It has come to my attention that the term "duplicate" on SE has no direct relation to the English term. Whereas in the English language, "duplicate" refers to something which is highly or exactly identical to something else, on SE it means that the general problem of a question matches that of another.

I also understand from experience that questions are marked as duplicates based on their answers, and not on the questions themselves.

There are two suggestions that I can think of. Feel free to append others directly or add them in your own answers. If you disagree and think that the current usage of "duplicate" is perfect in its current usage, then please say so.

Suggestion one: For users under X amount of rep, put a reminder when their questions are marked as duplicates that "duplicate" doesn't mean an exact copy.

Suggestion two: Change the terminology of duplicate so that it matches the English definition. An example would be to change it to "analogous to..." or "answered by...", etc.

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    "Duplicate" seems fine to me. The required level of identical-ness for something to be rightfully closed as duplicate is usually very high. – Pekka Apr 6 '14 at 1:15
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    For my part, I usually won't close a question as a duplicate unless it really is a duplicate—even if the same answer would be applicable. In that case, I'd probably leave a comment with a link to the other question. – icktoofay Apr 6 '14 at 1:18
  • People define English, not the other way around. Nobody that I have seen has been confused by the terminology, so there is no point in changing it. – bjb568 Apr 6 '14 at 1:23
  • @bjb568 How about myself and (likely) the questioner who I linked to since he said that newcomers often have "knee-jerk reaction" to their questions being marked as duplicates. Did you visit that question? The English language is defined by the entire collective body of English-speakers, not be a comparably miniscule group such as the SE community. – person27 Apr 6 '14 at 2:08
  • @Pëkka I have personally seen a large group of questions which were marked as duplicates and hardly seemed like it. I even have one, probably a few questions that do that. Here's one: stackoverflow.com/questions/21977768/…. I asked about whether or not an extension method could have no parameters, and it was marked as a duplicate of whether or not an extension method could be used to extend static methods, which is hardly related. – person27 Apr 6 '14 at 2:26
  • I don't think this is a language issue. It's rather that in programming, "how do I set the colour of a XYZElement to green" is usually a duplicate of "how do I set the colour of a XYZelement to blue". All in all, "duplicate" is working fine IMO. – Pekka Apr 6 '14 at 2:27
  • @Stop I can't judge that specific case, but that's possibly an incorrect duplicate closing, then. It may warrant bringing up on Meta for a possible reopening – Pekka Apr 6 '14 at 2:27
  • @Pëkka I've passed at least fifty like it (and my case is mild and very tolerable). Others seem to occasionally have no relation in my mind whatsoever. Perhaps I just see a disproportionate amount of them? – person27 Apr 6 '14 at 2:28
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    There are bad dupe-closings around, no doubt, and sometimes a discussion about reopening may be warranted. But now that I think about it some more, you're right that SO often votes to close as duplicate when the question is answered in the original - even if it's not an exact duplicate. That's true and a little quirky - it's not a correct use of the term. All in all, though, I'd make the argument that the term works largely ok, and the quirkiness can usually be explained to the new user. – Pekka Apr 6 '14 at 2:30
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    (...and if it can't be explained to them, and they feel their question isn't answered in the duplicate link, then maybe it was closed erroneously and the community should take another look at it.) – Pekka Apr 6 '14 at 2:32

As you mention, the community sometimes deviates from the literal meaning of "duplicate": if a question is answered in another question, then we vote to close as duplicate, even though it isn't really a dupe.

You're right that this isn't a very correct use of the term "duplicate".

However, all in all, the term arguably works ok:

  • It is easy to grasp for new users

  • Usually, a dupe-closed question should actually be a duplicate, deviations are the exception

  • the quirkiness with which our community occasionally uses the term is easily explained, does not defy common sense, and is designed to give the asker what they need: an answer to their question.

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