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We recently had this question from a new user asking for the explanation of an abbreviation. It sparked a long comment discussion about whether it should be closed or not, and whether it is worth to be asked or not.

Most users agreed that the abbreviation could be looked up directly either in the dictionary the user used or with Google. Additionally, the question itself was a one-liner merely stating he saw it on dict.cc and wanted to know what it meant.

Other uses said that this type of question was OK, because it's not immediately obvious to a non-native what an abbreviation means and where to look for a list of ones — especially since the link to that list on the site in question was an abbreviation (Abk.) itself.

The question attracted a correct, but extremely low-quality answer (link plus one-line explanation what was to be found in the link), which somehow managed to attact a handful of upvotes. The asker stated in a comment that the amount of upvotes prove the answer to be high-valued and therefore the question to be valued and needed — a point I highly disagree with. The answer has since been edited and turned into something a lot better; not by the answerer himself but by a more experienced user.

In ‘response’, a high-reputation user asked an equivalent question about a different abbreviation. This was quickly locked.

It was then brought to my attention that the tag would contain more questions of the same type, explicitly stating that a question asking for Abb. be the highest upvoted question in that tag. While at least providing context and a quote, I believe it to be a question that does not deserve that many upvotes. Most other questions with that tag are either something totally different, asking for the (official) abbreviation of a word (as opposed to the meaning of an abbreviation) or have very low votes.

It might also be interesting to note, that the first question dealt with a typical dictionary abbreviation (ugs., Engl. coll.), while the second question was about a general-use abbreviation (usw., Engl. etc.).

How do we want to deal with this type of questions and also with low quality answers that they might attract?

If a low quality answer gains a high amount of upvotes (like this one), is there anything we want to do about this (aside from maybe acknowledge its existence)?

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I do not see any reason why these questions should be treated any different from translation/meaning questions. Even if it isn’t explicitly asked for, the only good way to answer this is to give an English translation or state the meaning.

Due to this, such questions have to indicate prior research effort to avoid closure. Nothing more, nothing less. Remember that the reason behind this criterion is not only to avoid trivial questions and to force the asker to consult a dictionary, but also makes it more likely that a question can be answered with more than just a plain translation or similar and in a way that is actually helpful to the asker. This way, the problems of the answers mentioned in the question can be avoided.

All the abbrevations we are talking about can be easily found in the respective online dictionaries. If the respective result is not a sufficient explanation for what the asker needs, they only need to briefly elaborate on this to produce a good, on-topic question. This also applies to metalinguistical dictionary abbrevations: If one would like to know, for example, what the exact criteria for something being marked ugs. are, this alone elaborates how the question goes beyond the scope of a dictionary translation and makes it on-topic.

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If we want a coherent treatment of questions, anything that can be answered unambiguously by just entering it in a dictionary should be closed and not reopened. The comments leave plenty of room to point the poster to the right direction and incite them to stay on the forum and ask higher quality questions in the future.

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With its first question posted on May 25, 2011, still in the commitment period of the site, the “abbreviations” tag seems to be one of the first ever coined in GL StackExchange, but however, there have not been too many questions since; and of the 33 questions under that tag, 12 – about one third – simply requested the solution of a given German abbreviation. Apart from “Abb.” and “jdm., jdn., etw.”, all those abbreviations were somehow special, be it from the meta level of a dictionary or reference book (“nnl., altn., schw.”, “ff.”, “ugs.”, “inf.”), of very partiular use in business or public life, or not easily comprehendable for non-native speakers of German (“o.g.”, “gem.”).

If you’re familiar with abbreviations, they’ll do their job without catching your eye; if you’re not, you might have a hard time finding the explanation. Of course, the solution can always be found somewhere near – printed publications reliably list the abbreviations they use, online resources sometimes hide the links but provide easy site searches instead, and if you know how to do it, a search engine query will lead you exactly to the information you’re looking for.

But if we know the solution or know where to find it, we simply tend to look down at those who don’t. We shouldn’t deceive ourselves how difficult it can be sometimes to unearth an information which others seem to have at their fingertips. In many cases, it is hard to tell if somebody is just lazy or unwilling to do their homework or really at a loss finding the solution. Since for many, social networks have become the first place to go in need for information, we shouldn’t wonder why people expect help from the GL community once they got stuck on a problem of German abbreviations, even if it seems minor.

In fact, the problem often looks minor because simple requests to solve an abbreviation don’t involve sophisticated considerations and discussions about language, translation, interpretation, synonyms, and the like; they just call for the abbreviated term, that’s it. And then, it very often depends on individual know-how if somebody considers such a request redundant or useful.

I would recommend to follow two simple guidelines:

  1. Rather give the person asking credit not being a slug who lets the community do their job, and

  2. teach them to fish, if you know of a good and reliable way for them to get the information by themselves.

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    Let me quote: "But if we know the solution or know where to find it, we simply tend to look down at those who don’t. We shouldn’t deceive ourselves how difficult it can be sometimes to unearth an information which others seem to have at their fingertips."... I can apply this argument to ANY question that asks for a translation. We have a question that asks "What does X mean" (x being one unit). If X can be found in a dictionary, we should close it, and answer it in the comments, period. Any other response waters down the standards and cannot be justified using objective reasoning. – Emanuel Apr 13 '15 at 20:15
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    If we agree here to leave such things open, I am fine with that. But I will roll with that and I will vote "reopen" on any question that asks for a a translation until someone explains to me what the difference is. – Emanuel Apr 13 '15 at 20:16
  • @Emanuel As it seems, that predicament will not come upon you. – Martin Schwehla Apr 14 '15 at 20:39
  • Not a predicament at all. Just a click. I really don't care what we do or how we do it as long as it is coherent and objective. – Emanuel Apr 14 '15 at 21:13

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