​Man's Wikipedia crusade turns him into grammar hero

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Bryan Henderson's story is comprised of a single obsession: the misuse of the phrase "comprised of." As in -- an ax is comprised of a handle and a head. It's supposed to be "composed of."

"There's no such thing as comprised of," says Bryan.

When asked what difference it makes, Bryan said: "Because there are people who care a lot about language and it's like fingernails on a blackboard when somebody uses something incorrectly."

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Bryan Henderson
CBS News

So a few years ago -- in an attempt to remove this one, particular shriek from the chalkboard of his life -- this computer engineer from San Jose, California searched for every instance of "comprised of" on Wikipedia -- the 36 million page online encyclopedia.

He found more than 16,000 references. And then, one by one, took it upon himself to edit them out.

"Four years later I had removed the last 'comprised of' from Wikipedia," said Bryan. "There aren't any left."

And you thought golf was a boring hobby. Yet to Wikipedia's volunteer editors Bryan is a rock star.

"He's like my hero, he's amazing," said one attendee.

"I had to take a day off work to answer my fan mail," said Bryan. "How many engineers can say that? That was an amazing thing."

And what's even more amazing is that to this day if anyone ever adds "comprised of" -- as I secretly did to my own Wikipedia entry the night before our interview -- Bryan has written a computer program that instantly roots it out.

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Bryan Henderson works to change "comprised of" to "composed of" in Wikipedia entries
CBS News

My entry, "Hartman's family is comprised of a wife and three children," was changed. I now have a family "composed of" a wife and three children.

I really wanted to know how a guy gets like this. So I went to see the one person who has known Bryan as long as anyone -- his older brother, Robin.

"What do you think this obsession is based around?" I asked.

"You said 'based around!' You did that on purpose didn't you?" Robin answered.

Turns out the Henderson family is composed of two compulsives -- although Robin has different peeve, what he calls the "lazy around."

"The movie was based around the book, not possible," said Robin.

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Robin Henderson
CBS News

Robin spends a couple hours a week on Wikipedia changing "based around," usually to "based on."

"Sometimes the 'lazy around' can be replaced with comprised of," said Robin. "And I'm so tempted to change it to comprised of and let Bryan deal with it."

It all sounds so trivial, but I think the Henderson brothers would agree: our world is based around rules and the army to enforce those rules is comprised of all of us -- although, obviously, they would have phrased it differently.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.