Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Here are a few of Wikipedia’s most surprisingly controversial topics

Illustration for article titled Here are a few of Wikipedia’s most surprisingly controversial topics
Photo: George Marks/Retrofile (Getty Images)
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 6,203,769-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: Quick hits

What it’s about: Lots of things! Over the years, we’ve come across Wikipedia articles that fascinated or amused to some degree, but were too short to write a full column about. So for the next few weeks, we’re going to shake up the format, and move through our 6,198,555-part series a bit faster by tackling multiple subjects in brief. This week, we look at a few surprisingly controversial topics.

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Parking Chair: While we start every column with “biggest controversy,” we may have never tackled a more heated subject than the parking chair, the practice of reserving a parking space on a residential street by placing a chair in the center, to block anyone else’s car from parking there. This is common wintertime practice in many cities in the Midwest and Northeast (also known as “dibs”), as people who have to shovel out a parking space feel entitled to it long-term.

Illustration for article titled Here are a few of Wikipedia’s most surprisingly controversial topics
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

In some places, respecting the parking chair is considered common courtesy; in others, the parking chair is illegal, although the level of enforcement varies by municipality, with former Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declaring she could no more stop people from blocking parking spaces with chairs than she could stop locals from calling each other “hon.”

While police do enforce bans on parking chairs in some places, Wikipedia notes there can also be stringent civilian enforcement: “The practice is often most effective when accompanied by the threat or actual occurrence of a ‘look of consternation’ from a vigilant, often elderly neighbor who ‘keeps watch’ in the vehicle owner’s absence.” Is that parking space really worth getting the frowning of a lifetime from your elderly neighbor? We think not.

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Cow Tools: There are comic series with their own Wikipedia pages, but “Cow Tools” may be the only individual comic panel with its own page. Gary Larson’s beloved The Far Side ran this strip in 1982 to massive audience backlash. “Cow Tools” depicts one of the barely anthropomorphized cows that were a staple of his strip, standing in front of a table with several misshapen objects and the caption, “cow tools.” Readers were perplexed and enraged, sending Larson hundreds of letters and inundating his feature syndicate with angry phone calls.

To calm the public’s ire, Larson had to explain the joke, which was simply if cows were to make tools, “they would lack something in sophistication.” Why this barely-a-joke struck such an irate chord with readers remains a mystery.

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Long Hundred: We’ve long been baffled by the traditional European system of weights and measures, with 79 gallons to the hogshead (U.S. gallons, that is; it’s 66 imperial gallons. And we’re talking about a hogshead, as opposed to a tobacco hogshead, which is 145 gallons, 121 imperial), and 5 1/2 yards to the rod. But it’s amazing there was a consensus on any system at all, given that medieval Europe couldn’t even agree on how to count to 100. Germanic languages used the word “hundred” to refer to 120, otherwise called the “long hundred,” or “twelfty.” Medieval England, unsurprisingly, used both, with a Latin book of weights and measures using the long hundred to measure some goods and short hundreds (i.e., 100) to measure others, and alum being measured in stone, but not the contemporary 14-pound stone still sometimes used in Britain and Ireland; also not to be confused with a Tower pound, which was 12 ounces as opposed to 16, or the mercantile pound, which was 15 troy ounces. We’re going to lie down for a while.

Wulfstan (died 1095): Medieval Europe had a lot of units of measurement, and it also had a lot of bishops named Wulfstan. Wikipedia disambiguates three by including the year of their deaths, as well as 11th-century monk Wulfstan The Cantor, and 9th-century merchantman Wulfstan Of Hedeby. But Wulfstan Died 1095 is the most confounding of the lot, as he was the second Wulfstan The Second. He was named after his uncle, Wulfstan Died 1023, who was by turns Bishop Of London, Bishop Of Worcester, and Archbishop Of York. As Archbishop Of York, 1023 was known as Wulfstan II, because there had been a previous Archbishop with that name. But when his nephew took his old post as Bishop Of Worcester, he was also known as Wulfstan II, as he was the second Bishop Of Worcester with the name, the first one being the first Wulfstan II. Okay, we’re going to go lie down again.

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Kanchō: A very quick shout out to Kanchō, a children’s prank popular across East Asia that involves clasping one’s hands together in the shape of an imaginary gun, and poking the victim’s anus, while exclaiming, “Kan-CHŌ!” The word itself is a slang term for “enema” in Japanese. Koreans call the prank “ddong chim,” and in China, it’s “Qiānnián shā.” Kanchō even has a arcade game adaptation, Boong-Ga Boong-Ga, although it seems only five consoles were ever made. If a player got an exceptionally high score, the machine would “dispense a small plastic trophy in the shape of a pile of feces.”

Further Down the Wormhole: Wikipedia helpfully included a link for feces, but we’re just going to let that one go. Instead we’re going to the page for finger gun, which helpfully includes detailed instructions for how to make your hand into the shape of a gun. It’s part of a “gestures” category that includes everything from dapping, to pinky swear, to the Vulcan salute, to the kiss. We’ve always thought of kissing as more than a mere gesture, but as Wikipedia correctly notes, “cultural connotations of kissing vary wildly.”

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The most consequential kiss in the Christian world was that of Judas Iscariot, who kissed Jesus Christ before betraying him, making the name Judas synonymous with betrayal, and among other things, giving him a namesake in the Judas Goat, which we’ll look at when we run down some animal-related quick hits next week.

Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in early 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.

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