[With Addendum]

Should we discourage the use of argot such as AmE and BrE—even ELU—[added:] in answers to nonspecialists' questions at ELU?

Most visitors who find answers here come from a browser search and have no idea what AmE or BrE mean, nor should they be expected to guess.

Insider abbreviations encrypt the information that we hopefully provide to a more general audience.

Is it too much trouble to spell out “American English” and “British English”?


  • Some answers to nontechnical questions use technical abbreviations such as AmE and BrE (recent example, where the question does not use the term AmE yet the answer uses both AmE and American English without indicating that they are the same)

  • With a deep interest in language, I already understood the meaning of AmE

  • As a technical editor, I imagined a less-ensconced perspective that seems more usual among questioners at ELU

  • [No longer completely true:] Found unrelated answers at ELU and its Help Center for “what is AmE” or just “AmE” (with or without capitals, as with the searches below)

  • [Now true:] Found a useful answer at Is there a difference between British English phrases and American phrases? by searching ELU for “what is AmE” and noticing that the match's listing included “... American English (AmE) ...”

  • Found nonanswers at onelook.com, some answers at specific dictionary sites

  • Wikipedia redirects “AmE” to “American English,” which doesn't mention AmE per se

  • Found a barrage of extraneous matches in web searches for “AmE” and “AmE English” that overshadowed a match with a terse definition

  • A web search for “AmE English language” at last led to some useful web pages, though only one of many that I viewed both has “AmE” in its title and actually spells out AmE in its content


Good answers and references!

Guess I'll sporadically add specific comments to ELU answers that might overmatch their questions technically. See how that goes. Wanted to pose the question here first.

Probably not news but just for the record, the standard in technical writing is to introduce an abbreviation parenthetically or as a link when there is any doubt that a reader will understand it precisely and readily. (I often encourage an author to present a concise table of terms early in their article.)

  • Please provide a link to the question or answer that confused you. And, did you figure it out yourself, or did the context make it clear?
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 23:33
  • No they are fine. But BrEng and AmEng are better. Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 0:19
  • 3
    I figured out the encrypted wording around here. If someone doesn't understand the encryption they can always ask or post the question here. Just out of curiosity, would you go on to Mathematics Meta and ask the users to change their formatting conventions? I ask because you frequent the Mathematics site. Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 1:44
  • Good points, @michael_timofeev, so I revised this question to refer to answers for nontechnical questions. This is indeed an issue elsewhere as well.
    – lauir
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 1:54
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    The first link clearly says "late 18th century both in British and American English:" and then the OP uses the abbreviations. Where's the problem?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 2:13
  • 5
    I think it is a good topic for discussion as I also felt using OED for whatever it stands for is wrong when I joined the community. Once I received a comment saying "Don't use OED for Oxford Online Dictionary" and I keep using Oxford Online Dictionary instead of ODO.
    – user140086
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 3:52
  • 5
    -1 Supposedly adults are capable of working out for themselves that AmE is the abbreviation for American English when they see both forms being used in the same post, it's called imagination or intuition. If the poster in the cited example were teaching children then I would agree, you need to explain to pupils/students the meanings of abbreviations, but EL&U is not a classroom. Please find a more representative example as the one chosen is, frankly, perfectly in order and makes nonsense of your question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 8:11
  • We're on an English language website, asking and answering questions about... English and how she is spoke, what is "technical" about using the term American English? Is it so argot? There are linguistic and certain grammatical terms far more esoteric than the shortened and simple AmEng.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 8:24
  • 2
    The OP clarifies and says: where the question does not use the term AmE yet the answer uses both AmE and American English without indicating that they are the same). Come on, really? People can't figure out that the one is the abbreviated form of the other? IF the OP had found an answer that did NOT contain the full form, then he might have a point. But it does contain both forms.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 12:07
  • 3
    @medica: ELU is indeed ugly in a more formal text, and I can very well imagien visitors might have no idea what it stands for. And the fact remains that abbreviations are ugly. Why not write "this site"? Why not just say "American"? In context, that will be clear enough. Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 14:56
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA: Fair enough, in that particular case the reader can probably figure it out. However, he might still have to pause and wonder. He might have to reread the text to figure it out. Why not save him the time and the trouble? Because the writer is too lazy? It's common courtesy. And the argument of ugliness remains. At any rate, I was mainly piqued by your If the poster in the cited example were teaching children then I would agree, you need to explain to pupils/students the meanings of abbreviations, but EL&U is not a classroom. Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 15:02

4 Answers 4


ELU is for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts -- in other words, specialists. Specialists have their own jargon, and they use it routinely to communicate clearly and succinctly with one another.

Among ELU users, you are likely to see jargon that includes abbreviations such as AmE and BrE.

Rather than asking these specialists to abandon the very way they communicate, it makes more sense to me to make sure the site helps anyone who is not familiar by documenting common jargon, including abbreviations, in the online help.

A good way you could assist with this is to look through the existing online help and see if there are any glaring omissions.

See for example: List of common abbreviations and acronyms (NOAD, ESL, PIE...)

  • 1
    @human: I have just Googled it, and it turns out AmE is a church. Problem solved. google.com/search?q=what+is+AmE Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 23:49
  • Please note that the question has been revised to refer to answers for questions from nonspecialists, and that it now asks should rather than could.
    – lauir
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 2:04
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    Stack Exchange is published on WorldWideWeb, not in a paper journal that is mailed to a select list of members of a tiny club who all share some common background. Even all English speakers are not a tiny club because the language is so broadly spoken and follows conventions, not rules. The list of so-called “common abbreviations” is meaningless when applied to a worldwide audience. Your time is not so precious and valuable that you can’t type “Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)” the first time and “CIA” from then on within one article. I wish I could downvote this answer 100 times. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 17:13

(Don't know what this adds to @MetaEd's excellent answer, but here goes.)

I really don't think this is a problem (at least it's never been raised in meta before.)

Some background might help to understand the pushback*, the downvotes, and the range of opinion.

For years, EL&U has been struggling to be a site for "for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts", but one look at the front page will tell you just how far below that goal the site really is. Not only is this not treated as an serious site, but it is a daily struggle even to enforce/encourage the use of a dictionary, putting questions in context, citing sources, etc., something necessary to maintain a minimum level of quality for questions and answers. It's been difficult, and there's a lot of meta discussion about it.

Your proposal strikes me as one more step in accommodating those who can't be bothered to look things up, which is a bit of a hot button here.


This is not a site for “serious English language enthusiasts,” and it never will be
Proposal: Add a “too basic”/“uninteresting” off-topic option
Does ELU Have Worse Questions Than Other Sites?
General Reference = general clairvoyance?
Basic questions are not so basic
Extraordinary spike in low-quality questions by 1 rep users
Basic questions are not so basic
Should we have a migration path to ELL?
“Thanks man for not laughing at my question :)”
Word for disrespecting eldest half-sister by referring to her husband as girly-girl-manly-boy though he's amused but the rest of the family isn't?

Etc., etc.

*I apologize to the community, and especially to the OP, for my belligerent comment (now deleted). It's not elevating to the community, and it was a terrible way to welcome a new user to meta. Unfortunately, I have no excuse for it. I hadn't even had a bad day.

  • 1
    The way you are using the word “serious” is meaningless. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 17:10
  • @SimonWhite - To each his own. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 17:52

I agree: we should use as few abbreviations as possible. Not only are they generally not as nice to look at as full words, but they are often incomprehensible to those unaccustomed to our website, or at least they slow down their reading.

It is the task of a writer to burden his readers with as little work as possible; if you, as a writer, spend the extra three seconds it takes to type out British English once, you may save a thousand readers the thirty seconds it would take them to look up BrEng. Your 'return on investment' would be ~100,000% in this case. And more than a thousand people may read your answer...

I believe this is common advice to be found in most serious style guides. We are here not just to answer questions, but also to set the example. What will people think when we give them advice about how to write while at the same time needlessly using abbreviations?

The same applies to needless jargon; but jargon is more often necessary, and it doesn't have the ugliness that abbreviations have.

Abbreviations can be justified in chat, where speed is an issue. In ordinary writing, though, you can just say "the site" if you have already mentioned English Language and Usage, or "this variant" if the reader knows you are talking about Indian English. The fact that Oxford English Dictionary is too long is not really an excuse.

In physical print, space is sometimes an issue, such as in dictionaries. Then abbreviations can be justified as well, despite the extra work they burden the reader with.

Here is a quotation from our esteemed moderator Nohat:

Shame on anyone for using any of these abbreviations (NOAD, OED, PIE) without defining them or least linking them.

  • I'm beginning to appreciate an attitudinal spectrum among this forum's luminaries
    – lauir
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 1:29
  • 2
    @human: inorite Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 1:42
  • If you give advice about how to write, your post is off-topic, whether abbreviated or otherwise Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 11:39
  • 1
    @TimLymington: Nonsense. Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 14:43
  • 3
    I agree that we could save readers' precious time by spending a few more seconds in answering. I am changing my welcome message from EL&U to English Language and Usage.
    – user140086
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 15:20
  • 3
    We've all used abbreviations for brevity, EL&U is a damn shorter than its full form, and users should be able to make the simple connection. In fact, I've only seen one user ever asked what those three letters stood for. One user, because they were using a mobile, and if memory serves me correctly they believed the website's name was Stack Exchange English. One user out of thousands.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 17:13
  • 3
    However, I remember being confused by the following acronyms: OED (Oxford English Dictionary); OALD (The Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary); MW (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary), SE (Stack Exchange), and AHD (American Heritage Dictionary). If the OP (Original Poster) had talked about these then his argument would have carried more weight. Instead he mentions EL&U (English language & Usage) and AmE (American English) and BrE (British English), acronyms, which he himself admitted to knowing already!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 17:14
  • 2
    I have always preferred BrEng to BE or BrE, likewise AmEng I think is easier to understand than AE or AmE, the former could be mistaken for Australian English which I abbreviate as AusEng, and IE looks like i.e. (id est or that/it is) capitalized, so instead I prefer InEng (Indian English) Some might confuse IE as Irish English, which some users prefer calling Hiberno‐English, but HibEng would be too weird for words. Finally, EVERYONE has used abbreviations at least once in their answers without writing their full forms, or providing links, even you. :-) We've all survived!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 17:22

Yes, absolutely. These shorthands are counter-productive.

The tiny amount of typing time it saves one person is much less than the incredible amount of time it wastes for many, many readers and also for robots, who represent readers who are typing “American English” into a search engine. At least some of those readers are learning English.

Even for readers who are familiar with the shorthands, when we read them, we have to decode them before we understand them. You can put electrodes on a person’s head and see the dramatic difference in brain activity between just reading “American English” or decoding “AmEng.”

The whole point of writing is to be read and understood, not to be cryptic or save typing time. Especially on StackExchange, you are writing for the community, not for yourself.

If you want to save typing time, go into your operating system settings and make a text substitution: “AmEng ➡ American English” so that when you type “AmEng” the computer types “American English.” It is 2016, not 1955.

This applies also to acronyms. They are obsolete when writing for the world unless you expand them at least once on every page because there is the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and also the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and if you say you learned to make a flambé at the CIA you will be misunderstood again and again and again.

  • 2
    Unless we really are typing for robots, the two meanings of CIA should be obvious from the context. We now should spell out everything for the benefit of users who habitually send messages like "luv u 2" ? Puh-leeze!
    – ab2
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 22:32
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    Does that mean that "CIA drone" could be referring to a sous-chef?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 22:34
  • 4
    By this standard, StackOverflow should require HyperText Markup Language always be spelled out initially, or that Workplace.SE demand the same of curriculum vitae. But StackExchange broadly writ is not aimed at elementary school children. Most users have some interest and knowledge in the stack's subject area, and can be expected to have some familiarity with basic terminology within that context, but more importantly want to learn the argot as part of furthering their knowledge. At a point, explaining what v.i. in a dicdec means becomes patronizing, not helpful.
    – choster
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 4:19
  • 1
    Under the circumstances where even our one-liner comment could be Googled and read by world-wide viewers, regardless of their age or knowledge, I absolutely agree with this answer. We should target all readers in the world, not just linguists, etymologists and English enthusiasts. Why can't we just type Oxford English Dictionary instead of OED? Is it really necessary to use OED? I didn't know what it meant when I first saw it. Especially when you need to distinguish it from Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO), no harm in spending a few more seconds so that readers don't have to Google it.
    – user140086
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 5:25
  • @Rathony and now that you know, whenever you see the acronym OED do you have to check what it stands for? When you read UFO, do you have to check? The same goes for e.g. and i.e. which are English acronyms, learners do not know their pronunciations nor what they mean the first time they come across them. Do I have to write "esemple gratia" each and every time, and then "explain" what it means? We're on the Internet, for goodness sakes.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 13:32
  • @Mari-LouA You are talking about the difference between Obama and President of Sudan or Nigeria. There are OED, OALD, ODO. How is anyone supposed to tell the difference among them unless there is one time full description of what they stand for? It is true of AmE or BrE. If we don't spend a few more seconds to tell the readers AmE stands for American English and BrE stands for British English at least once, I don't think we are doing any good to our readers. That's my view. It could be different from yours.
    – user140086
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 13:53
  • The link is an article about NAFTA from The Economist. Everybody who reads the magazine would know what NAFTA stands for. Why would The Economist which is one of the most prestigious magazines in the world (read by the elite) would waste its space and give a full description of what it stands for in the sub-title and its body? We have to think about it. There is no harm in writing what OED, OALD, ODO stand for. I don't think ELU is as prestigious as The Economist.
    – user140086
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 13:55
  • @Rathony so every time you write a new answe you will write in full every single acronym or abbreviation because there will always be a new user somewhere. It's an unrealistic request to demand from the community, if you want to do it, fine, but allow others the liberty to use these common abbreviations that are accepted within the community. If a newcomer is really confused they can 1. find out on the net 2. ask in a comment. BTW be sure to write out the full name of EL&U and OP on meta each and every time, though...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 16:48
  • @Mari-LouA That's exactly what I am doing. I am writing out full names of ELU and OP since I saw this question. Maybe you haven't noticed it. Now, I am saying we need to do it at least just once when it is first used. You are the one who sometimes says some posts are read by more than 10K viewers or more, then, how many active members do we have among 10K viewers? 20? 30? We need to care about those 9,970 people who could read our posts and don't visit our community on a regular basis. What is so hard to write their full names just once? We are not a forum targeting only 20/30 active members.
    – user140086
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 17:11
  • @Rathony good for you, but don't expect everyone to follow your lead. I was a newcomer once, we all were, I really don't see a couple of acronyms in an answer as being a major flaw on EL&U. There are other problems facing the website much more serious, e.g. LQQs (for the benefit who is reading this: low quality questions).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 17:16

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