Recently, I posted an answer to this question:

What is the meaning of (the perhaps swisswide used) "resonieren"

With the help Google Translate, I defined the key word, resonieren, as "to resonate." Another poster used another answer, "ranting," which I found interesting.

I was castigated by third poster, in my opinion unfairly, for my answer. After reviewing the context, I was unable to determine whether "rant" or "resonate," was the better choice, not being a native speaker.

That didn't matter to me because I thought that "resonate" was a reasonable translation in general. As a language learner, I want to learn multiple uses of a German word, as well as its use in a specific context. Assuming an answer was correct in other contexts, I wouldn't consider it wrong.

Is this a reasonable posture to adopt? Or is this site geared to defining specific words in specific contexts? That is to say, is discussing the use of a questioned word outside its original context "off topic?"

And is Google Translate adequate support for such a discussion?

  • 1
    I think this discussion was off to a bad start with @EugeneSeidel's first comment on Tom's answer - it came out a bit too brief and sounded quite harsh - and then Tom's subsequent clinging to that hunch (supported by Google Translate, which really is not much). -- My take: if you write an answer on a hunch (and please do that!), make that fact clear, and be prepared to be disproved quickly. And if you write a critical comment, take that extra minute to explain your criticism, even if it looks obvious to you. In my experience, "weil das ja klar ist" is one of the main problems in discussions.
    – Jan
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 15:02
  • @Jan: Fair enough. If I had it to do again, I might say something like "My guess is..." I thought I had done it with the original (tentative) wording, "the translation I would use is..." but probably didn't.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 15:12
  • Hi, I am originally from Switzerland ;-). Google translate can deliver quite funny results as I can see ...
    – Dilaton
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 0:17

3 Answers 3


You gave the wrong answer to a specific question. It was a nice guess and you wanted to help, nothing wrong with that, but it is not the correct answer to this question.

Let me make up an example:

Question: What does "wiped cream" mean?
I heard this in the radio: " ... and then put the wiped cream on top of the cake." What does it mean?

Answer by Tim: I looked it up: "wiped" comes from "wipe" and means "wegwischen". "cream" means "Sahne", so it is "weggewischte Sahne".

Answer by Tom: You probably mean "whipped cream". That's "Schlagsahne".

Now, which answer is more helpful? In the first answer "wiped cream" is correctly translated, but what purpose does this fulfill for anyone? It was a nice guess, but does not help the asker at all (or anyone else). The same is true for your answer.

  • "t was a nice guess and you wanted to help, nothing wrong with that, but it is not the correct answer to this question." If that is a reason for a downvote, I'll accept that. The issue I had was that the STRENGTH of the critic's criticism, thereby discouraging "nice guesses" in the future that might be right, and helpful.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 13:01
  • Please keep guessing, @TomAu. You can still change/delete it if you are wrong. The chance you are correct and helpful is very high. Don't mind downvotes, don't mind misunderstandings (which I think you had with Eugene). Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 13:32
  • I have looked at the rest of Eugene's work, and it is of very highly quality. But I took issue with what I believed to be his resulting posture 1) "You're guessing" (true enough) and 2) "Guesses don't belong here, only 'expert' views."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 14:02

Sorry Tom but we have a fairly large difference of opinion here. I see I'm going to have to expand on my comments in that Question.

  1. SE defines itself as a place for "experts" (i.e., people who know what they are talking about) to answer questions from people seeking advice. No offense, but you are not an expert on German language and usage.
  2. Even so, it should have been clear to you that räsonnieren and resonieren are homophones, sometimes even homographs, but they are two distinct words. A resonating soundboard is something entirely different from a ranting/scolding/arguing/thinking out loud person. I cannot imagine a dictionary giving these two distinct words a single entry and then listing two completely unrelated meanings in that entry, all the more so as these words have entirely different etymologies.

I was not unfair to you in any way. I gave you plenty of time to correct yourself before downvoting your Answer.

I will be watching responses here carefully, especially from Moderators and established users. If I get the impression that criticism of wrong Answers is frowned upon and that people who know what they are talking about are given a hard time, then I will know what to do about my continued participation.

  • OK, I"m beginning to see your point. You are what our American judges would call a "strict constructionist." I'm interpreting the mandate broadly. That is, an answer will be disqualified only if it is not even a "partial" response. That is, my answer is OK if it is "partially" correct. We do have deep differences of opinion here, and hopefully can discuss/resolve them in a civilized way, with the help of others.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 22:11
  • @Tom How is your answer even partially correct? Regarding "disqualification": I did not "flag" your answer (ask for it to be deleted). I merely pointed out why it is wrong. Please, people -- and this goes not just for Tom: entries in dictionaries (Duden, Merriam-Webster, OED...) do NOT carry the force of law. As shocking as this may sound, these works are compiled by fallible humans. This goes double for "crowdsourced" dictionaries with .cc domains. And it goes quadruple for Google Translate, which should not be relied upon, ever. GT is good for getting the gist of a text and not much else. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 4:38
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    I don't agree with you in 100%. You are talking about "experts should answer the question and he isn't an expert". But, I think there are a lot of questions, that a German language learner can answer, although he isn't expert. Some Google search can help, and if he thought, it was a good question, why he shouldn't answer. Of course, if other tell him, that he is wrong, he - and everyone else - should delete answers. I do so, too. I'm native but not expert in all cases, but I give my best, and if I was mistaken, I delete. That happens...
    – Em1
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 15:15
  • 1
    @Em1 Why delete an Answer if it is not totally useless (spam, off-topic, etc.)? People can learn from a wrong Answer (and from the subsequent discussion). A person need not be a credentialed expert to give a good Answer, so in that respect I agree with you. But if your answer is little more than a "stab in the dark", expect to hear criticism... and have the fortitude not to complain. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 15:31
  • @EugeneSeidel I didn't mean to delete any answer that is not "the answer". Just...Sometimes you misunderstand the question or you just doesn't know something, and after you know better and you recognize that your answer isn't a gain, then I delete it.
    – Em1
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 18:23
  • @Eugene Seidel:I added an edit to my answer: EDIT: I have been advised by someone whose opinion I respect that this was a "nice guess, you tried to help, nothing wrong with that, but this is a wrong answer." I chose this route rather than deletion, to preserve the integrity of the process. I'll accept whatever verdict is rendered on this one answer. But "A person need not be a credentialed expert to give a good answer." I started this discussion frankly, to draw this response.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 13:15
  • @Em1: See my latest response to Eugene Seidel.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 13:33
  • @TomAu With due respect, but this was no improvement to the answer and my finger was already over the -1 button. Try to improve your answer or delete it, otherwise I need to hit the button.
    – Em1
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 13:34
  • 1
    @Em1: I have improved my response further. But am adopting the (newspaper) strategy of "retraction" rather than deletion. I want to maintain the record of my original response, my being convinced that is wrong, and my current posture.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 13:50
  • @TomAu +1 to you for allowing future readers to benefit from the discussion. Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 15:47
  • @Eugene Seidel: Thank you. I've read your other work and find it to be of very high quality. (This is not YET reflected in your reputation, but will soon be.) Now that you are "established" (in my mind), I'll be more receptive of criticism from you in the future. I'm glad that we can now move forward together on that basis.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 15:53

I would not consider a general response to a specific question a bad thing, generally. One should however clearly state the fact that one is generalizing. Even more so if the general case differs much from the specific case.

Better would be to answer to the specific question at hand and add further information to general cases if there are any.

In case of the question you mention: nothing in your answer points to it being general. Instead it seems to provide an answer for the specific question. This is at least misleading.

  • In the title of the question, OP asked for the meaning of a word, resonieren. At other points in the question, the question appeared to be, what did the term mean in the context of the poem. And one of the other answerers, said maybe OP confused it with a similar word, and defined the other word based on "context." But I answered the title question about "resonieren," with help from Google Translate. Part of the confusion was that the poem was written in Swiss, not standard, German.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 21:48
  • I don't think that the title of a question can ever be the same as the question unless the question states it.
    – cgnieder
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 21:59
  • On another SE site, a moderator pointed out that I hadn't answered the OP's questions. I answered that the OP had asked several questions and that I had one of them (and gotten it accepted). economics.stackexchange.com/questions/764/…. Maybe the issue here is how much "leeway" does an answerer have to interpret the OP's question?
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 22:07
  • But if there are more than one question it is even more important to tell which one one is answering. Otherwise the answer only is confusing...
    – cgnieder
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 22:13
  • Fair enough about the last point. As to "resonieren" or resonate, I'm glad you used Duden because that was EXACTLY the usage I intended. I'm "resonating" if I clap my hands in RESPONSE to your clapping after you clap yours. "Resonance" is part of a bridge or musical instrument responding in "sympathy" to the vibrations of another part. And maybe the man did "rant" and shout but I took that to be in "resonance" to similar actions by others. If you have kids, and they shout, sometimes you can stop them by shouting back the same way (resonance).
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 22:27
  • Isn't that a somewhat free interpretation of the meaning of “resonance”?
    – cgnieder
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 22:33
  • That's the whole debate. I don't assert that my answers are "correct," only that they are "plausible," i.e. can be supported, defended, etc. And whether such answers are acceptable on the site.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 22:46
  • @Clemens It is indeed a bit of a stretch to tease out "giving a willed response" from the verb "to resonate" but that is for another discussion. What Tom is refusing to acknowledge is that "räson(n)ieren/reson(n)ieren", however spelled, has nothing to do with "resonieren (acoustics)", which is why Tom's Answer was wrong. I agree with you that the title for this Question is misleading. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 9:09
  • @EugeneSeidel I agree with you for the question at hand. To translate “resonniere” with “resonate” is plain wrong, it isn't even plausible. A translation is always more than just a word by word replacement. As Anatol Stefanowitsch puts it: a translation is “[die] schriftl[iche] Form der Vermittlung eines Textes durch Wiedergabe in einer anderen Sprache unter Berücksichtigung bestimmter Äquivalenzforderungen”
    – cgnieder
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 11:21
  • @EugeneSeidel: After the explanation by John Smithers, below, I'm willing to admit that I was wrong THIS TIME, and am willing to accept a downvote on that basis. What bothered me was your argument about "expert" answers (see my response to John Smithers below), which would discourage "nice guesses" in the future (and those in the past that were right).
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 13:05

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