The Comma Interrobang: Reflections on the Edit History of the Wikipedia Page for Artichokes



(Ed Suba Jr./Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)


“What is the heart of the artichoke, and the ‘flesh’ on the leaves?”
— Wikipedia editor ThuranX

(Ed Suba Jr./Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)
(Ed Suba Jr./Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

The heart of the artichoke is the flower that hasn’t unfolded yet. Something that chokes is at its heart, something terrified of its own potential. Something that would prefer to remain curled up and dormant rather than show its face to the harsh bright world. Artichoke: the coward vegetable. A metaphor for the depraved millennial generation would fit nicely here, if this was Thought Catalog. The American Heritage Dictionary says that there’s a long etymological history dating back to medieval Arabic, which according to my calculations, means that people have been consuming artichokes since before x-rays were invented. This means that somewhere along the line, someone decided to try to cook a tiny, repulsive-looking shrub without really knowing what was inside: fear and also a bundle of immature florets known as the choke or the beard, which is inedible. ‘Immature florets’, by the way, would make a great name for your next cycle of poems about the fleetingness of youth.

You could, of course, cut one open, if you had the strength of many warriors and/or a few plow horses at your disposal. Rubbery leaves are resistant to knives, as it happens. Or perhaps that speaks to the dullness of my knives or the weakness of my depraved millennial arms. But even supposing you have rippling biceps and a freshly sharpened scythe (hello there), bisection doesn’t get you very far on the path to real knowledge, probably. How many medieval cooks tossed this mysterious thing into the pot with nary a second thought? How many deaths via secret interior plant beard before people started figuring things out? How many medieval coroners plucking half-chewed florets from the small intestines before it dawned on them that something was afoot? Is this why in the Valencia region of Spain, there is a traditional dance of the artichoke? Does Spain know the bitter, nefarious, gut-wrenching truth? Something tells me village girls in white dresses twirling around an artichoke Maypole once a year are the only forces keeping the evil at bay.

In May of 2009, a Floridian man went into a restaurant and ordered the grilled artichoke special, despite the fact that he had absolutely no idea what an artichoke was. Lacking proper instruction in the art of artichoke eating, he proceeded to ingest the entire thing, thorny leaves, immature florets, woody stem and all. I like to imagine that he worked his way down the vegetable as though it was a really unpleasant ice cream cone, but sadly, I was not there to bear witness. Several hours of excruciating pain later, he received an “exploratory laparotomy,” which is the most erotic-sounding name for a surgical procedure I’ve ever encountered. He then filed a lawsuit against the restaurant chain for not teaching him how to eat the artichoke, citing “disability, disfigurement, mental anguish,” and “loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life” as consequences of that fateful meal. Far away in rural Spain, someone must have fucked up the artichoke dance.