A recent question of mine, How is TLDR used? led to the suggestion that a discussion of the acceptability of such abbreviations in EL&U answers was really a meta question, so I am raising it here.

We are told in How do I write a good answer?: "We don't expect every answer to be perfect, but answers with correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar are easier to read." In my opinion, such expressions as tl;dr, AFAIC and YMMV do not show 'correct grammar' in terms of the standard language. More importantly, their meaning is opaque to quite a few of the "linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts" for whom this site is intended.

These terms are now commonly used in chatrooms, social sites and informal private emails and texts, and discussion of their meaning and appropriateness is in order. Their use in serious answers is not - that's my belief. I'd be interested to know what others think.

  • 1
    My first meta question, and it has attracted two downvotes within an hour of being posted - with no comment about why. I m not going to learn how to post good questions here if somebody doesn't tell me what I am doing wrong.
    – tunny
    Nov 21, 2014 at 12:53
  • 7
    Meta votes are "I agree" or "I disagree with the general thing propounded in this question" (or answer). Here, two people have expressed the view that such abbreviations are OK.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Nov 21, 2014 at 13:50
  • @AndrewLeach. Thank you. That gives meaning to the votes.
    – tunny
    Nov 21, 2014 at 13:54
  • 6
    @Andrew: That's three people now, since I've just added my downvote. But I think it's sometimes a failing of the default "meta" question-posing context that I have to downvote a question about an issue which it seems quite reasonable to raise in discussion here, simply because I don't agree with the OP's position in respect of that issue. Perhaps what we need is a facility to auto-generate a couple of stock-format "I agree/disagree with the OP" answers, to distinguish bad question from bad attitude expressed within the question. Nov 21, 2014 at 14:48
  • 2
    Sometimes I wish comments could be recorded, I'm not criticizing, I am merely offering a somewhat light-hearted (but with a core of truth) explanation for those, now three, downvotes. Anonymous down votes are my greatest peeve, which not everyone shares. Perhaps some users are reading your post as a peeve. EDIT: FF is the exception, he usually motivates his downvotes. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 21, 2014 at 14:51
  • 2
    If I'm desperate I will search, but sometimes it's more fun to work these things out by myself. E.g YMMV, that was impossible to guess, it's a phrase which I have never used, and rarely hear.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 21, 2014 at 19:15
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Nov 22, 2014 at 14:58
  • Imho formatting is better. In particular using the horizontal ruler allows for a summary on top/bottom. Also, a proper response to tl;dr is ts;cr... I find it inappropriate that someone would presume I can't read long stuff because I'm stupid, then would go on to cater to my lack of effort. It is condescending imho. Finally, tl;dr doesn't look good visually, it detracts from the flow of speech, and will often be in bold/italics. 2c.
    – user98955
    Dec 13, 2014 at 4:57

3 Answers 3


I think some abbreviations are acceptable. TL;DR is very common, and even if someone doesn't know what it means, it's pretty easy to guess when it's followed by a one line summary. Many of the abbreviations are actually unimportant to understanding the answer: "AFAIK, I think it's acceptable" still means "I think it's acceptable."

I'm less than impressed by a question written like this:

plz wat does this mean.i wanna kno coz bf sez i.m wrong :(

Answers are to some extent a courtesy. As such, placing more restrictions on them than there already are seems a bit like nagging the contributor. If a good answer has an abbreviation I don't recognize, I'll look it up and be glad to expand my 'vocabulary'.

Just as people can edit questions to improve them, if you hate common abbreviations, you always have the option of expanding them with an edit (imho).

  • 2
    To add on to this, I think it depends. Most abbreviations are ill-advised here, but e.g. "i.e." and the like are almost acceptable. Txtspeak are also ill-advised (meaning 'looks bad') but TL;DR as a heading is acceptable in an almost jocular fashion ('lol' just looks too thoughtless). I'm not saying there's much logic here, just that's the prevailing culture.
    – Mitch
    Nov 22, 2014 at 0:18
  • 2
    I agree the first sentence, but I have to admit I didn't know what TL;DR meant when I first started using ELU, and I couldn't just "guess" what it meant. Fortunately, it's in the nature of an online Q&A website that you're online - so whenever you come across an unfamiliar abbreviation (such as LMGTFY), you can easily Google it. Nov 22, 2014 at 12:44
  • I picked up LMGTFY from here. Thanks @FumbleFingers Apr 25, 2017 at 15:16

I don't think this is an issue of whether people understand the abbreviation, or how often it is used elsewhere, or if it is a language change. It is a matter of what register we want to use in here in ELU.

As we have ELL for people who struggle with vocabulary such as 'lexis', my opinion is that ELU is the grown-up relative, academic and hence formal, so informal items such as tl;dr are not appropriate.

  • 2
    I think ur right. unless we are gonna accept complete informality, then txt speak is OOO in a relatively adult forum.
    – tunny
    Nov 22, 2014 at 6:30
  • 1
    If other contributors have differing opinions, then why should your opinion be imposed on them? Nobody is preventing you from writing answers in whatever style you prefer. Why should you be allowed to impose your style preferences on the contributions of others?
    – A E
    Nov 22, 2014 at 7:59
  • 3
    @AE~ if people are publishing what they write under their own name, then they can write what the hell they want. Here, they are publishing what they write through ELU so ELU gets to set the standard and decide what is acceptable and what is not, and delete the unacceptable stuff. This is actually normal, standard practice... Nov 22, 2014 at 8:13
  • 1
    But you haven't provided any rationale for your view, other than that it's your opinion. Why should your opinion be used to determine house style for everyone?
    – A E
    Nov 22, 2014 at 8:15
  • 1
    @AE it's not a question of the individual imposing their conventions, it's also the SE model. Until recently there was a huge debate on how users were expected to format their answers. Italics preferred to back ticks etc. etc. The style of writing, i.e answers and questions, has to be easily understood by the majority, if users were to mix slang, abbreviations, acronyms, non-standard English etc. EL&U would be a mess. This is after all an English language Q&A website. As in all things, there has to be plain common sense and moderation. I'm with medica on this one.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 22, 2014 at 8:16
  • @Mari-Lou, sure, a house style, I understand. But if the purpose of this meta question is to determine that house style, then in order to be convinced that we should adopt a particular proposal I need a little more justification than "my opinion is ...".
    – A E
    Nov 22, 2014 at 8:23
  • 1
    @RoaringFish, the solution is to focus on the merits of the argument rather than on the merits of the person, as per the Code of Conduct. You'll notice I'm choosing not to describe you in any way at all. I've been repeating myself because you haven't answered the question. To get back to the central point: this website is not an academic journal or a PhD submission, so I don't agree with the idea that it should be written in the tone of one. I also don't buy the idea that your particular ideolect ...
    – A E
    Nov 22, 2014 at 9:38
  • ... (or that of the OP) is morally superior to that of other people. I've been trying to say that without being too blunt, but if you insist, there it is. If people have a useful contribution to make to this site, then I think they should be allowed to make it in any form of English which is comprehensible (with the aid of a suitable dictionary, if necessary). I also don't buy the idea that experts in the English Language are necessarily uninterested in or disapprove of the use of neologisms, or want to discourage the creative and diverse use of the English language.
    – A E
    Nov 22, 2014 at 9:41
  • 1
    Comments are not the place for argument; that is one of the reasons we have chatrooms. Nov 22, 2014 at 10:33

In an ELU answer I think txt speak, colloquialisms like OK and P.S., and even site-related acronyms like OP are a little out of place, when the question itself isn't about them.

In character-limited and easily-deleted comments and in Meta (whose purpose is more for the site than for the language), I don't mind them so much. I use them a lot, actually.

I sympathize with arguments against using them altogether. I agree seeing too many of them (and other SMS hallmarks like emoticons) around would detract from the scholarly atmosphere of the site.

But throughout my education I've heard of other things as taboos in formal writing:

  • Use one not you
  • No contractions
  • No passive voice
  • No first-person pronouns
  • No conjunctions as sentence-starters

Should these be unacceptable in answers too? I agree that following these rules can make answers look less chatty. So I would understand where someone's coming from if they edited examples of these in posts.

But at the same time, I probably wouldn't edit any of these unless I really felt they made an answer hard to read or saw the answer was getting lots of downvotes. And if the edits were rejected I would leave it at that.

I would rather see things like these kept when they're used reasonably. In the help pages for answering we are asked to write to the best of our abilities. But we are also asked to have fun and to remember "there's a real human being on the other end of that network connection." If writing well (but not by the highest standards I know) keeps discussion on-topic and friendly, then (to me) the rest is just icing on the cake.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .