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    • CommentAuthorRegenbogen
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2010

    It is not good English. Before it is too late and becomes common parlance here, I suggest that another more suitable word be used in its place.

    I propose "dialectical". At least the literal meaning is "discussiony". You could also call such questions colloquial.

    Personally I prefer the clear and understandable "discussiony" over the more opaque and erudite alternatives you've proposed.
    • CommentAuthorrwbarton
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2010
    As an American I consider it my birthright—nay, duty—to promote the continued evolution of our language in whatever direction its speakers take it.

    Only half-serious, of course (and I know this is not a web site exclusively for Americans) but I guess that cultural norms differ from country to country. For instance, my impression is that this kind of prescriptivism is more common in France.

    Well, Reid, there's no Académie anglaise.


    Regenbogen, I think you'll come to realize if you take a moment to check that I have spelled the word "discussion-y", thereby acknowledging that it is not proper English but also using the word to fill a niche that has popped up on a website where discussion questions are in violation of the rules. That is, "discussion-y" means "in violation of the rule against discussions."


    I'm with Reid and Noah -- English is a mutt, and can learn new tricks.

    On the other hand, there's a strong argument against "discussiony" in that it presupposes on the part of the reader all the background about mathoverflow's unsuitability for questions requiring discussion. I realise that we (hanging out on meta) have talked about this a million times, but it's important to remember that many of the people you may be using "discussiony" in front of aren't already aware of this consensus. It's hard to find the patience sometimes (I know!) but it probably would help to actually spell out the idea every single time someone asks something "discussiony".


    Could you add some stuff to the FAQ? Something explaining the consensus on discussion questions and also add an anchor so we can link to it?

    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2010

    I second Noah's opinion. The two technical terms which Regenbogen proposes are, in my inexpert opinion, loaded with misleading idiomatic senses. (Especially "dialectic".) If a slangy (slang-y?) word really grates so much, why not "discursive", which I think has a closer sense to what "discussion-y" is intended to capture.

    I think the word dialectical is way to politically loaded.

    Dialectical materialism, whatever that means...


    It's clear that the internet and its associated culture has led to a general expansion of the vocabulary for most languages. Even in French! (Though with some interesting twists, e.g. FAQ certainly did not originate as an abbreviation of Foire Aux Questions.) It's perfectly natural for MathOverflow to give rise to such new words. Resisting this is an exercise in futility.

    As used on MathOverflow, discussiony has a very specific meaning that isn't captured by dialectical, which usually refers to the dialectic method. The term discursive is much closer, but still a bit off since it is often used as a synonym for rambling and may be wrongly perceived as a derogatory term. I think discussiony is actually just right for MathOverflow.


    Could you add some stuff to the FAQ? Something explaining the consensus on discussion questions and also add an anchor so we can link to it?

    It's already there:

    Perhaps I should add links to the relevant meta threads. What are the relevant meta threads? This one for sure. Any others?


    Hmm, there are a few, but I'd have to find them first.

    • CommentAuthorMariano
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2010

    I've just seen the word precisify used... Is this the provebial slippery slope we are sliding down on?


    No, precisify is just criminal.


    Of course, any non-mathematician might well be justified in asking why we use words like “complexification” when “complication” should serve the purpose equally well. (My response: It's less complex.)


    Because obviously "complication" wouldn't serve the purpose equally well. It's too clever by half.

    • CommentAuthorRegenbogen
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2010

    Ha! So much enthusiam supporting a word like 'discussiony' is very surprising. Rather than go from verb to noun to adjective, at least a shorter path will be better. Why not use 'discussive', for instance?


    Because discussion-y or discussiony is specifically in reference to the discussion rule.


    Regenbogen, for me the joy of the word discussiony lies in the fact that it's clearly a made-up word. It's something playful.

    (I can see, though, that if I was communicating in a second or third language then I might not get so much "joy" from people messing around with words.)


    Mariano, was it a native French speaker who said "precisify"? The French verb préciser means something like "to clarify by adding detail" (quite different from the Spanish precisar, but not so different from the Italian precisare, if my dictionaries serve me well). I've heard French speakers say things like "let me precise that for you", when explaining a piece of mathematics. So I could understand if they guessed that "precisify" was a genuine English word.

    Personally, I love it when non-native English speakers say things like that.

    • CommentAuthorKevin Lin
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2010 edited

    @Anton: Maybe also this:

    Though the discussion there veered off topic quite a bit ... !

    • CommentAuthorKevin Lin
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2010 edited

    I like "discussion-y"/"discussiony". "Discursive" would work, I guess, but it seems too academic and formal, and "dialectical" even more so. I like to think of MO as, as many others have already said before, an international online mathematical tea time. Tea time is (or should be) something casual and friendly. So I prefer more casual language over more formal language, at least when the latter is not necessary.


    @Tom: Good catch with préciser! Although I've been a de facto English speaker for about a decade, I still occasionally say "let me precise" that and "let's precise this" (though I'm not the one who used "precisify"). I'm glad someone appreciates this quirk.

    • CommentAuthorcdicanio
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2010
    The reason "discussiony" sounds bad to many English speakers is that there is a condition on the types of words on to which "-y" attaches that is not satisfied by the stem "discussion." In most languages, affixes are not added to stems willy-nilly. For instance, we can not add a plural suffix "-s" on an article "the." There are conditions on the part of speech that the word must be, its size, etc, that restrict what things may be added.

    The "-y" suffix is a derivational suffix which may apply to either a noun or a verb to make them adjectives. Most nouns and verbs to which this suffix attaches are monosyllabic. On verbs, for example, show - showy, jump - jumpy, risk - risky, push - pushy, touch - touchy, sleep - sleepy, etc. On nouns, for example, hand - handy, wood - woody, spike - spiky, mouse - mousey, sun - sunny, etc. The set of nouns taking this suffix tends to be more restrictive than the verbs. Many of the nouns could actually be considered verbs, e.g. sun or hand or spike, in the list above. However, one general thing among all roots taking this suffix is that they are monosyllabic. "Discussion" is not monosyllabic and so it sounds ungrammatical when one says "discussiony."

    One does not need an "academie anglaise" to decide what is or what is not grammatical. Each person has an incredible amount of grammatical knowledge that they know subconsciously through having grown up speaking English, or whatever language they grew up speaking. Your intuitions serve you well here. If it doesn't sound right - ungrammatical - then it probably violates some rule that one internalizes about English or is statistically odd. The job is then to identify what rule is broken.

    Note that this is distinct from the diminutive suffix "-y" which changes adjectives to nouns or nouns to diminuative nouns, e.g. brown - brownie, quick - quickie, dog - doggie, etc (spelling is irrelevant here, both "ie" and "y" are pronounced [i]).

    Not all your readers are mathematicians. I'm a linguist.
    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2010 edited

    I was waiting for the tone of the above post to lighten up, but I was disappointed to find that it was entirely serious. Now I'm just going to use "discussiony" or "discussion-y" out of principle! =p

    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2010

    It has always struck me that there are more interesting things to do, and more annoying things to try and ameliorate, on MO, than indulging in some hankering for Hochdeutsch. Yes, it is not a proper word. No, I don't think it is a big deal.

    +1 cdicanio
    • CommentAuthorRegenbogen
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2010

    Thanks cdicanio!

    To others: It is possible that good linguistics and good math may go hand in hand. We must not forget that Gauss the prince of mathematicians(at any rate the force behind modern number theory) was also immersed in linguistics. "Complexify" has a natural context and is legitimate, and serves a mathematical purpose. Discussion-y is on the other hand not a mathematical word; it is general parlance. So one should follow what linguists say about that.

    So, cdicanio, the problem is that so far there is no alternate word. How about discussive, for instance? If there is a better word, hopefully it will be easier to convince (reasonable) people.

    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2010 edited

    I take your recommendation and throw it in the trash, sir!

    Why are you being the made-up-word police? Let people be. We're happy with "discussiony"!

    • CommentAuthorRegenbogen
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2010

    @fpqc. I feel honored to secure a place at least in your trash. Thanks to you a lot.

    In any case, I am not policing anything. I just pointed out my discomfort, and if others find the word to their comfort, they are of course free to continue using it. Who am I to stop anyone!


    That first line was meant to be more jokey than it seems! =)

    • CommentAuthorRegenbogen
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2010 edited

    Oh yeah. Doing a search for "jokey" in google videos or youtube and watching the very first result clearly shows your meaning in the context of mathoverflow.

    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2010

    @Regenbogen: while at some level I appreciate your concern over correct (decorous?) usage of language and the benefits to mathematics, I think that in the present context it surely isn't worth bothering about too much? (And I write as someone who, outside this kind of forum, is extremely fidgety and pedantic over language, even if not always correctly..)

    Aside: when it comes to language use, I would much rather that people stopped using "alternate" as a synonym for "alternative", but that battle is I think lost (and History to the defeated may say Alas but cannot help nor pardon). Don't even get me started on "given free reign" [sic] ...


    I'd like to justify "discussiony" on the basis of artistic license. It conveys its meaning quite efficiently and to me this is much more important than whether it sounds right in a strict sense. Remember what Hilbert said about mathematicians and poets!


    As a certified English pedant, I hereby endorse "discussion-y". If anyone objects further then I shall embark on a campaign to Englishify all posts on MO.

    "At my signal, unleash the gerunds."


    After reading cdicanio's post, I realized that "discussionish" would actually be a lot more like an actual English word. Probably too late now, though.

    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2010

    Is it just me, or does "discussionish" (while perhaps linguistically preferable) sound like Shur Sean Connery trying to pronounce a Greek word?


    Yesh, it shertainly doesh.

    • CommentAuthorcdicanio
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2010
    Linguists are not language "police" by any means. In fact, most linguists disagree with linguistic prescriptivism (the idea that institutions determine language standards explicitly, rather than society/individuals determining them subconsciously). I was simply stating why people find the word to be ungrammatical (in that it violates a condition that most people know subconsciously). If people want to use the word "discussion-y", then they are obviously free to do so.

    As per the linguistics-mathematics link, there are many linguists I know who studied math and many mathematicians who studied linguistics. I also happen to be married to a mathematician (another link).

    One famous example is Hermann Grassman, who you may know as an algebraist, but I know as a famous indo-europeanist/historical linguist.

    It is not surprising to me that both fields find they are interested in each other. Each is concerned with figuring out how rues in abstract systems work.
    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2010 edited

    The word "Noetherian" can only be pronounced without excessive strain if you pronounce the "Noether" part incorrectly. I will worry about "discussion-y" after we fix that mess.


    Huh? A back rounded vowel is "excessive strain"?

    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2010 edited

    No, but following it by "ian" rather than "ish", like in German, requires one to pronounce it incorrectly.

    Either you have to pronounce the name with the emphasis on the wrong syllable (read: second), or you have to change the way that you say the word entirely! Try this when you get home:


    Noethersch (German) (Corrected!)

    Noetherian (English)

    Note how the emphasis changes! This would be like pronouncing your last name "Wib-sturrr".

    • CommentAuthorMariano
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2010 edited

    Now it is projectify. We are all doomed.

    (actually it's noethersch in German, not noetherish)

    (My point still stands though. Thanks for the correction!)

    • CommentAuthorKevin Lin
    • CommentTimeApr 1st 2010

    (Incidentally, what's the correct German way to pronounce Noether? I guess the oe part should be pronounced like ö, and not like "oh", as it is commonly pronounced by English speakers?)


    (Yes, oe is just ö for people who don't have umlauts on their keyboards, I think.)

    (@Kevin: yes, we pronounce "Noether" like "Nöter". @fpqc: not in this case. Her name really was Emmy Noether)

    (Interesting, although I think we should stop typing in parentheses.)