Title text: The article has twenty-three citations, one of which is an obscure manuscript from the 1490s and the other twenty-two are arguments on LanguageLog.
A malapropism is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical utterance. An example of a malapropism is Yogi Berra's statement: "Texas has a lot of electrical votes," rather than "electoral votes". A portmanteau is a word made up of two or more combined words. For example, motel is a portmanteau, from the words motor and hotel. A neologism is simply a newly coined word that is not yet in common use.
Here, Randall shows a hypothetical Wikipedia page of the word "malamanteau" which is both a portmanteau of "malapropism" and "portmanteau" and a neologism. The method used to create this new word is one of the very words used in the process. This is called a meta or "self-referential" joke.
"Malamanteau" was originally coined in 2007, when it was proposed by user ludwig_van on Metafilter as a term for language errors like "flustrated" (flustered & frustrated) and "misconscrewed" (misconstrued & screwed).
The bottom line of the comic (Ever notice how Wikipedia has a few words it really likes?) is a reference to a large number of Wikipedia pages that start by labeling their subject matter as a malapropism, a portmanteau, or a neologism.
In response to this comic, editors at Wikipedia created a malamanteau page. It was deleted multiple times and eventually turned into a redirect to the Wikipedia page for xkcd. Malamanteau and the controversy at Wikipedia got coverage at The Economist and The Boston Globe. The comic is used to illustrate this section of the xkcd Wikipedia article. In order for this to be possible Randall had to change the license for this particular comic. This has been explained in a unique header text that is only displayed on the page for Malamanteau.
The title text refers to Wikipedia's requirements of citations for a page on there to exist. It also refers to the wide range of places citations can be obtained from, showing a direct opposition due to the use of very different citations (The Language Log arguments are modern and informal, whereas the obscure manuscript is formal and much older). The title text also refers to the fact that Language Log is frequently used for Wikipedia citations.
Language Log is a blog that posts content relating to language and linguistics, including things like malapropisms and portmanteaus. While an informal source, it has produced new linguistic terms before, such as eggcorn. Its comments sections frequently contain discussions and arguments about English, whose participants are probably the same people who write Wikipedia articles about linguistic phenomena like malamanteaus. In actual fact, Malamanteau did not appear on Language Log until after this strip. Malamanteau has since been referenced on the Language Log website, with a link to the comic in question. Language Log has referenced xkcd many times before, reposting the comics and linking to the xkcd website.
The title text jokingly refers to the "malamanteau" citations being Language Log references and a document from the 1490s, in reference to the fact that linguists, like those who post on Language Log, often use old documents as evidence, possibly to prove that construction is a longstanding feature of the language. The joke is that the only references to this word or concept are a 500-year-old document and linguists informally arguing about what it means. In reality, if these citations were the only evidence of the term's use, then it would be unlikely to be a notable feature worthy of a Wikipedia article. Most articles that are only cited by a single website tend to get deleted unless the subject has achieved significant coverage in outside news media.
The comic shows Wikipedia as it would have looked at the beginning of May 2010, using its then-current logo and the then-default “Monobook” skin. Incidentally, just a day after the comic’s publication, a new version of the Wikipedia logo was published, and the default skin was switched to the “Vector” skin. Both of these still define the look of Wikipedia as of 2021 (though Vector undergoes continuous updates).
Interestingly, the "f" in Wikipedia's tagline "Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia" (the one below the page title, though not the same phrase in the sidebar element) is lowercase. This differs from the other letters, which are written in xkcd's standard all-caps font.
- [The strip is set up as the top of a Wikipedia page.]
- [The Wikipedia logo.]
- The free encyclopedia
- [Side navigation options.]
- -Main Page
- -Featured Content
- -Current Events
- [Wikipedia header options.]
- Article Discussion Edit this page History
- [The article itself.]
- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- A malamanteau is a neologism for a portmanteau created by incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism. It is itself a portmanteau of [...the article cuts off.]
- [Below the panel.]
- Ever notice how Wikipedia has a few words it really likes?
- Malamanteau at the xkcd wiki
- Malamanteaus, a blog dedicated to the creation and proliferation of malamanteaux
- Malamanteau at urbandictionary.com
- Malamanteau at wordsquirt.com
- Entries referencing "malamanteau" at LanguageLog.com
- Malamanteau Talk Page Archives 1 and 2 at Wikipedia.com
- Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Malamanteau
- Screen capture of the deleted history for the "Malamanteau" page from Wikipedia
- Wikipedia Log for "Malamanteau"
- Beutler, William (May 5, 2010) "Much Ado About Malamanteau". The Wikipedian
- McKean, Erin (May 30, 2010) "One Day Wonder". The Boston Globe
- R.L.G (Nov 4th 2010) "Eggcorn, mashup, malamanteau or other?". The Economonist
- July 17, 2007 "How to define this language mistake?" - MetaFilter thread with the first usage
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