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Wikipedia's Most Common Word in the History of Nations? Definitely 'War'

Wikipedia's Most Common Word in the History of Nations? Definitely 'War'
Martin Elmer/Maphugger

Let's play a game: can you guess the most frequently occurring descriptive word (excluding "the," "a," and variants of the name itself) in a country's "History of" Wikipedia page?

--The U.S.?
--"War"

--France?
--"War"

--Japan?
--"War"

--Mongolia?
--"Khaan"

Martin Elmer, designer and curator of Maphugger, has created a map of few words. Like other typographic maps, Elmer's "Laconic History of the World" contains no cities, rivers or other geographic features, just a word in the shape of each country.

By running the Wikipedia history of 176 nations through a word cloud, Elmer distilled each country into a peculiar Wikipedian essence of identity. As he points out in his reader's companion, that essence, in nearly one out of every six cases (and in all of Western Europe), is "war."

Even greater, Elmer reports, is the number of countries labelled by colonial rule. In some cases -- French, Spanish -- the word also refers to the country's chief language. In other cases -- Soviet, British -- it's clearly a historical reference. And, he notes, a number of countries are labelled as their neighbors. Eritrea is "Ethiopia," Pakistan is "India," Kuwait is "Iraq," Lebanon is "Syria," Slovakia is "Hungary." Hungary, by the way, is labelled, like Slovenia, as "party."

Only three countries have a city as their "defining" feature, and they are odd bedfellows: Ecuador labelled as "Quito," Uruguay as "Montevideo," and Azerbaijan as "Baku."

HT Per Square Mile.

Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at The Atlantic Cities. He lives in New York. All posts »

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