The most fascinating Wikipedia articles you haven't read

If you tried to read everything on Wikipedia it would take you 19 years.

If you tried to read everything on Wikipedia it would take you 19 years.

On November 1, Wikipedia announced a mind-boggling milestone: Its English edition has logged 5 million entries since its launch in 2001.

That's a profound accomplishment - but also overwhelming, as far as such things go. At 2.5 billion words and almost 30 terabytes of information, the largest repository of human knowledge is far too large to ever be read in its entirety by any individual. (If you started reading, continuously, today, it'd still take you 19 years and change.)

So we invited a small group of journalists, Wikipedians and Wiki enthusiasts to nominate the highlights: the Wikipedia articles that they find the most informative, the most entertaining or - frequently! - the most comically trivial. The result is a pretty killer list of what brilliance results when the Internet's nerds put their collective minds together.

1. Sexually active popes

Wikipedia's List of sexually active popes is both useful and frivolous, impressive and incomplete. 

The idea of collecting a list of popes who were sexually active at some point speaks for itself - it's a uniquely Wikipedian way of categorising history in the age of search engines.

Since its creation more than a decade ago, this particular list has been argued over, corrected, and expanded with vigour. One user went after some pretty egregious errors when it comes to Catholic terminology. There are also substantial arguments over the neutrality of the entire concept of collecting sexually active popes - whether historically confirmed or not. 

It might not surprise you to find out that it's been nominated for deletion, twice, and somehow survived. 

2. Common misconceptions, unusual deaths and uprisings led by women

When the Wikimedia Foundation recently polled its staffers about their favourite pages, these lists of urban legends, weird deaths and under-touted revolutions were among the winners. No explanation necessary, tbh: They're all self-evidently fascinating.

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3. Helicopter prison escapes

Because it makes life seem like a little more like a 1970s New Hollywood action thriller, one that's partly set in France, with exciting scenes involving helicopters and prison escapes.

4. Demon cat

A ghost cat, 3m high, which haunts the Washington DC Capitol Buildings. Its home is supposedly the basement crypt of the Capitol that was originally intended as a burial chamber for President George Washington. It explodes when startled.

"The society's version of the story states that a security guard was once licked by a cat when he was lying down. Being drunk, the man thought he was still standing at the time and was frightened by the apparently giant cat."

5. Lists of lists of lists

Look no further than this page's description: "This article is a list of articles that are themselves lists of articles that are also lists on Wikipedia."

It takes a few reads to comprehend what you're actually looking at, but this is the epitome of Wikipedia. This web page, I believe, is where the internet starts to devour itself. 

6. Jesus

The prospect of writing an encyclopaedia entry on someone who is indisputably one of the most important figures in history is daunting to say the least. This article is one of the most-linked and most-edited in Wikipedia and is a magnet for virtually every agenda that you can imagine.

In spite of this, the article was promoted to Featured status - indicating that it is the highest quality in Wikipedia. Getting to that point required a wealth of the two most fundamental principles of Wikipedia: collaboration with others and good scholarship.

7. Political catchphrases

For the political junkie, this page is like a flash card version of some of the most memorable political catchphrases, gaffes and misspoken statements in world history. You have several well-worn sayings, like the imperial "Veni, vidi , vici" from Julius Caesar to Obama's "Yes we can."

But you also find how volatile foreign politics can be. Ireland has four famous phrases with f-bombs in them. During Ontario's 2003 general election, then-Premier Ernie Eves called his opponent an "evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet."

And nothing beats what former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange said when asked by a journalist for "a brief word" about Australia: "Wombat."

8. What Wikipedia is not

People go to Wikipedia to find out what things are, and I love that an encyclopaedia is self-reflective enough to decide what copulae it contains but does not embody.

9. Inventors killed by their own inventions

This list is so ironic. The point of invention is to improve the human experience. For the inventor to be killed is the last thing one would expect or want to do. This says something about the relationship between humans and technology. While lots of good is created, there are downsides we don't always foresee.

10. Extreme ironing

This is a thing

 - The Washington Post


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