One man has made 47,000 Wikipedia edits to fix ‘comprised of’

4 Feb 2015

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Software engineer Bryan Henderson is among Wikipedia’s most active editors, having made 47,000 edits to the site — almost all of which fix the incorrect usage of the phrase ‘comprised of’.

Speaking to Medium.com’s Backchannel, the 51-year-old revealed that every Sunday evening before bed he takes an hour to work on approximately 70 to 80 new ‘comprised of’ errors that appear on the internet encyclopedia each week.

“I’m proud of it,” says Henderson of the project. “It’s just fun for me. I’m not doing it to have any impact on the world.”

In a 6,000-word piece on his user page, Henderson (who goes by the name Giraffedata and lives in California) outlined some of the reasons why he believes "comprised of" is "poor writing".

"The phrase apparently originated as a confusion of 'comprise' and 'composed of', which mean about the same thing," he wrote. "Many writers use this phrase to aggrandise a sentence – to intentionally make it longer and more sophisticated. In these, a simple 'of', 'is', or 'have' often produces an easier-to-read sentence. Example: 'a team comprised of scientists' versus 'a team of scientists'."

Henderson offered Backchannel the following as a typical example of one of his edits: "The Wikipedia editorial community is comprised of many interesting people" would be changed to, "The Wikipedia editorial community is composed of many interesting people" or "The Wikipedia editorial community consists of many interesting people".

“I really do think I’m doing a public service, but at the same time, I get something out of it myself. It’s hard to imagine doing it for the rest of my life,” said Henderson. “I don’t have any plans to quit, but I guess eventually, I’ll have to find a way. It’s hard to walk away, especially when I’ve actually accomplished something."

Grammar image via Shutterstock

Dean is a freelance journalist and editor covering media.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com