While helping Patrick find a word today (salonnière is the current candidate), I found a surprisingly well-written article on literary salons in NationMaster.com’s encyclopedia section. A good reference source is a joy forever, so I clicked through to the main page of the encyclopedia, intending to bookmark it. I was very surprised to discover it was a mirror site for Wikipedia.
The reason it surprised me was that I’d already summoned up the Wikipedia entry on that subject, read its cloddish opening paragraph, and moved on to see whether I couldn’t find something better elsewhere. Here’s the first paragraph at NationMaster.com:
A salon is a gathering of stimulating people of quality under the roof of an inspiring hostess or host, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation and readings, often consciously following Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, “to please and educate” (aut delectare aut prodesse est). The salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical salons of the 17th century and 18th century, were carried on until quite recently in urban settings among like-minded people of a ‘set’: many 20th-century salons could be instanced.I have no problem with that, aside from the bit about “until quite recently.” The article that follows it is clear, decisive, and well-organized.
Here’s the first paragraph of the current Wikipedia version:
A salon was a reunion of men and women of intellect, gathered in the salon (drawing room) of a private home to participate in formal and informal discussions centered around a specific topic. A salonnière, the hostess of the salon, decided upon its central preoccupation which may include politics, literature, art, fashion or business. The participants sought to increase their knowledge through conversation and readings, often consciously following Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, “to please and educate” (aut delectare aut prodesse est). The term salon is commonly associated with French literary and philosophical gatherings of the 17th century and 18th century, though the practice continues today in many cities around the world.More words, much less said.
A little poking around soon revealed that the NationMaster.Com entry was the Wikipedia entry until this past spring. The worst damage was done on 02 - 03 April, when one Tkehinde, using what appears to have been a shoehorn and an undergraduate research paper, rewrote the initial paragraph, added bits, rewrote other bits, re-ordered some sections, and added a lot of footnotes. Most of the “facts” are still nominally present, but it’s remarkable how much less clear and comprehensible the revised version is overall.
If it turns out that any of those responsible are people I know, I’ll apologize.
I’ve given up formally despairing of Wikipedia, so I’ll just recommend the difference between the two versions as an illustration of how little it takes to break a well-engineered piece of exposition. Maybe they won’t seem all that different to you. For me, reading the later version is like watching the last act of Noises Off.