As I write, there are 46 questions on main with the abbreviation "sb", and 43 with "sth".

While the prevalence/desirability of these abbreviations was being discussed in comments to Can I say "acquire sb sth", the title was amended to spell out the words in full.

I don't have a problem with these abbreviations. I wasn't "familiar" with either before joining ELU, but I'd probably encountered them many times and figured them out without realising that to some people these abbreviations are perfectly commonplace "standards".

Should ELU discourage these usages? And edit them out of questions?

I personally don't think we should, so bearing in mind how question votes work on meta, please upvote this question if you agree [that ELU shouldn't have a policy of discouraging these specific abbreviations], or downvote if you disagree [i.e., if you agree with Mahnax's answer, and you object to them]. (Comments/answers are good too).

  • 1
    Agree with what? Agree with objecting or discouraging? Is that an upvote or a downvote?
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Aug 21, 2012 at 13:23
  • @Andrew Leach: I thought my last sentence was clear. Upvote my question if you agree with me that ELU shouldn't have a policy of discouraging these specific abbreviations. Downvote it if you agree with Mahnax's answer, and you object to them. How can I rephrase to make it even clearer? Aug 21, 2012 at 13:29
  • ...also note that I don't see the point of Mahnax's answer. It doesn't seem to add anything you could usefully up/downvote that wouldn't be better indicated by down/upvoting the question itself. Currently there are eight downvotes for the question, but ten upvotes for that answer. Clearly not all users have understood my last sentence (or perhaps they're wilfully ignoring it for some reason that escapes me). Aug 21, 2012 at 21:04

2 Answers 2


I object to the use of sb for somebody or sth for something. I think that we should use full words here. They might be appropriate in text messages, but I do not consider them appropriate here—I expect full sentences and full words (which is hopefully not unreasonable, considering the focus of this website).

If, for some reason, we did allow them, where would we draw the line? Would we have to allow more shortened forms, like u for you or wat for what? That would just be a mess.

I believe that we should hold ourselves to high standards here. To me, it really doesn't make sense for an English language Q&A site to allow this.

  • 4
    I think there's a misunderstanding here. Sb. (or so.) and sth. (or smth.) are standard abbreviations used by pretty much every dictionary I have seen, printed or online, and including bilingual ones. No dictionary I know of uses wat or u.
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 20, 2012 at 8:50
  • 7
    @RegDwightАΑA: Point well taken, but, then again, dictionaries have intrisic motivation for using abbreviations – they are thick enough as it is, and shortened words that spare a new line might collectively spare a new page. As a general rule, I don't like seeing the sb/smth abbrs in ELU qs or titles, even if they are std. Then again, if someone doesn't like it, would there be any problem with that person just quietly making an edit, and staying silent about the matter? I'd much prefer that, over someone leaving a clutting comment like "Please spell out your words," as if it were a faux pas.
    – J.R.
    Aug 20, 2012 at 10:20
  • 5
    I don't think it's a question of high standards; such abbreviations the FF uses are not mistaken for the too informal textspeak. To me, I don't care for 'sb' or 'sth' because they take me too long to recognize. On the other hand 'vs' is fast.
    – Mitch
    Aug 20, 2012 at 12:29
  • 1
    @RegDwightАΑA The printed second edition of the OED uses sb for substantive, so that is what I always think when I read it. They mercifully changed it to noun in the 3rd edition.
    – tchrist Mod
    Aug 20, 2012 at 23:52
  • Well, it's looking like 10-1 against my position (10-2 = 5-1 really, but I can't upvote the question, so it'll always be one light). So, @RegDwight, since the community doesn't want these abbreviations, are you going to edit them out of those questions I linked to? Be warned - there's already at least one more "sb" now than there was before! (That's "sb", not "sob"! :) Aug 22, 2012 at 2:38
  • @FumbleFingers: I don't see why this falls on RegDwight's plate. I'll bet at least half of those who have indicated a dislike for these abbreviations have ample rep to quietly substitute somebody for sb. As I suggested earlier, if a user finds them unsightly, simply click the "edit" button, and make an improvement. If anything, the votes on this question show that such changes would be regarded as improvements, and therefore not frowned upon, but I don't think this is a referendum to have a moderater go back and edit fortysomething questions. "If you've got the credit, make the edit."
    – J.R.
    Aug 22, 2012 at 8:58
  • @J.R.: My comment was tongue-in-cheek, but I think the fact is Reg already does quite a bit of tag editing. And he is a mod, so there's an element of "community service" in what he does. Arguably therefore he should feel a certain amount of pressure to help center implement the community's expressed wishes. I, on the other hand, feel no such pressure, and will account myself a dutiful user if I simply refrain from reversiing any such edits! Aug 22, 2012 at 11:11

I don't think it's a matter of having these abbreviations allowed or disallowed, I think it's more a matter of whether or not they get overused.

As an example, in the case where someone asks:

Is sb. an accepted abbreviation?

it would obviously confuse matters to remove that instance of sb. In other cases, though, I think getting rid of sb. can be an improvement, for the sake of clarity and readability. For example, in the case where a user asked:

What's the meaning of “on sb's account”?

I looked up on sb's account in the Longman dictionary. The following is an excerpt from it:

on sb’s account : if you do something on someone’s account, you do it because you think they want you to

When first reading the question title, somebody might think that the O.P. is asking what the "sb" refers to in "on sb's account." Moreover, Longman doesn't even use the abbreviation:

enter image description here

so, in this case, it seems more like sloppy typing, rather than conscientious use of an official dictionary abbreviation.

I'm just saying that this is more of a case-by-case matter than an all-or-nothing issue.

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