I ask because the question "https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/10659/what-does-tldr-mean#comment111627_10659" has been closed as general reference, but the only links I see are:

The wording in the FAQ is:

  • general reference
    This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

Am I the only one who finds this a wee bit vague? I'm pretty sure that would exclude Urban Dictionary, but I'm less certain about Wikipedia:

  • Can it definitively answer anything?
  • What is a "standard internet reference source"? (What RFC(s) are these defined in?)

And what about other sites, for example TV Tropes? Where is the line drawn?

  • How do you find "definitively and permanently answered by a single link" "a wee bit vague"? It's pretty specific to me. TV Tropes and Urban Dictionary are entertaining and can give a possible idea, but they're definitely not definitive. Wiktionary (and Wikipedia) are not as disreputable as those, but still have the problem of 'works in progress'.
    – Mitch
    Feb 22, 2012 at 2:25
  • 1
    @Mitch: I wouldn't have had a problem with posting a link to Urban Dictionary's definition of TLDR while voting to close. If, as far as I'm concerned, the information given there is solid, I see no reason to pander to someone else's prejudice against the site. Feb 22, 2012 at 4:20
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers: So you're saying it's OK to close by general ref, when the answer is at these sites (Urban Dictionary etc.)? Do you also consider them reasonable as links to support real answers? Or only for those definitions it gives that you agree with?
    – Mitch
    Feb 22, 2012 at 4:39
  • 2
    @Mitch: I don't implicitly trust anybody - that includes OED just as much as UD (or indeed your good self and any other poster here on ELU). Except if I think I know something, when I trust myself, and anyone who agrees with me. In the case of TLDR I'd have no problem citing UD, because so far as I'm concerned it's correct. The fact that OED etc. don't have a definition for TLDR wouldn't concern me in the slightest - I'd only become interested if they did have a definition that conflicted with my own understanding. Feb 22, 2012 at 12:56
  • 1
    When I posted my answer after referring to urban dictionary, a member protested with something on the lines of 'Gah! that is not a word. And urban dictionary is not a reference'. Even Wiki has been questioned on these pages. So there! (I'm not sure about that last phrase -- I thought it means 'beware'.)
    – Kris
    Feb 25, 2012 at 9:07
  • @Mitch: Everything is a work in progress. May 24, 2012 at 2:58

6 Answers 6


A standard reference is a source (book, website, what have you) that is specifically designed to provide a certain type of information. So, if you're looking for a definition, a dictionary is a standard reference source; if you're looking for a synonym, a thesaurus should be your first destination; etc. So yes, Urban Dictionary is a reference source for current slang terms; TV Tropes is a black hole ahem, sorry source for looking up reoccurring metaphors in popular media; and Wikipedia is a reference source for things like birthdates of famous people, the list of rulers of a country, or a basic overview of how radios work.

Whether these sources are accurate is a different question entirely. The point is, you shouldn't ask a question on EL&U if there is a type of reference source designed to answer that kind of question, where if you had bothered to look in said reference source, you would have found your answer quickly and easily.

Using the tl;dr example, if this question occurred to you and the first thing you did was ask on EL&U, your question would be quite rightly closed. If instead you looked first on Acronym Finder and didn't find an answer, and you mentioned this in your question on EL&U, then closure wouldn't be quite so automatic. And if you looked also in Urban Dictionary and found a definition that doesn't seem to fit the context where you encountered the term (say some joker defined it as "the law;delicious reading" or something), and again, you mentioned this fact in your question on EL&U, then your question would no longer be general reference.

Note that search engines are not standard reference sources, at least not for the type of information that people can ask about on EL&U. Search engines are a way to look up web pages, and web pages are off topic here.

  • 1
    Yes, TV Tropes is rather like a black hole, though it is slightly more possible to escape from!
    – SamB
    Feb 22, 2012 at 19:05
  • What do you mean about web pages being off-topic here, though? I mean, obviously most things about HTML and CSS are off-topic ...
    – SamB
    Feb 22, 2012 at 19:13
  • ... but surely, when a webpage contains text written in English, that text is (or can be) on-topic?
    – SamB
    Feb 22, 2012 at 19:13
  • 2
    @SamB: my point is that a search engine is designed to answer the question "where can I find a site about [x]", and that question is totally off-topic for EL&U. In other words, be careful of saying things like "the answer you want is right there on the first page of Google", because that's confusing Google with a standard reference source.
    – Marthaª
    Feb 22, 2012 at 22:40
  • Would you mind if I post a question about reoccurring on the main site? And maybe, explain to me there about it?
    – Kris
    Feb 25, 2012 at 9:21
  • @Marthaª: I would think the fact that just telling people to Google something (whether using words or links) goes against one of our most sacred principles: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/80730/…
    – SamB
    Feb 25, 2012 at 18:23
  • @SamB: Isn't closing something as general reference the semantic equivalent of "Go and Google it"? Unless you happen to know the location of the aforementioned "standard reference" source off the top of your head, you're going to go to a search engine to get it.
    – Lynn
    Feb 25, 2012 at 23:41
  • @Lynn: Wouldn't it be necessary to actually link to a source in order to show that the close reason even applies?
    – SamB
    Feb 27, 2012 at 0:22
  • @SamB - Yeah I guess that's true in most cases.
    – Lynn
    Feb 27, 2012 at 0:53

My general rule is that I must find the answer in 2 out of 3 standard dictionaries/thesauruses (I usually check Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, and the OED). Beyond that, I tend to err on the side of caution and not close it as general reference (other close reasons are still eligible). I do not personally consider Wikipedia, TVTropes, or other wiki sites as standard references, since their answers cannot be said to be definitive.

  • If you did find a definitive answer on one of those standard references, would you post it* before voting to close? [* the hyperlink, if not the answer itself].
    – Kris
    Feb 25, 2012 at 9:10
  • @Kris It would depend, to an extent, on how much effort was put into the question itself. A nicely-written question would probably get a comment from me, while a sloppy one littered with spelling and grammar errors would not.
    – waiwai933
    Feb 25, 2012 at 16:43
  • Would "I checked reference Foo and it said a definition is available in Foo Premium but not in Foo Free" count as finding it in Foo? I've run into that problem on Merriam-Webster. Mar 3, 2015 at 19:08

Yeah, it's fair to say that Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary are not definitive resources, but look at the question for a moment. If I Google define TL;DR then every single result has the same answer (so long as the result answers the question). I think it's fair to assume this is not a coincidence, and should have been the asker's first port of call.

Even though there is no specific "standard internet reference source", the fact that every site that defines tl;dr gives it the same meaning means that this is a general reference question.

  • The second link reported by Google takes to a page which simply says, "TLDR Too Long; Didn't Read"; it doesn't even say when it is used such acronym. The question here, anyway, is general. The OP doesn't care if the question he takes as example has been closed; the OP just wants to know if Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary are reference sources to use for the "general reference" closing reason.
    – apaderno
    Feb 22, 2012 at 23:12
  • 2
    That would be treading on thin ground. The way Google throws up answers depends on quantity, not necessarily quality. Of course, it's a bit different and better with 'define:', where it first checks sufficiently reputable sources. My advise would be not to consider Google results, however consistent and voluminous, as standard.
    – Kris
    Feb 25, 2012 at 9:13
  • @Kris: Yeah, I think that was established pretty well in meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/2374/…
    – SamB
    Feb 25, 2012 at 18:09

I agree it's vague, but is that such a bad thing? If you get five people to agree that it's general reference, does it really matter if they all have precisely the same definition? :)

I'm less concerned with whether the source is "standard" as I am with whether it's "authoritative". Can it be trusted given the nature of the question?

I do not consider Wikipedia to be "authoritative" about anything, though it's often a good starting point for finding a reputable source.

Many sites that might not be considered "standard" could still be "authoritative" given the nature of the question. Urban Dictionary might be an authority on slang, and (less likely) TV Tropes on TV stereotypes, for instance, though I would not consider either one authoritative in most circumstances.

  • Well, this question seems to have been closed by a single moderator, so it wasn't clear that 5 (sufficiently trusted) people did agree. I guess it just rubs me the wrong way to see a single person close a question for such a vaguely-specified reason, and without providing an explanation of how they believe the reason applies in this case...
    – SamB
    Feb 22, 2012 at 18:58
  • 1
    Who closed the question is a community manager, not a moderator. The difference is that a moderator is somebody who constantly moderates an SE site, and who is part of that site's community. The users listed on the bottom of this page are moderators.
    – apaderno
    Feb 22, 2012 at 20:34
  • @kiamlaluno: I wonder why these "community managers" don't have a symbol of their own, rather than the diamond usually reserved for moderators...
    – SamB
    Feb 25, 2012 at 18:34
  • 1
    @SamB Some of the Stack Exchange 1.0 sites had a different symbol for employers (e.g. two diamonds instead of one). Those were sites not handled by Stack Exchange Inc., in times where companies could use the Stack Exchange software for their own sites. For Stack Exchange 2.0 sites, such as the ones created through Area 51, and the trilogy, there is a feature request.
    – apaderno
    Feb 25, 2012 at 19:11

It is a little vague, simply for the fact the closing reason should adapt for different Stack Exchange sites.

The more specific part is, "designed specifically to find that type of information." What should be probably be added is that the link given by the standard internet reference source should be for a trusted source.

For example, I could use Google to find the meaning for an acronym, but if the link takes to a site reporting funny (invented) definitions, I cannot close the question because that link.

About Wikipedia, simply for the fact it can be edited from everybody, it is not a definitive resource; as a matter of fact, there are articles in Wikipedia that are marked as needing a reference (with the famous "[citation needed]" phrase).


So far as I'm concerned, a question like What does "TL;DR:" mean? doesn't even need an "Answer" that people can vote on and thereby gain rep points. I'd just give the relevant information in a comment (together with a link, so OP could confirm what I said).

I mean - look at it! Currently 30 upvotes for the question, and over 70 in total for four answers! Does anyone really think it needs to stay open in case someone else comes up with a better answer?

I think we should be far more willing to close "general reference" questions as quickly as possible. If you can easily (and definitively) enlighten OP in a comment, do so and vote to close. If you see someone else has already done this, add your closevote, and don't upvote a trivial "Answer".

The site has far too many users with only limited knowledge of English, falling over themselves to upvote the few questions they do know are correct. Without wishing to seem elitist, I think all this achieves is to devalue the rep system.

  • If it's just about preventing rep-whoring, isn't there a way to just CW-ify the question and its answers?
    – SamB
    Feb 22, 2012 at 19:03
  • @SamB: I've no idea if/how you can convert Questions to "Community Wiki" - my understanding is you can do this to your own Answer, but I don't see why that's better than answering in a comment and closing the question. Also, I don't like the term "rep-whoring" in this context. I don't impugn the motives of those who provide the trivial answers - I'm just saying I wish more of the "linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts" would pro-actively engage with keeping the lid on that aspect of how the site works. Feb 22, 2012 at 19:29
  • let us continue this discussion in chat Feb 22, 2012 at 23:50

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