Related feature request: Glossary / dictionary for SE sites

I just got my invitation to the Bicycles private beta, and I realized that what I already thought would be going to be a problem really is one: Domain-specific english vocabulary is a serious obstacle for foreigners.

In programming, this is not a problem. Wherever in the world you live, you will be working with english-language resources, programming languages and expressions from day one. Whichever language you speak, you know what a browser is, what a control structure is, what an object is. No problem.

But in other areas like DIY tools, collecting stamps, or bicycles? Not so.

I think I'm fairly apt at english, but 25% of the questions I currently see on Bicycling's front page, I fail to understand because of missing vocabulary. What is a Goathead? What is a Schrader Rim? What is a Derailleur? Those words have german equivalents that I will understand in a second, but at the moment, I'd have to go check Wikipedia or Google Images. I have zero inclination to do that to be honest. It's too cumbersome.

If these sites are supposed to take off outside the english-speaking world, I think they need a glossary of some sort.

My ideal vision would be a grid-style multi-language glossary, with the english word in the first column, containing a photograph of the item where possible, and translations in (the most popular / all / all we can get) languages. Ideally community-contributed - users fill the dictionary as the site grows as @Peter Ajtai says in his comment - and with upvotes, downvotes, gaining reputation for translations and everything.

I'm fairly sure this applies to a lot of the Stack Exchange sites currently launching.

Update: this could maybe be done using the classical question/answer format in some way, e.g. with the term being a question, and the answers providing the translation in several languages. A specifically fitted format would be way better, though, and probably worth the effort.

  • I agree with you for Goathead and Schrader Rim, but... Spandex? – Pops Aug 25 '10 at 20:24
  • @Popular I was unsure about that one, I think I've heard that around. I'll go look for a better example. – Pekka Aug 25 '10 at 20:25
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    Each site could have its own dictionary, and they could be built by members as the site grows. Some sort of hover, or click, tool tip functionality to access definitions on the fly would be nice. – Peter Ajtai Aug 25 '10 at 20:25
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    @Peter yup, that would be perfect. Whenever a word matches the dictionary, it could be (unobtrusively) linked to the explanation page. – Pekka Aug 25 '10 at 20:27
  • Maybe you want to use a tool like babylon, which I haven't used for years, so I do not know if it is still as good as it was. There are also free alternatives out there (which I haven't tested). – Ladybug Killer Aug 25 '10 at 21:33
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    @Popular The goathead question was mine, and in the question, I put in the other terms for them (for search purposes) as well as linked to a Wikipedia article - short answer, really big thorns. Is this something we could use/put into meta.bicycles? – Jared Harley Aug 26 '10 at 3:23
  • @Pekka For what it's worth, if you hadn't mentioned you're not a primary English speaker, I never would have guessed you weren't. – Jared Harley Aug 26 '10 at 3:32
  • @Jared that is an interesting approach, too, but probably too cumbersome in the long run, and too easy to forget to do. Something unobtrusive that puts the links to all glossaried words in the right-hand column (as suggested by @moberley in the comments to Grace's answer) would be my favourite. – Pekka Aug 26 '10 at 8:56
  • @Jared, I have no problem with the terms in question. I never even visited the proposal myself. If I had, I would've just assumed they were terms unfamiliar to me but familiar to any enthusiast bicyclist (I can ride a bicycle, but beyond that have no interest in bicycling). Really I was just surprised that Spandex was considered a bicycling term. Perhaps it has a second/slang meaning I'm not aware of? My specific case aside, though, a glossary is a nice idea. – Pops Aug 26 '10 at 14:14

The Cooking Stack Exchange site made their own glossary after some discussion. I think it works fairly well that way, and functions within the existing engine. Personally I don't really think it will be worth the effort to develop a whole add-on for dictionary stuff, but that's on my own thoughts more than any concrete basis.

We even have one here on Meta for terms used about the sites.

  • That looks very nice! The only thing missing IMO is some sort of on-the-fly lookup - and the format is not perfectly suitable for multiple languages. Imagine the content being quadrupled (with spanish, french, and two more languages.) But this shows that a solution could be built based on the classical q/a format. – Pekka Aug 25 '10 at 20:44
  • @Pekka: We're going to try to split it up and have a bunch of links on the master post, which is about as close as you can get to on-the-fly lookup (I wouldn't want to see those infuriating tooltips pop up every time I hover over some word, nor would I want to see every single instance of the word "chop" turned into a hyperlink). – Aarobot Aug 25 '10 at 20:48
  • @Aarobot I totally see what you mean, but this is the first time in my life that I would like to see those tooltips - at least when clicking on the word - because I would like to know what the question is about :) Maybe show tooltips on demand somehow, or if the browser language is set to non-english? – Pekka Aug 25 '10 at 20:49
  • @Pekka: It would seem useful at first, but I'm certain it would get incredibly annoying after a while, even for foreign users. I'm sure there's a way to do it non-intrusively but it would have to be designed very carefully. – Aarobot Aug 25 '10 at 20:52
  • @Aarobot yup. The final design of that is probably something for SO's UI designer(s) to work out. – Pekka Aug 25 '10 at 20:52
  • @Pekka: Using the browser-language doesn't necessarily work - what about us foreign users that prefer english OS' and applications over crude localizations? – Georg Fritzsche Aug 25 '10 at 20:53
  • @Pekka Don't forget those of us who are English-speaking, but run their browsers in non-English settings. – Grace Note Aug 25 '10 at 20:53
  • @Georg @Grace all true. It might have to be a setting of some sort (show tooltips / don't show tooltips). – Pekka Aug 25 '10 at 20:58
  • Yeah, there's a number of regional differences in the cooking arena - e.g. aubergine/eggplant, capsicum/bell pepper, even between english-speaking countries. – Ether Aug 25 '10 at 21:32
  • @Ether Aubergine means eggplant? Wow, that explains something I've always wondered about. – Grace Note Aug 25 '10 at 21:36
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    I don't know if it'd be better than something inline, but what about an information box off to the side with links to a glossary of terms used in the question? That way it would at least be closer at hand when encountering the I-don't-understand problem. – moberley Aug 25 '10 at 23:45
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    @moberly That sounds like material for a separate answer, not a comment! Move forward, to voting exposure! – Grace Note Aug 25 '10 at 23:48
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    @moberley that sounds like a great idea, and feels much more in sync with the SO user interface's spirit than links and tooltips! Absolutely make that an answer. – Pekka Aug 26 '10 at 0:06
  • @Grace Note @Pekka I posted an answer based on my comment. meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/62296/… – moberley Aug 26 '10 at 14:22

There's already something like this embodied in the tag info for each tag. I presume many of these terms, like Presta Tube, would probably have a tag, like presta-tube, to go with them. You could therefore define the term in the tag wiki.

  • This is a neat idea too. – Pekka Aug 25 '10 at 20:53
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    Partial credit. Using cooking as an example, we certainly have tags about baking and roasting and could probably have tags about julienne and kneading, but I don't think it would be all that useful to start creating [teaspoon] or [kilogram] tags. – Aarobot Aug 25 '10 at 20:58
  • Although on second thought, I expect almost every question/answer would contain special vocabulary not reflected in the tags. (Update: @Aarobot beat me to it) – Pekka Aug 25 '10 at 20:59
  • I originally thought about this idea, but that's limited to terms that would need tags. Cooking, for example, probably won't want to have separate tags about mincing, chopping, sashaying and all that. Gaming would be a mess just because we have a lot more context-dependence in definitions that would pollute and destroy our tag base. But when there is a corresponding tag, this definitely works pretty well. (@Pekka Aarobot beat us both!) – Grace Note Aug 25 '10 at 21:00
  • For what it's worth, I made a feature request asking to have the required reputation to edit tag wikis lowered during the private beta so that we can start populating the wikis now. – Jared Harley Aug 26 '10 at 3:46

This was originally a comment on Grace Note's answer.

I agree that having a glossary is very useful thing for many of the Stack Exchange sites. However, for it to be most useful I think it needs to close at hand when encountering the I-don't-understand problem.

Marking terms with definitions inline with a hyperlink or a tooltip has some problems as noted by other commenters. I would suggest a useful way to display this information might be an information box off to the side with links to a glossary of terms used in the question.


The community-evolved solution in this particular case is here (linked from the FAQ):

Terminology index - a list of bike part names and cycling concepts

Presta Valve is currently the second answer.

  • Very nice work, must have missed this, thanks for the link! – Pekka Oct 13 '10 at 15:27

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