In my answer to the following question I used as reference, as I often do, The Free Dictionary or TFD.

@tcrist somehow objects and 'humorously' comments that Every time you write TFD I am reminded of RTFM and then wonder just which dictionary is being referred to so pejoratively:)

The Free Dictionary is actually one of the approved online sources for our community, so I wonder whether there is something wrong with citing TFD as a source. The fact that it includes more dictionaries makes it an interesting source to me as you can easily compare different definitions. Citing the specific dictionary it refers to does not make things easier for those you want to look it up ( browsing is one of our main tasks and a necessary ability users need to develop if they want to deal with the huge amount of information available, I guess).

Is there anything wrong in my approach, how can I improve it?

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    Je suis d'accord. I've tried a lot of the online dictionaries. TFD is still my go-to. Maybe the objection is that "TFD" listed as a source doesn't acknowledge where the entry came from: MW, AHDEL, etc. Don't know @tchrist's reasons for disliking it (The F****** Dictionary??), but it's a helluvalot better than MW and other sites where the adverts are so obnoxious that my laptop heats up and voices suddenly blast out of nowhere. I like it though it's gotten less helpful since the recent overhaul. A sub to OED is a bit pricy. Apr 6, 2015 at 9:24
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    @medica Ad Block Plus is very effective at removing adverts completely (even closing up their space), and it's available for all major browsers and some less major ones.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Apr 6, 2015 at 11:07
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    Because no one has said it simply and directly: RTFM is "Read the Fucking Manual"; by analogy, "TFD" could be (mis)interpreted as "The Fucking Dictionary". In other words, "check TFD" could be (mis)interpreted as an injunction to "Just look it up!" (in "the" dictionary), as opposed to a citation of a specific dictionary whose name is "The Free Dictionary" and whose acronym is correspondingly TFD. Dig? It's a joke.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 6, 2015 at 16:51
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    @AndrewLeach - Thank you for that. I installed it, and it has cut down noticeably on the noise! I no longer have anything to fear from MW. Apr 11, 2015 at 6:40
  • 'TFD' as an attribution is a misnomer; it is an assembly of (very good) dictionaries. The ascription should be say Collins or AHD. Dec 5, 2019 at 11:39

3 Answers 3


I think you're reading far too much into that comment. It has a smiley. Try hearing it as though the speaker is smiling.

However, now that you raise the question of The Free Dictionary, there is a potential problem with the way they collate entries. They correctly cite each one. It's that citation which should appear here.

The Free Dictionary is in effect a directory of definitions, in much the same way as Google or Bing is a directory of websites. We wouldn't accept a Google search link and extracts from the results page1; each of those quotations would need to be explicitly referenced with the source. I believe the same applies to The Free Dictionary. And given that each extract is supplied with a citation all ready to copy and paste, there's not really any reason not to. You should probably add an "All via TFD" link at the bottom of a set of quotations, so they can be verified and other cross-references might be used; but the original authors of those definitions should be given appropriate credit when they are quoted here, in accordance with SE's referencing requirements.

While ideally a link to the original definition in AHD or ODO or wherever should be provided, it may not be necessary2 and it seems reasonable to me simply to add a usual abbreviation to each as cited in TFD. Your quote from TFD might look like

  • (n.) the time between sunrise and sunset. (AHD)

  • (n.) the time between dawn and dusk; the day as distinct from evening or night. (Collins)

  • (adj.) Occurring in or appropriate for use during the day: daytime tasks; daytime clothes. (AHD)

All from The Free Dictionary

That indicates the true source of each definition, and avoids the RTFM abbreviation, for not very much more effort.

1 This does make for problems when answers simply reproduce the content Google supplies from a define query. Presumably Google have an agreement with their sources where they can omit any reference. I don't think we should endorse that, particularly when it's easy to provide cited references from original dictionary websites.

2 This is a pragmatic opinion on a practical implementation of the policy when applied to directory websites. Because it has a diamond at the bottom of it, this answer may change if the opinion is found to be wrong.

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    Some.excellent suggestions for citing definitions supplied through TFD.
    – Erik Kowal
    Apr 7, 2015 at 1:17

I was not cursing it as a source. I simply misread the acronym, thinking it something it wasn’t.

If it had been called The Free Dictionary, this would not have happened.


I use TFD all the time because it's quick, easy, and free, but still remains a reliable source. It is an aggregator* for other dictionaries, so you don't get just a single viewpoint.

It has its drawbacks, of course, as does any dictionary (yes, including the hallowed OED), but it is plenty good enough for our purposes on ELU.

And as for the notion that the initials (TFD) may be perceived as some sort of rebuke, I can only offer my opinion that we should not be out to ban things just because of how they might be perceived by the hyper-vigilant reader who is laboring under a misapprehension.

* Insert picture of aggressive alligator here.

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    I am relieved. I thought Josh and I were the only highish-rep users to use TFD regularly! Apr 13, 2015 at 10:36
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    @medica: Yeah, the point is to find a decent citation, not to get into Mercedes vs. Chevy contests. If I had a subscription to OED online I'd probably use that more, but I don't and I'm not going to pay for one. Did I mention that TFD is free? ^_^
    – Robusto
    Apr 13, 2015 at 17:15

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