Wikipedia and the clash of civilisations sparked by a quiz master from Madurai

There’s nothing quite like a nice literary spat, especially if it involves a global internet brand, two ancient civilisations, an irritated diplomat, and a newspaper column.

Last month, The Hindu published in its weekly quiz by Berty Ashley, a molecular biologist from Madurai, the following question.

10. This word did not exist before January 2001. It is a very interesting hybrid made of a Hawaiian word which means ‘quick’ and a Latin word that means ‘learning’, which is exactly what this portal of knowledge does. What is the hybrid word?

The answer: Wikipedia.

This has riled the Greek ambassador to India, Panos Kalogeropoulos.

He writes a letter to the editor in today’s issue.

“I happened to read the quiz which said that the word “Wikipedia’ is a hybrid made of a Hawaiian word (Wiki) and a Latin word (media), the latter meaning learning.

“I do not know from where the quizmaster found that the ancient Greek term “Paedia” is Latin, perhaps by extrapolation, i.e. all uncommon or unusual words have to be derived from an awe-inspiring source such as Latin.

“Paedia (or its simplified modern version Pedia) meant education of the young (pais=young boy or girl). The term is still very much a part of modern Greek; the ministry of education in my country is always called Ministry of Paedeia.

“Suffice also to mention here that paediatrics or pedagogical are derivatives of pais.

“I thought that setting the record straight concerning the etymology of this word would be of use to your reader or could even arouse an interest in the Greek origin of innumerable words spoken daily in all modern languages.”

Greece 1, Rome 0.