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StackOverflow (and I'm sure other StackExchange sites as well) is littered with all sorts of acronyms. The user base has a very large range of experience, so it seems like automatically detecting and defining common acronyms could be a very useful feature.

This feature would:

  • Allow someone with more experience in a given area explain an answer in terms they're familiar with and be confident that it will not confuse the asker of the question.
  • Allow users with less experience learn the lingo in their area of interest quickly and easily.

I suggest an interface similar to tagging, so that hovering over an acronym would reveal its expanded form.

Of course, there are acronyms which have multiple meanings based on context. A forced example (from a wikipedia search) would be ERD: either Entity-Relationship Diagram or Evolutionary Rapid Development. The correct form could be guessed based on tags/context, or more likely (and simpler) would be to list all of the possibilities, ordered by rarity of use.

Since each StackExchange site is very limited in scope, the pool of multiple meanings for a given acronym is very small, so the conflict problem is almost a non-issue.

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How do you propose to build up the list of acronyms/definitions per site? Would this be any more beneficial than simply editing posts to clarify acronym usage? – Adam Lear Sep 11 '11 at 6:10
Building a list of acronyms is no different than building a list of tags. It could be a privilege that can be gained. And in addition to the reasons above, it saves you the hassle of editing posts. – Evan Cordell Sep 11 '11 at 7:58

I doubt it would be feasible to have this applied automatically. However, it would be nice if the <abbr> tag was allowed in posts so we could add this manually. Markdown support would be even better.

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This should probably be its own Q... and <abbr> tag support would require the title attribute. – Richard Sep 11 '11 at 6:45
I see no technical limitations to doing would be applied during markdown processing, like a normal link. – Evan Cordell Sep 11 '11 at 8:00

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