Sometimes when I write an answer on ELL, I use symbols like * and ? to indicate that something is ungrammatical or questionable. But the first time I did this, some users objected! They said that these symbols were unclear because they hadn't been defined anywhere.

So, I started including footnotes in my answers explaining what the symbols meant. They make my answers a little bit longer, but they make sure new users will be able to understand them. (See the bottom of this question for an example.)

I was thinking we could do something similar here on JLSE. I noticed today that one of istrasci's answers used the , ?, and symbols. Now, these are clearly defined in jkerian's meta post, but my guess is that most new users won't have seen that post. (In fact, I think most new users arriving via Google aren't even aware that a "meta site" exists!)

So we could solve this problem by adding little footnotes when we use symbols. That way, we don't have to worry about whether people understand * and ?, or whether they understand △.

Alternatively, we could include links to our FAQ meta post, although I'm not sure how this would be formatted.

  ○  correct
  △ sometimes correct
  ? questionable
  ×  incorrect


For ○ and ×, it's fairly obvious which is good and which is bad if the surrounding text is talking about contrasting use of a particular construction. "Questionable" is likewise fairly obvious. The core information needs to be in the surrounding text, however... a pile of sentences with obscure markup is a crappy answer and should be fixed regardless.

I think the only symbol that needs explanation is △. It's particularly tricky because it means different things depending on exactly what you're talking about. Sometimes it means "used in some regions", usually it seems to mean "acceptable in spoken Japanese, but not in the written language". So perhaps encouraging people to explain their uses of △ in the surrounding text might be a good place to start.

  • 1
    It can be confusing when all the sentences you include are right or wrong, because then × and especially ○ would probably just looked like a bullet point to anyone who isn't familiar with it. – Darius Jahandarie Mar 4 '14 at 17:18
  • (It's too bad we can't color code the circles green and the Xs red.) – Darius Jahandarie Mar 4 '14 at 17:18
  • 1
    In some non-language classes, some teachers use a ○ to denote a wrong answer and × to mark off a correct answer. I remember this causing confusion for a few people early on this site. – Troyen Mar 5 '14 at 8:46
  • I had someone at work do that on a chart showing how we should prioritize topics for lesson planning (e.g. x = need to do this, o = irrelevant). I was with him when he did it, so I knew the intent behind it, but it still threw me off every time I had to revisit that chart... – Kaji Mar 20 '14 at 12:43

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