This question was downvoted for not showing enough research. I'll admit that the original question did not have a link to a dictionary (second to last paragraph) so I understand why. Then the question is, is the question "good enough" going forward after the link to a dictionary was added? (I also referenced a second online dictionary in my comments.)

I'm good enough to use google translate and some online dictionaries. That is the "research" standard that I'm used to other SE sites. More to the point, I'm a rank beginner in Italian (an A1) on the CEFR scale, and that is my level.

But in an exchange, the (highly ranked) downvoter insisted that I use an actual dictionary, Trecanni, or deMauro, or Piangianini, none of whom, frankly, I had ever heard of until today.

More to the point, the question was an etymology question best answered in an article that someone was kind enough to post. That is to say that a dictionary would give me a simple yes or no answer, but the article gave me whole "background" of the relationship.

So is the current version of my question a reasonable one for the site? Or should I stop using it because I can't do any better than I already have?

3 Answers 3


My impression (I did not vote on this question) is that the problem is whether you consider monolingual dictionaries to be basic sources (and so necessary even for the 50-50 approach, in Tom Au's answer) or advanced sources.

I think this is a symptom of the fact that this site has simultaneously two different audiences:

  • Italian language learners (for which monolingual dictionaries are way over what they could reasonably consult)

  • Italian native speaker (for which a monolingual dictionary is honestly the very first thing they should consult).

I am not sure of what would be the best way to resolve this duality though.

Regarding the particular question in the OP, it was probably a bit too elementary, given that the correct answer is reported even in the English Wiktionary (here for the question related to the Spanish term manzana).

  • I am a "rank" beginner (not even advanced beginner) for who monolingual dictionaries are "way over." That's where the 50-50 comes in. The 90-10 standard is for experts.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 2:55
  • 1
    @TomAu I understand that. The point is that if instead of you it had been a native speaker asking the question (which I hope you will agree it is conceivable), then not consulting a dictionary would have been a gross negligence on their part, and definitely not reaching the 50-50 standard. (I do not consider native speakers to be experts, for me experts are linguists specialized on the Italian language)
    – Denis Nardin Mod
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 11:13
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    IMHO we should apply a different criterion depending on the person asking: if they are beginner learners, we accept it, otherwise not. It seems the fairest option so that learners aren't excluded and lazy native speakers aren't awarded
    – user2750
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 11:32

Fundamentally, this is a debate between two SE camps: What I call the 90-10 people, and the 50-50 people. The first group believes that you should post a question only if you know 90% of the answer and need help with the last 10%. These people want narrowly focused sites with only high level conversations between "experts."

The second group, says that the OP need only meet the answerer "halfway." My interpretation is that refers to effort. Specifically, has the OP taken at least as much time, say half an hour, to formulate the question as an expert would likely take to answer it? This allows for beginners in a topic who are willing to make what one of my professors called an "honest effort" to get help from more experienced users. This process draws more traffic to SE. More to the point, it creates more potential Italian speakers (I am one in the making).

The shoe is on the other foot on sites where I am knowledgeable; I am "active" in helping where I can quickly answer a question that stumps beginners. It's an exchange, and part of the social contract. I help others where I'm strong, and receive help from others on sites where I am weak.

In the day or two since the issue came up, I've actually seen my critic post very good answers to the questions of other beginners. Much as I hate to see my questions downvoted, I would be pleased if it were an isolated case for "this particular question" as opposed to, "we don't want rank beginners asking questions on the site.


Sorry to sound patronising, but personally I am questioning the OP's approach to perfecting their knowledge of something (Italian, in this case), when not only they are not able to use the tools to improve it (actual Italian dictionaries rather than Google Translate or other non-dedicated websites), but by their admission don't even know about them.

Isn't it a bit like asking about, say, a particular flying manoeuvre when it turns out that one doesn't even know about the basic controls of an aeroplane?

And by the way, the cited article, albeit curious, is from a food column and quotes from an expert in alimentation science: not exactly an authority about etymology. Like it or not, the main real references about single words are monolingual dictionaries in that language (or, in special cases, books by linguists about “stories of words” and the like).

So, basically, what the OP's question amounts to is: could somebody translate and explain for me an etymological dictionary entry about melanzana?

  • 2
    I quite agree with you, but I also understand that it can happen to a beginner, even one who is taking a course on Italian, that he or she has never been told about this. The point is how to find a way to encourage him or her to use monolingual dictionaries, to convince him or her that they can be very useful even if he or she is not able to understand everything written on them, without scaring him or her or making him or her feel that they cannot post at the site anymore.
    – Charo Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 9:29
  • @Charo: In my case, I'm not even taking a "course." I' am autodiadactic trying to "convert" my knowledge of Spanish and French into Italian (evidenced by my question), and I don't even have a teacher to recommend books, dictionaries, tapes, etc.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:15
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    @DaG I think this is a bit harsh on the language learners, that are after all a huge part of the target of this site. After all monolingual dictionaries are quite scary if you are a beginner.
    – Denis Nardin Mod
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 1:39

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