I needed to check a fact, a fact about checks, as it happened. I had retrieved the word “windowpane” from my brain, as the name for a widely spaced pattern of intersecting stripes, and I wanted to make sure I was right. Windowpane plaid, I thought.
I started typing “windowpane” into the browser and autocomplete offered “windowpane check”—check, not plaid: here was a distinction I’d absorbed the general outlines of without ever explicitly focusing on it. I tried it and Google gave me a bunch of articles from menswear sites, of unclear value. It did not, however, give me Wikipedia.
Everyone knows by now that Wikipedia is not an automatically trustworthy source of facts. When Wikipedia tells you a fact and you need to know it’s right, you go down to the footnotes and follow them out to the sources and make an informed judgment.
Wikipedia is a guide to what the kind of people who make Wikipedia deem to be worth knowing.
What’s less obvious or visible, much of the time, is how defective Wikipedia also is as a map of knowledge. Wikipedia is a guide to what the kind of people who make Wikipedia deem to be worth knowing. Clothing and fashion are not subjects that matter much, in the Wikipedian culture.
I had run into a version of this problem before, trying to look up something about some relationship among retail clothing brands. Basic chronology and context, the things Wikipedia is usually a crib sheet for, were impossible to find. (Try and fail to read the J. Crew page, a litany of ownership changes and store locations like the dullest parts of the Old Testament, with almost nothing to say about the clothing the company sells or its place in the culture.)
Windowpane may refer to:
Paned window and window, an architectural element
Windowpane (song) (1990)
“Windowpane”, an Opeth song from the album Damnation
[18.104.22.168]Fenestrane, in organic chemistry is a type of chemical compound with a central quaternary carbon atom which serves as a common vertex for four fused carbocycles
Windowpane, a piece of gelatin containing LSD
Windowpane flounder (Scophthalmus aquosus), fish from the family Scophthalmidae
Windowpane oyster, a bivalve marine mollusk in the family Placunidae
I tried the page for “Check (pattern)” and got nothing useful. It was very short and it had a list of types of checks at the bottom, including “Battenburg markings” and “checkered flag” but “windowpane” was not among them. “Plaid” was, but it just redirected to “tartan,” and the page for tartan was grindingly boring and overdetailed, presumably because tartan is itself governed by a pedantic system of definitions, certifications, and real and spurious rules, and is therefore interesting in Wikipedian terms.
There was also “Tattersall (cloth),” seven brief sentences. It seemed, based on the menswear-site articles, that windowpane was striped in one color, while tattersall was striped in two. But also tattersall seemed like it could be any size, while windowpane had to be spacious. The shirt I was trying to describe had two colors, spaciously arranged. I’d gone to the largest repository of information ever constructed, and I still didn’t know if the word I was considering using was right or not.
The shells of the windowpane oyster, Placuna placenta, “have been used for thousands of years as a glass substitute because of their durability and translucence.”