FPP Etiquette: acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon October 16, 2017 4:23 AM   Subscribe

This recent FPP includes acronyms not explained in the post; and, generally, even for someone (me) who is generically science-literate at an undergrad (+, depending on the area of science) university level, it's pretty unclear what the post is about. I've had complaints about some of my comments being too technical for the general metafilter audience, so I imagine if I found myself having little idea what the post topic was about after reading, it's probably unclear to many other folks too. I'm a little sad about this both from a quality of Metafilter FPPs viewpoint and from a quality of public science communication viewpoint, as someone who cares about both of those things. In short: the links therein might be the best of the web, but the FPP isn't. Can we try to do better please? Would a reminder on the new post page that posters should keep the entire Metafilter audience in mind when crafting posts perhaps help?
posted by eviemath to Etiquette/Policy at 4:23 AM (87 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

The acronyms used are expanded after the fold: "gravity wave (GW) [...] gamma ray burst (GRB)"? The wording above the fold is super ambiguous, but that really looks like a posting style choice rather than a comprehensibility issue (though I'm not super fond of that kind of mystery framing, personally) but it's all pretty well explained after the [more inside]?
posted by Dysk at 4:30 AM on October 16 [12 favorites]


This recent FPP includes acronyms not explained in the post

Vote #1 Irony! :-)
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:59 AM on October 16 [61 favorites]


In general, I wish people would feel that it's OK to make a post without adding a super-clever-cutsey title.
posted by thelonius at 4:59 AM on October 16 [10 favorites]


Yes, please. I am your reader. I am interested in the subject of your post, but not necessarily familiar with terminology, and would appreciate you clarifying your terms (both internally, and with a link) and commenting on their significance. Link to a paper is fantastic! But I am a lay reader with a headache. Help me find a way in.

(Nonce reuse? WPA2? From a current post on the Blue--the first link's opening paragraph was helpful in laying out what's at stake. Adding that context to the post would have engaged me sooner. As is, I am happy to have the post here--thank you, Samizdata--and offer it as an example of an inadvertent bump in the road in terms of posting for a non-technical audience.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:59 AM on October 16 [8 favorites]


The acronyms used are expanded after the fold: "gravity wave (GW) [...] gamma ray burst (GRB)"?

It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what "NS-NS" was. It wasn't clearly defined.
posted by zarq at 5:48 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]


Oh, that was in the title? My brain automatically skips over them, my bad.
posted by Dysk at 6:03 AM on October 16 [5 favorites]


I remember reading that FPP on my phone, gliding past the headline (I still have the habit of thinking they're unimportant since they weren't displayed for so long), thinking "Hm, I wonder what the actual news is," clicking one link, glancing at it, and thinking "Oh a binary neutron star collision, neat." That was the full extent of it because this isn't news I really follow. If I misunderstood the content, I think it's probably on me, because I'm sure I didn't spend more than 30 seconds engaging with it and the FPP went way beyond being mystery meat.
posted by Wobbuffet at 6:09 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


I thought this was fine? I think it's OK that the text above the fold has a slight mystery meat flavour to it, since it's a post about a press conference to announce something. We don't officially know what they're going to announce, other than
"groundbreaking observations" relating to "an astronomical phenomenon that has never been witnessed before."
which is in the main body. Sure, it's probably the GW detection of a binary neutron star merger, but I'm not sure that we really wanted a full explanation of that above the fold.

Also, in my opinion, the title is where the super-clever-cutesy joke or catchy pull-quote goes. Keeps it out of the post. Some people don't even see titles, so it's a good idea to treat it as peripheral to the post itself. (Conversely, if a post is confusing without the title, that's what you get for turning them off.)
posted by zamboni at 6:12 AM on October 16 [12 favorites]


> Also, in my opinion, the title is where the super-clever-cutesy joke or catchy pull-quote goes. Keeps it out of the post. Some people don't even see titles, so it's a good idea to treat it as peripheral to the post itself.

Agreed on both counts; it drives me nuts when the post plays off the title, assuming you've read it. Titles are frosting, not cake, and a lot of people don't eat the frosting.
posted by languagehat at 6:32 AM on October 16 [7 favorites]


I will grant that supplementary explainer popsci articles would be helpful when linking to academic papers on stuff like kilonovae.
posted by zamboni at 6:37 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


"NS-NS" was not explained in the post.
posted by eviemath at 6:39 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


Broader context for technical posts is nice, too. Both from a metafilter perspective and from a communicating science to the general public perspective.
posted by eviemath at 6:40 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


I do agree that jargon can be annoying in titles (particularly in AskMe, where we have stuff like My GPQ12 is no longer valid, should I see a PWS about it or should I just WRNS it?) but in this particular case I took the title to be some sort of meta-joke about awesome science stuff being hidden in jargon, since the actual titles of scientific papers are rarely palatable for a general audience. The blurb explains what it's all about ("an astronomical phenomenon that has never been witnessed before") and gives some context for us laypeople. Most FPP titles are slightly mystery meat anyway. Right now there's "Welcome to CORE", "Roses are red, violets are blue, omae wa mou shindeiru", "The End of WPA2?", "*mufled EDM beats in the distance*", "↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → Ⓑ Ⓐ START", "Fish's famous foul-up" etc. None of them are particularly obvious except the WPA2 one if you know what WPA2 is. Likewise, most of the titles of the #potus45 threads are based on (US-based) pop culture jokes that are often quite obscure.
posted by elgilito at 6:48 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


I don't think this is a good guideline to follow. We all have a ton of resources at our fingertips and the ability to dig in and learn more about whatever part(s) of a post sparks our interest. There's certainly value in a post that is more accessible to the layperson, but I don't think we need to always lay a foundation for higher-level information.
posted by papayaninja at 6:49 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


I thought it a reasonably well constructed post for the most part. Defining terms below the fold is a decent compromise that respects space on the front page, a valuable site resource not to be abused. Titles are frequently in-jokes. I have a lower expectation of those being accessible. If I don't get them, as I did not get this one, I simply ignore them. I'd rather the one liners happen there than in the tags, for example.

In short, I'm not seeing a lot that could stand improvement or change here.
posted by bonehead at 6:58 AM on October 16 [6 favorites]


I find the specialist jargon in the current WPA2 thread both more egregious, and less defensible: everyone who uses WiFi needs to understand the WPA2 post, whereas the subject matter of the astronomy post is both more niche and inherently harder to understand. One of them warrants an "explain it like in five" in a way that you may can't with the astronomy stuff, because the content of the links is inherently complex.
posted by Dysk at 7:00 AM on October 16 [14 favorites]


I am embarrassed to admit that when people first began using "FPP" it took me a long time to figure out what it meant.
posted by JanetLand at 7:03 AM on October 16 [7 favorites]


As more of a reader than a contributor, I dearly wish people would spell out acronyms and define jargon a lot more often. Yes, we all have Google at our disposal, but even then the reference isn’t always apparent or obvious — and why would you put the onus on readers to take the time to puzzle out your acronym when it would only take a few more seconds of your time to type it out and make it 100% clear? My favorite example was a comment in one of the election threads from last year where somebody was complaining about “HRC” and I assumed, reasonably I think, that they meant Hillary Rodham Clinton. Actually they were referring to the Human Rights Council.

I think acronyms in titles are fine if the acronym is spelled out in the post text, but I’m not a fan of the titles that have no relation whatsoever to the subject matter of the post. Titles can be very helpful as a quick way to scan the Metafilter front page for, say, the latest #potus45 thread, but not if it’s just a random quote from The Simpsons or whatever. What I’m trying to say is: Readability!
posted by Mothlight at 7:05 AM on October 16 [15 favorites]


Broader context for technical posts is nice, too.

While it's helpful for an OP to include background, at the same time I think it would not be helpful for every technical/high density post to be a forest of Wikipedia links.

In any case, it's possible for the community to do this too. This isn't just on the poster. Indeed, I consider secondary links and additions by others a major driver for discussion here.
posted by bonehead at 7:06 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


In the post that MonkeyToes references, Samizdata makes a cromulent response:
Sorry, I get so used to both MeFi's being brilliant AND staring blankly at current pop culture references with little or no supporting info, I just didn't run any farther with that and I should have.
Typically, people make posts about things they're very familiar with. They could be technical, pop culture, arty, whatever. Familiarity makes it more difficult to recognise things that are assumed knowledge, and jargon, terms of art, and things you need a TV to understand are going to creep in. A good post should be somewhere between mystery meat and Up Goer 5 with Wikipedia links.

In any case, it's possible for the community to do this too. This isn't just on the poster. Indeed, I consider secondary links and additions by others a major driver for discussion here.

Absolutely. Asking for clarification is awesome.
posted by zamboni at 7:18 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]


I agree with zamboni and languagehat. The title of the post is a fine place to be a bit creative as long as the post itself is either clear enough in what its presenting, or, I suppose, purposefully mysterious if that seems germane to enjoyment of whatever is being presented.

That said, being more circumspect about using acronyms when describing or discussing information in the body of the post and in the discussions certainly would be a help in making conversations clearer to all since we don't all share the same background in specialized subject matter.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:53 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


papayaninja: I don't think this is a good guideline to follow. We all have a ton of resources at our fingertips and the ability to dig in and learn more about whatever part(s) of a post sparks our interest. There's certainly value in a post that is more accessible to the layperson, but I don't think we need to always lay a foundation for higher-level information.

An awful lot of people don't even bother to read linked articles before commenting. As in they read a post and don't bother to click through to its source material before weighing in. Asking folks to google definitions and topics on their own without even giving them a link to follow is unlikely to work.

zamboni: Absolutely. Asking for clarification is awesome.

I've asked for clarification of stuff in a post in the past and been rebuffed. It doesn't always work.
posted by zarq at 7:55 AM on October 16 [5 favorites]


I find the specialist jargon in the current WPA2 thread both more egregious, and less defensible: everyone who uses WiFi needs to understand the WPA2 post, whereas the subject matter of the astronomy post is both more niche and inherently harder to understand. One of them warrants an "explain it like in five" in a way that you may can't with the astronomy stuff, because the content of the links is inherently complex.

Yeah. I didn't understand the WPA2 post as it was written and most of the comments were either over my head or didn't explain the news well. I googled and made a comment with explanatory links for anyone in the same boat. But that's the 41st comment in the thread, which pretty much guarantees no one will see it unless they bother to scroll all the way down.
posted by zarq at 8:03 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


Agree, as a scientist and science communicator. And as a science-communication educator.
posted by Dashy at 8:27 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


Gotta say, whenever I‘ve asked for someone to explain things like they would for a ten year old, some kind Mefite has always jumped in to help and no one made me feel dumb for it.

That said, as someone with a lot of surface curiosity, I would love all posts to contain some reference to „this post is about X, and here is why that is postworthy!“ Because I love learning eclectic things about other people‘s interests, without necessarily wanting to dive into the deep end, and this is a major factor why I spend time on the blue.
posted by Omnomnom at 8:39 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


It's definitely fair to say that after reading the post you might not be entirely sure what the title is about, but it doesn't strike me as quite as fair to say you don't know what the post is about; it seems to describe itself pretty well, and defines all the abbreviations it uses other than LIGO, which is linked to its Wikipedia page. Even without intuiting what "NS-NS" specifically means, you know what you're about to read about if you start following the links.
posted by solotoro at 8:45 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


For me, part of the fun of MeFi is learning the esoteric language of subject I know little about. I tend to trust the nature of the site to provide me with more information.
If a post is presented with difficult access, I can choose to skip it, or wait until the inevitable ELI5 ask somewhere down the line.
The astrophysics post was cryptic, but the linked articles made it very clear what was going on, the crypto post was mostly greek to me until someone asked, or mentioned, how relevant the breach was to the average home user, so in both cases the problem was solved by the nature of MeFi.
For what it's worth, i have titles turned off, so i miss out on the cutesy.
MMV (mileage may vary) of course.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:56 AM on October 16


zarq: An awful lot of people don't even bother to read linked articles before commenting. As in they read a post and don't bother to click through to its source material before weighing in. Asking folks to google definitions and topics on their own without even giving them a link to follow is unlikely to work.

No, but that's a critique of the users not of the posts.

There could be a different post about kilonovas and all the rest with a lot more foundational information, but it wouldn't be a better post or a worse post, just a different post.
posted by papayaninja at 9:15 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


If you want people to read your post, maybe it's a good idea to make it accessible. And to warn people it's a .pdf or a video or a page with noise. In fact, I think it's just plain common courtesy.
posted by theora55 at 9:18 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]


No, but that's a critique of the users not of the posts.

It's both. Spelling things out for users in a post can help limit noise in threads. Some of this would be intuitive. That doesn't mean linking to wikipedia or taking it to a ridiculous extreme by spelling out everything that could possibly be misconstrued or misunderstood. But spelling out some acronyms or explaining what they refer to can be helpful and perhaps prevent confusion.

There could be a different post about kilonovas and all the rest with a lot more foundational information, but it wouldn't be a better post or a worse post, just a different post.

The way a post is constructed is relevant to how its ensuing thread develops, in both use of language and how accessible it is to the average user.
posted by zarq at 9:23 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


I agree with your first part, but I'm not convinced that making a post accessible to the average user is necessarily what makes a post good. Some threads will be more useful to people with certain backgrounds or familiarity with the subject matter, and that seems okay to me.

(For what it's worth, I don't know what most of the FPP in question means, but I'm happy to see that others enjoy it and that I would feel comfortable either asking for clarification or looking something up if I wanted to dig deeper.)
posted by papayaninja at 9:50 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


I had this issue with the post cited and also the WPA2 post. In the future, it would be neat if posters would consider adding a friendly little note like: "jargon/acronyms explained below the fold!"
posted by desuetude at 10:05 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


FFS WTF is NS-NS
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:41 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]


FFS WTF is NS-NS

I'm pretty sure that's a neutron star-neutron star collision.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:04 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


I agree with your first part, but I'm not convinced that making a post accessible to the average user is necessarily what makes a post good. Some threads will be more useful to people with certain backgrounds or familiarity with the subject matter, and that seems okay to me.

That makes sense! I tend to err on the side of over-explaining and like to make posts after the [more inside] that have a lot of links and background material. But of course, that's not the only way to make a post.
posted by zarq at 11:13 AM on October 16


> FFS WTF is NS-NS
- posted by grumpybear69


Aaaaaah.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:42 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


I was actually drawn in by the post title, and even after reading the links (and having a layman's interest in following astronomy news) it still took me a while to untangle what the post meant. I didn't even pick up on what "NS-NS" meant until reading the thread here - I thought it meant "North-South" and had something to do with the polar /axis of rotation direction of the gravitation wave producing bodies.

So yes, having some more clarity in the post is always a good idea.
posted by thecjm at 12:03 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


I should like to say that I enjoyed the front-page post ("FPP") under discussion very much, and thought it a very interesting, informative and well-composed piece. I particularly enjoyed the title, which was both well-explained in the text of the post (to my mind) and suggestive of a potential comedic take on the necessary succinctness that is the very essence of the phenomena of titling.

However, none of that personal, subjective (and thus objectively worthless) judgment is wholly determinative in the context of a discussion of good practice with regard to informative expression in MetaFilter FPPs - on which subject a variety of opinions are validly proffered and considered (e.g., by your good selves). I thus commend your dialectics upon this topic.

And yet - Oh inevitable surprise! - the analysis of this alleged malpractice has uncovered a far, far greater criminality. I refer you, Gentlepersons, to the following abominable verbiage, proliferated by the entity posing as one "languagehat":

it drives me nuts when the post plays off the title, assuming you've read it. Titles are frosting, not cake, and a lot of people don't eat the frosting.

I submit that this comment describes a peculiar and thoroughly unimaginable analogy. A title is compared to frosting upon a cake - but frosting which should be irrelevant to the enjoyment of said cake! This "languagehat" criticises cakes which "play off" their frosting - as if one could dream up a sugary title at random, and then bake a post as a joke on said title. He then claims to have no truck with, nor appetite for, said frosting. He would, one assumes, condemn us all to the plainest cakery, the barest pudding-craft and (one cannot help but assume) unadorned donutery, stripped of every sprinkle and topping. Sweet heavens! But what tastelessness, what blandery, would this scoundrel of neutrality assign us to!?

For this assault on Home Economics, confectionery, and the joy of children on every continent, I submit to the MetaCourt that this "languagehat" be immediately stripped of one of his languages and one of his hats. I offer my services as the custodian of his Welsh and his Fedora, both of which I shall wear at a jaunty angle whilst masticating an Eclair.

Vote #1!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:21 PM on October 16 [18 favorites]


a comment in one of the election threads from last year where somebody was complaining about “HRC” and I assumed, reasonably I think, that they meant Hillary Rodham Clinton.

ARGGH this always comes up when we talk about this and I just have to say...IT WAS ME who made that awful confusing comment! Let me unpack some of the context and reasoning behind it.

First of all, here is the thread. Note that it is not an election thread but is rather about cozy relationships between corporations and establishment gay rights orgs. I have never heard a discussion about the institution in question where someone went to the trouble of actually saying "Human Rights Campaign" instead of HRC. They are widely known by that acronym! In retrospect, I regret not saying "Human Rights Champagne," hat tip to Alison Bechdel. The fact that is also an acronym for the former sec. of state did not occur to me, but for better or for worse, the Human Rights Campaign got there first. From the context I still think it is pretty clear that I was talking about the gay rights org, but of course there was a hot-tempered reaction due to the election hangover. Why can't this be a parable about trying to restrain our hot-tempered reactions instead of the story about that time Zeus was a dummy and didn't get his acronyms in order? Either way please let's stop using this example because it makes me drown in my own shame, k thx bai.
posted by zeusianfog at 2:10 PM on October 16 [7 favorites]


ARGGH this always comes up when we talk about this

It’s true!
posted by Room 641-A at 4:28 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


Suggested alternate FPP title: Space go BOOM!!!!
posted by Artw at 5:07 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


particularly in AskMe, where we have stuff like My GPQ12 is no longer valid, should I see a PWS about it or should I just WRNS it?)

This used to annoy me in AskMe, but then I realized it actually serves a useful gatekeeping function. If you don't know what the acronyms are, you will almost certainly have no useful advice to offer the poster. Even if you're familiar with kind of the same situation in your own country you're probably not deep enough into the weeds to suggest anything that someone who is throwing down heavy jargon hasn't already thought of. Making AskMe more accessible is unlikely to make it more useful.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:18 PM on October 16 [14 favorites]


languagehat: Titles are frosting, not cake, and a lot of people don't eat the frosting.

Who are these people, and can I get their share of frosting?
posted by tzikeh at 7:36 PM on October 16 [12 favorites]


This used to annoy me in AskMe, but then I realized it actually serves a useful gatekeeping function. If you don't know what the acronyms are, you will almost certainly have no useful advice to offer the poster.

Yeah I remember a poker Ask that was complete Higher Gibberish but it produced a full hand of people speaking the same and apparently answering the question very well, so shrug emoji from me.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:13 PM on October 16 [4 favorites]


One of my two pet peeves about Metafilter is acronyms that aren’t defined! Not the common ones like WTF, NSFW, DTMFA, but the ones related to more specific topics. Maybe I don’t know anything about your topic but I might like to learn about it and seeing acronyms I don’t understand just makes me skip the thread.
posted by bendy at 9:21 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


If you don't know what the acronyms are, you will almost certainly have no useful advice to offer the poster.

I think I’ve learned everything I know about romantic relationships from reading the relationships tag on Ask. I don’t have any useful advice for relationships but that doesn’t mean I don’t read them to learn. Ask isn’t just for the questioners and answerers.
posted by bendy at 9:24 PM on October 16 [2 favorites]


Just as another data point, I'm not bothered by there being FPPs that don't appeal to me and I think it's up to the poster to decide (within reason) how to frame it. This one was framed as enthusiastic about LIGO and space science. That's fine.

That being said this one lost me though (and like the OP I have a science degree too). Had it been clear it was about a neutron star collision I would have paid more attention. Also the best links for decoding what was going on. Highlighting either the Nat Geo or Nature links as a good summary would've helped--they were links #7 and #8 and it wasn't clear they'd be more substantive than the Newsweek link (which was pretty substanceless press release transcribing.)

I don't know that pjenks should necessarily care that they lost me, but I think posters should realistically be aware that this design approach will lose some of their potential audience (and the one thing I do feel strongly about is that does not reflect poorly on the potential audience.)
posted by mark k at 11:53 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


FFS WTF is NS-NS

$20SAIT
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:22 AM on October 17 [19 favorites]


So, the title is a joke of some kind? I read as much of the articles as I could, but I don't even remotely get it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:17 AM on October 17


Not Suitable for Non Scientists
posted by Segundus at 2:12 AM on October 17 [7 favorites]


IANAS but I had no problem with this FPP. The post title intrigued me - I wanted to know what it was about. Took me a few moments to figure out NS-NS, but other than that I thought pretty much everything was covered after the jump.

I think (maybe) that liking/disliking this kind of framing ultimately kind of comes down to personal taste, and tolerance for ambiguity, perhaps?

YMMV.
posted by Chairboy at 3:07 AM on October 17


zeusianfog: I have never heard a discussion about the institution in question where someone went to the trouble of actually saying "Human Rights Campaign" instead of HRC. They are widely known by that acronym!

Within the US that is probably true. But we don't all live in the US.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:18 AM on October 17 [5 favorites]


FFS WTF is NS-NS

Dashfiction is the new slashfiction.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:48 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]


Ask isn’t just for the questioners and answerers.

If you enjoy reading along in Ask, that's great. I do, too. But it doesn't mean that people should frame their graduate level questions in Problem 101 language just so you can follow along. There are plenty of people who have 101-level questions or questions about non-specialized issues you can read and understand, so not everything needs to be made for everyone.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:34 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]


Within the US that is probably true. But we don't all live in the US.

The HRC is one of those groups that is effectively known only by the acronym (note that someone got the full name wrong in this thread) and with a purposefully vague full name (it's a LGBT rights organization). Writing it out would probably actually sow confusion.

This is probably the closest I'll come to defending the HRC.
posted by hoyland at 4:39 AM on October 17 [4 favorites]


Not everyone reads the front page: my RSS reader just showed me the title and the first six words of the post, so I didn't even know it was about astronomy. As a result I scrolled on past.
posted by Umami Dearest at 4:43 AM on October 17


I'll drop in to complain about this FPP about the painter Gertrude Abercrombie, which does not mention the subject's surname anywhere in the FPP itself, just "Queen Gertrude," and adds confusion by mentioning another Gertrude (Stein), a complaint more succinctly made by maryr in the thread.
posted by chavenet at 5:22 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]


Well, since you bring it up I'll piggyback by reiterating my perennial complaint about people not mentioning the authors of essays they bring to the blue. Those things aren't magically generated by the zeitgeist, folks.

Also, I would like to apologize for my inappropriate cake analogy. Anything that upsets the quidnunc kid is #∞ with me. I will give up Welsh as he suggests, and may he make good use of my fedora.
posted by languagehat at 6:20 AM on October 17 [7 favorites]


I will stop beating the dead HRC/HRC horse — undefined acronyms are a pet peeve of mine and that one has always seemed like a convenient example, that’s all — but I swear it wasn’t zeusianfog’s comment I was thinking of. The reference I saw was definitely dropped into one of the pre-election catch-all threads, which I was probably reading in real time, as it unfolded, and the reference to HRC sent me Googling to try and figure out what she had said, and where, that had people pissed off at her and when I finally figured it out I was a little put out. AND I WILL NEVER FORGET.

But I don’t want to be so negative. I’m always here to complain. So I also want to say: THANKS, METAFILTER, FOR BEING AWESOME. Your acronyms are OK with me even if sometimes they make me twitch a little.
posted by Mothlight at 6:32 AM on October 17 [5 favorites]


Also, I would like to apologize for my inappropriate cake analogy.

Heh, I think you recognise my comment for what it is: 90% nonsense, 10% sugar craving! ;-)
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:00 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]


Today's Mystery Meat Special: Nazis!
posted by zamboni at 10:07 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]


TLAs and their ilk are definitely something I try to avoid as much as possible, both here and when writing for work. Reading the entire phrase really isn’t much work; they only exist to help the person typing them or to meet limits on word count.
posted by TedW at 11:26 AM on October 17


Thought the post and title were OK (okay). A scan of a few seconds showed it to clearly be about physics and space. Am no expert in either, but there was enough info in that scan to make a decision about whether to read further.

(small confession: my brain regularly mixes up FPP with FFS, but so be it)
posted by Wordshore at 12:22 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


If I can't figure out what the FPP is talking about, I skip it. I don't care whether those details are in the title or the teaser, but if those don't give me a general idea what the topic is, I'm not going to bother clicking on "more inside."

I am happy for acronyms to always be spelled out in the thread the first time they're used, no matter how well-known they are; while I'm willing to accept that pretty much everyone understands LOL and IDK and such - I don't even assume those are universal. FPP is familiar to people who spend time on MetaTalk but not necessarily for those who only read on the blue, and when we get to IOKIYAR ("it's ok if you're a republican" - a sarcastic comment) in the political threads, it works to exclude outsiders as much as be a convenient shortcut for the regulars.

A common business practice is to use the full phrase the first time it appears, followed by the acronym in parentheses, and the acronym after that. I'd love to see that used more often.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:53 PM on October 17 [7 favorites]


TLAs and their ilk
I see what you did there (ISWYDT)
posted by soelo at 1:41 PM on October 17 [1 favorite]


The irony to me is that with Neutron Star collisions being super rare being the point of the article, mayyyybe that’s not a thing that comes up enough that it needs to be an acronym.
posted by Drumhellz at 3:22 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


A note that the <ABBR> tag works on metafilter allowing one to use inscrutable TLAs and other abbreviations or jargon terms and still be friendly to the front page length and less informed on the topic users.
posted by Mitheral at 8:06 PM on October 17 [5 favorites]


My friend the doctor rarely goes an entire sentence without using at least one abbreviation, usually an acronym. Sometimes I'll pick up the meaning from the context, but sometimes I can't. When that happens, I usually ask, "What does XYZ stand for?"

He'll reply with something like "XYZ is where we take a reading with instrument A and compare it with the results of Scan B."

"Oh, cool," I'll say. "But what do 'X,' 'Y,' and 'Z' stand for?"

"Oh, I have no idea. I probably knew at some point."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:34 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


and as an old Austin dweller, HRC is the Harry Ransom Center, a museum on the UT (University of Texas) campus.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:27 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


A note that the < ABBR > tag works on metafilter

How do you see those on mobile? I can never hover properly on iOS.
posted by bluefly at 5:23 AM on October 18


How do you see those on mobile? I can never hover properly on iOS.

Yeah, iOS doesn't really do hover well.

Testing:
MODOK
GIF
QANTAS

These are all <abbr> tagged, but you won't see much more than a funny dotted underline in iOS Safari.

Most workarounds seem to involve javascript:
Making abbr elements touch accessible
Lab: abbr on touch devices
posted by zamboni at 6:10 AM on October 18


Yeah, just seeing dotted underlines on chrome on android too, no amount of presses or long presses makes anything pop up.
posted by Dysk at 6:14 AM on October 18


Ultimately, I think the <abbr> tag is a distraction, a partial technical solution to a social problem. The issue isn't acronyms, rather it's communication. To different Mefites, a post about philosophy or pop culture could be just as impenetrable as an acronym-stuffed one on astronomy.

Post authors should try to make their subject clear and accessible as possible, and be mindful that they might be a little too close to the subject. Sometimes, for technical, inside-baseball, arcane or abstruse posts, there's only so much one can do, but at least try to make it clear above the fold what the post is about. I think those posts should still be welcome on MeFi. The two people who comment on the post will probably really enjoy it.

Commenters should try to approach posts with good will, a curious mind, and the knowledge that they're not required to participate in every post. Seeking and providing clarification on a post is great, within reason. It's awesome when a fellow Mefite takes the time to explain Trans 101, crunkcore, or introductory gravitational theory, but they're not required to.
posted by zamboni at 7:20 AM on October 18 [2 favorites]


Commenters should try to approach posts with good will, a curious mind, and the knowledge that they're not required to participate in every post. Seeking and providing clarification on a post is great, within reason. It's awesome when a fellow Mefite takes the time to explain Trans 101, crunkcore, or introductory gravitational theory, but they're not required to.

People shouldn't (and aren't) required to explain everything in their posts. But if they want complicated concepts to be read and understood, posters should keep in mind that offering clarity can help prevent derails.

I don't think the example of Trans 101 is appropriate here. We've had number of trans-related posts both on the Blue and here on Metatalk that have gone very, very badly because people made transphobic statements, then doubled down when challenged. At least a dozen trans and non trans members have closed their accounts over those incidents.

Offering Trans 101 is not really about defining terms. It's an effort to encourage the metafilter community to treat a group of people with the dignity and respect they deserve as fellow human beings.
posted by zarq at 8:25 AM on October 18 [5 favorites]


Today's Mystery Meat Special: Nazis!

Yeah, I was just coming in to talk about that, since it seems germane to the subtopic of "FPPs that are entirely opaque about their contents". In that case, it was probably intentional, just as the jargony tone of the title on the astronomy post. But in both cases, some clarity would be nice. If the FPP title or body would be "ruined" by a content warning or an explanation of the abbreviations used, maybe the poster can put that stuff into the first comment on the post?
posted by tobascodagama at 8:40 AM on October 18


I just came across a funny example, but I don't mean this to be a call out at all.

I was checking to see if there were any posts about the Voynich Manuscript and found this post.

The text above the fold is: A convincing explanation of the mysterious Voynich manuscript is offered by Nicholas Gibbs in the TLS. I didn't know what TLS was so I skimmed the post, but there were only mentions of TLS. It didn't really bother me, so I clicked through to the article tolearn what it was. The funny part is that the link goes to https://www.the-tls.co.uk and the site itself is identified as TLS. Maybe no one knows!
posted by Room 641-A at 10:19 AM on October 18


I tried to make ABBR work as an approach to spoilers a while back, and built some bookmarkletd for working with it, but the mobile issue proved insurmountable.
posted by Artw at 10:32 AM on October 18


Room 641-A, "The Times Literary Supplement" is at the top of the page in that link.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:39 AM on October 18


Thanks! It's not showing up on my iPad, but entire page doesn't look optimized for mobile (or iOS.)
posted by Room 641-A at 11:31 AM on October 18


I don't think the example of Trans 101 is appropriate here.

Yep, shouldn't have included it in the same category as the other subjects. Sorry. I was thinking of it as a basic explanation of the subject, not the specific post framing that I think Juliet Banana introduced.

However, I think we might not actually disagree. I should been clearer: the entirety of the paragraph you quoted was intended to address commenters, not posters.

We've had number of trans-related posts both on the Blue and here on Metatalk that have gone very, very badly because people made transphobic statements, then doubled down when challenged.

Demanding fellow Mefites explain trans terminology, then litigating the explanations was one of the things I was thinking of re Seeking and providing clarification on a post is great, within reason. (Clumsily phrased. Maybe within reasonable limits would have been better.)

To restate:
Framing a post properly is the poster's responsibility. A commenter asking for an explanation of a topic is fine within reasonable limits, but there's some things that it's better to educate yourself about. If a fellow Mefite commenter wants to provide an explanation, that's commendable, but it's not their job, and they're not required to.
posted by zamboni at 11:31 AM on October 18 [3 favorites]


There are hundreds of references to XKCD on MeFi and not ONCE have I seen the acronym expanded!

everyone who uses WiFi needs to understand the WPA2 post


I don't disagree but I don't think it's on MetaFilter to spell it out for me in the same way that I might from the Associated Press or a government bulletin.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 11:40 AM on October 18


A common business practice is to use the full phrase the first time it appears, followed by the acronym in parentheses, and the acronym after that.

This is prescribed in most style guides. It's not much work, it really helps readers, and it has no significant downside. Writers are allowed discretion when using acronyms that are nearly-universally recognized (NASA) or that have no known spelled-out version (TMZ?)


I remember that HRC reference, and it caused me some confusion, too. Given that it was in the middle of a politics thread, it should have been spelled out. Saying that the organization is only referred to by the acronym is not good enough. Lots of people have never seen it referred to at all.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:23 AM on October 22


Are there any style guides for what amounts to a collaborative writing effort with no unified editorial review, though? Because if you go back and read this thread, which is I presume the one zeusianfog was referring to, their comment was not actually the first reference to Human Rights Campaign, and the acronym WAS defined in an earlier comment.
posted by solotoro at 9:09 AM on October 22


Even if it was so defined in an earlier comment, it's not reasonable to expect readers of a 2016 political thread to know that the HRC referred to is not Clinton.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:41 AM on October 22


I feel like you just moved the goalposts on me. You were supporting the idea that first mention should include definition, because "lots of people have never seen it referred to at all." But the first mention did include the definition, and therefore if someone were reading that thread, then they demonstrably had seen it referred to. Not only that, that was the only usage of "HRC" in that thread up to that comment, so I don't think there's a good argument that this was a case-specific need for disambiguation. So are you saying you think any abbreviation should be defined in its first mention in each comment, no matter that it's already been established in the thread? That strikes me as excessive.
posted by solotoro at 10:10 AM on October 22


(also that was a 2017 thread that was very much not about presidential politics)
posted by solotoro at 10:14 AM on October 22


The post that somebody found and linked to was from this year, but Mothlight's original comment said "...a comment in one of the election threads from last year where somebody was complaining about “HRC” ..." Later, Mothlight says "The reference I saw was definitely dropped into one of the pre-election catch-all threads." Was Mothlight's (and my) recollection wrong? Nobody's presented evidence of that.

What I was supporting was not being confusing to readers. Even if it was spelled out earlier (and if you're basing that on the assumption that it was a thread from this year, you may be wrong), that's still confusing to readers who have Clinton in the front of their minds, and in a thread where she's commonly referred to by her initials.

If not confusing people in that way seems excessive to you, then we're going to have to disagree.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:50 PM on October 22


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