Monday 8 November 2010

Wikipedia, Cyclopses and Fastchild

I was musing on the word encyclopedia. Did it have anything to do with cyclops? Well, sort of. Can you see the root in encyclopedia, dear reader?

You should. Even pig-ignorant Welsh vigilantes can see that root. Still no idea? Then you are not qualified to attack doctors in South Wales.

Ten years ago, there was one of those flurries of interest in child molesters that so regularly beset our nation. Some right-thinking, high-minded, chaps in Newport quite reasonably decided to take matters into their own hairy hands when they discovered that nearby lived a paediatrician.

They, quite correctly, realised that paediatrician (child doctor) derives from the same Greek root as paedophile (kiddy-fiddler) and, in a philological frenzy, ran down to the poor doctor's place and painted the word PAEDO on the front of her house.

Quite right too. Or nearly right: technically the Greek for child is pais, and paedos is the genitive, but we'll let that slide. The important thing is that the mob should have taken the same direct action against, pedagogues, practisers of orthopaedics, and encyclopedia salesmen.

I mean, if you're going to terrorise people on the basis of etymology, you might as well be thorough. I know I am.

An encyclopedia is called an encyclop[a]edia because of the circle of learning that Greek children undertook. There is a circle (cyclos) of the liberal arts, and youth (paedos) is, in this case, synonymous with education.

So where does all this leave that peculiar portmanteau and source of all truth: Wikipedia? Well wiki is the name of a simple method of making web-pages that can be edited by many users. It was designed to be simple and Very Fast and was therefore called wikiwikiweb. Wikiwiki means very fast. It is an intensifying reduplication of the Hawaiian word wiki, which means fast.

And what does that mean? It means that the biggest website in the world is called FASTCHILD, and is about be destroyed by an angry mob from Newport.

This also allows for the delightful possibility that somebody who is overly fond of Wikipedia is a wikipedophile. (Incidentally, wiki should be pronounced witi, that's how the Hawaiians do it).

And the cyclops? A cyclops is a round-eye or cyclic-optic. So there is the cyclic connection, but there are, thank heaven, no children involved.

N.B. Anybody insisting that the plural of cyclops is cyclopes will be hurled to an angry mob of Welsh vigilantes.


  1. While it is true that the Paulsgrove estate in Portsmouth was witness to a spate of vigilante attacks in the wake of the Sarah Payne case, it is an urban myth that the hounding of a paediatrician took place there. In fact, this incident happened in south Wales.

  2. Quite right. And the correction has been duly made. Shows how carefully I read my sources.

  3. And then there are the pedants and the pedagogues. The baying mobs are right to be persecuting them.

  4. I would hate to be cast as a pedant upon the mercy of Mr Campbell's mob without first saying a positive word. It was, admittedly, with a schoolboy's lack of grace that I stopped by and found fault, without actually making comment on how much I enjoy your blog.

  5. As do we all. I stand for countless thousands.

  6. With all this talk of pedantry I think we should take time to remember Watt Tyler's, little known, brother - Which Tyler; if you don't know your history, he led the Pedants' Revolt.