text, but has no real idea of its relevance and therefore of its appropriate placement. To be fair, neither do I. And then the version with “both of them second-generation Parisians” gets into dozens or perhaps hundreds of sites, some of them appearing on first glance to be original and/or authoritative, some of them not so much.
No real point, here, just thought it was an interesting thing.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,