Martin Elmer/Maphugger

A map of few words.

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 In other cases -- Soviet, British -- it's clearly a historical reference.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.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  2. A photo of a closed street in St. Louis
    Equity

    The Curious Tale of the St. Louis Street Barriers

    Thanks to an '80s mania for traffic calming, the St. Louis grid is broken by hundreds of bollards and cul-de-sacs. Critics say it’s time to get rid of them.

  3. People eat and drink coffee inside a small coffeehouse.
    Life

    Gentrification Is Hurting Kuala Lumpur's Iconic Coffee Shops

    Traditional kopitiams, which serve sweetened coffee in no-frills surroundings, are a part of Malaysian national identity, but their survival is precarious.

  4. Design

    A New Plan to Correct a Historic Mistake in Pittsburgh

    A Bjarke Ingels Group-led plan from 2015 has given way to a more “practical” design for the Lower Hill District. Concerns over true affordable housing remain.

  5. Life

    How to Inspire Girls to Become Carpenters and Electricians

    Male-dominated trades like construction, plumbing, and welding can offer job security and decent pay. A camp aims to show girls these careers are for them, too.