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Bluff The Listener


BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis. We are playing this week with Maeve Higgins, Alonzo Bodden and Mo Rocca. And here again is your host, a man who just finished knitting a 1,200-foot scarf, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill. Right now, it is time for the WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to play our game on the air.

Hi, you're on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

JESSE DOWVESWELL: Hi, Peter. This is Jesse calling from Richmond, Va.

SAGAL: Oh, Richmond - things have been interesting there of late. What do you do there in Richmond?

DOWVESWELL: I'm biding my time until I can go back to doing what I love - bartending in Brooklyn.

SAGAL: Oh, you're a Brooklyn bartender. Are you part of, like, what they call cocktail culture? Or are you just, like, to hell with that; you're just going to mix a drink?

DOWVESWELL: No, no. I'm part of, like, the generous pour community and the beer and the shot - yeah, group.

SAGAL: That's - I love - I just want to say I support your community and everything you're doing.

DOWVESWELL: Thank you.

SAGAL: Jesse, it is nice to have you with us. You're going to play the game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Bill, what is Jesse's topic?

KURTIS: You can't trust Wikipedia.

SAGAL: Wikipedia is the amazing website where you can learn about everything from the history of the Suez Canal to how Margaret Thatcher was the sixth Spice Girl. Our panelists are going to tell you about a surprising problem with the online encyclopedia that was revealed just this last week. Pick the one who's telling the truth, and you'll win the WAIT WAITer of your choice on your voicemail. Are you ready to play?


SAGAL: All right. Let's do it, then. Let's first hear from Maeve Higgins.

MAEVE HIGGINS: Ever heard of Scotland? I certainly hadn't. But apparently, it's a pretty, little place you could only reach through time travel and shortbread cookies. This week, we learned that Scottish Wikipedia, which is supposed to be in the Scots language, was actually just written by an American in a fake Scottish accent. Isn't it shocking that an American can both speak and write in another language? That's what made this story difficult for me to believe.

The Scots Wikipedia has more than 23,000 articles written by an American in what Scottish people are calling a fake Scottish accent. For example, the page for the movie "Million Dollar Baby" says, quote, "the film is about an underappreciated boxing trainer," which, while true, is not Scots at all. One Scottish person who goes by the name of Miles Bartky (ph) put it like this - well, I do declare, if that's not a fake Scottish accent, I'll eat my cowboy hat.

Actually, just reading that now, maybe Miles is the fake Scottish person. The only way to know for sure who is truly Scottish is to do the marshmallow test. This is a very famous test. It was developed at a high-end science university. Ask a person to say marshmallow, and if they're American, they'll say marshmallow. But if they're truly Scottish, they'll say, marshmallow in a wee kilt. And lo, the marshmallow, usually male, will appear before you in a wee kilt.

KURTIS: (Laughter).

SAGAL: The Scots Wikipedia page, instead of being in the Scots language, is in a fake Scots accent written by an American. Your next story of some suspicious sourcing on Wikipedia comes from Alonzo Bodden.

ALONZO BODDEN: What's the most basic thing you know about motorcycles? They have two wheels - unless you checked Wikipedia on Monday of last week, as well as multiple times since then, in which case they had up to three. This all began because of a rider named Alan Lane (ph), who rides a customized Harley Davidson with two wheels in the back for extra stability. Alan Lane said he rides a, quote, "motorcycle" when any normal person would say, that's a tricycle for old people.

Alan, a retired dentist, now spends his time editing Wikipedia articles, so it was easy for him to change the main page for motorcycles. Quote, "a motorcycle is a motorized vehicle with two or three wheels." That was quickly noticed by people who ride actual motorcycles and changed back. But Alan wasn't having it. As of 11:42 a.m. Eastern last Monday, it read, a motorcycle is a motorized vehicle with two wheels or three wheels, which, frankly, is even better, especially when your wife is on the back and she doesn't like it when it leans over.

It's gone on since then in what Wikipedians (ph) refer to as an edit war as new updates keep appearing. Quote, "a motorcycle has only two wheels, period. Anything more is lame," unquote. Quote, "a motorcycle has two, three or even four wheels because really, it's about the rider's free spirit," unquote. "A motorcycle has two wheels," all caps. "Any more wheels make it the moral equivalent of a Nissan Sentra," unquote. Eventually, Wikipedia editors locked the page, so now if you go to the main entry for motorcycles, it just says, never mind.

SAGAL: A dispute on Wikipedia over how many wheels a motorcycle has. Your last story of Wikipedia gone wild comes from Mo Rocca.

MO ROCCA: Hell hath no fury like a pagan high priestess with an under-trafficked website. was launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in January, 2001. But two years earlier, Wiccan Heather Kornblad (ph) registered (ph) with the grand ambition of creating an online encyclopedia devoted to educating the public about Wicca. Quote, "I had assembled an amazing coven of 13 volunteer editors," said Kornblad. "We were disambiguating garden gnomes from real-live gnomes at least three solstices before Jimmy and Larry even had a domain name. But those two swooped in and flew off with my best talent."

At first, Kornblad tried to entice Wales and Sanger to buy her site and incorporate it into theirs. Quote, "I sent cookies in the shape of pentagrams. I sent a decorative candle made from ancient Celtic earwax. I even sent a box set of "Bewitched" to say, hello, I've got a sense of humor." But she was rebuffed at every turn. And so she and her remaining witches felt they had no choice but to fire up the cauldron and cast a spell. Eye of Jimmy and tongue of canary, wool of bat and tow of Larry, may their site crash. Make it pass. Those two jerks can fivefold kiss my astral plane. Double, double, toil and trouble. Doublemint gum makes good bubble.

SAGAL: All right. So there was a problem with Wikipedia recently. Was it, from Maeve, the discovery that the Scots Wikipedia page is not, in fact, in the Scots language but is in a fake Scottish accent as put on by an American contributor, from Alonzo Bodden, the motorcycle page gets blown up in a dispute over how many wheels a motorcycle has, or from Mo Rocca, a dispute between Wikipedia and Wiccapedia, the all-purpose online encyclopedia for Wiccans? Which of these is the real story about a scandal in open-source knowledge?

DOWVESWELL: Oh, man. Wiccapedia is a great pun, but...

HIGGINS: (Laughter).

DOWVESWELL: ...I spend a lot of time on the Scottish people Twitter subreddit, and...


DOWVESWELL: ...I feel like there are too many copycats. It's got to be that one.

SAGAL: The Scottish Twitter subreddit, you tell us. All right. Well, based on your predilections, you've chosen Maeve's story of the Scots Wikipedia page. Well, to bring you the correct answer, here's a reliable source who's close to the actual story.


BILLY KAY: Some paragraphs are written in good Scots. Then there are others where he mangles the language.


SAGAL: That was Billy Kay. He's a Scots language expert and the author of "The Mither Tongue," which I'm told his Scots for the mother tongue. Congratulations, Jesse.


SAGAL: You got it right. You earned a point for Maeve even though - and I'm amazed to discover this - that Maeve cannot do a Scots accent. Is that correct?

HIGGINS: You heard me. I was...

ROCCA: Say marshmallow again like a Scotsman.

HIGGINS: I mean, I can do my Al Pacino if you want - being Scottish.

SAGAL: All right. Please do...


SAGAL: ...Al Pacino being Scottish.

HIGGINS: ...This is Al Pacino being Scottish as 007. (Imitating Al Pacino with a Scottish accent) Marshmallow.


BODDEN: Oh, that was...

SAGAL: Oh, God. I could see it.

BODDEN: I felt that.


SAGAL: I could see it.

BODDEN: I felt that.

HIGGINS: The layers.

SAGAL: I could see him. That's amazing. Well, Jesse, back to you. Congratulations. You got it right. You earned the voice of anyone you choose on our show doing whatever accent we're capable of on your voicemail.

HIGGINS: Al Pacino, baby - it's all yours.

SAGAL: Thank you so much for playing, Jesse.

DOWVESWELL: (Imitating Scottish accent) Marshmallow. Thank you very much.



ROCCA: Excellent.

SAGAL: That was pretty good. This may be the guy who does the Scots Wikipedia page. Thank you so much, Jesse.

DOWVESWELL: You're welcome.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.


JOHN LEE HOOKER: (Singing) One bourbon, one scotch, one beer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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