I like to be as lenient as possible in allowing questions on EL&U - it should, after all, help as many people as much as possible to speak English (I assume I'm speaking for all when saying that).

Although the translation question has been asked before, I don't feel we really got to a clear, crisp answer on that thread, and maybe it was because the question was too broad; so I'd like to propose a more narrow one:

Should we allow 'semi-translation' questions to be asked on EL&U? By this, I mean that the question title and the large majority of the content should be in English, but the user would be allowed to quote the source of the translation request in its original language, provided they included a rough literal English translation alongside it. Because you've got the literal English translation alongside, I would view these questions as more like trying to find out how best to convey a concept in English, with the foreign phrase there for potentially useful context, rather than just flat-out translation.

An example question that would be ontopic under this policy, if it were edited to include a literal English translation alongside the given Russian phrase, is this one.

An addition to the FAQ for this policy might look something like this:

Requests for tricky translations (eg. idioms needing paraphrasing), to English (but not from English), are allowed. The person asking the question should, however, give a rough translation into English (even if just from eg. Google Translate) at the same time as quoting the phrase to be translated/paraphrased in the original language.


2 Answers 2


I don't think we ought to expand our scope into this slippery slope. The majority of questions that could be asked as one-sided translation requests are likely to be "too localized": useful only to the one person who asked it.*

More importantly, I don't think we need to expand scope this way, because questions that are truly interesting and useful can be phrased as or which make only incidental mention of the original language.

* Note also that machine translations are often so atrociously bad that they can't even be used as starting points. So the OP would have to edit/audit the rough translation to make sure it reflected the proper meaning. 99.9% of the time, this wouldn't happen, and the question would have to be closed; and the other 0.1% would fall nicely into , and we're back where we started.

  • +1. Your example of an on-topic question is spot on. Another reason to discourage straight translation questions is the risk of the answers turning into discussion of the various possible alternative meanings of the phrase in the other language. Setting out the context and required meaning clearly in English, as in your example, keeps the discussion focussed on English. Indeed, the key is that it would still be a good question if the Hungarian word were not mentioned - though it is fascinating to know that such a word exists :)
    – psmears
    Jul 15, 2011 at 22:40

If the question is similar to "What is the translation of sei un bortolo?" then I would say that such questions are not welcome, and I would not think that allowing such questions would increase the level of the site.
If, vice versa, the question explains the type of phrase the OP is looking for, the question would probably more welcome, but the translation part should be marginal, or not relevant at all; it could eventually help who knows both the languages, and knows what expression is a better equivalent for the reported phrase.

Where I live in Italy, we normally use the phrase sei un bortolo, where Bortolo is a variant of the name Bartolomeo ("Bartholomew"), which in the phrase is used as epithet. Is there a person name that is used as epithet, or insult, in English?

(The example I thought is probably not the best example I could think of, but I hope it makes understand what I mean.)

  • I don't understand allowing such questions would increase the level of the site, but I see what you mean about the two different ways to ask effectively the same question. Presumably some would say your example is an okay question because it admits of definitive answers (Wally is good, IMHO). I don't agree, since I think it would need a lot more clarification re what kind of 'insult' was to be implied by any particular name. After all, the 'correct' answer could be Jezebel, for all I know. Jul 16, 2011 at 22:27
  • 1
    oic. Presumably by 'level', you mean 'quality', not 'activity', or 'number of visitors'. I still think the key point is questions shouldn't require knowledge of language/cultures other than Anglophonic, and should ideally admit of a single definitive answer. Oh - and they should be about English Language & Usage, of course. Jul 16, 2011 at 22:46

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