Given a Kanji compound word made of AB+CD, I think it's been pretty well established on the main site that questions of the form:

What does ABCD mean?

Are generally considered off-topic and constitute a pure translation question. My understanding is that quick translation questions of this form aren't allowed on the main site, but are perfectly fine on chat.

On the other hand, translation questions which have a form similar to:

I've seen ABCD in context XYZ. I've looked in dictionaries I and J, but can't seem to figure out what it means. I can find AB as meaning "reticulating splines", and the Kanji C means "foo" and D "bar", but I can't figure out what it means when it's all together.

I think are pretty established to be on-topic translation questions.

But what about translation questions with compound words made up of Kanji of the form:

I've seen ABCD in context XYZ. I can't find it in the dictionary, what does it mean?

I'm writing this question in reference to meaning of 名種設定?, but setting aside whether that particular question is too localized or not, is this form of translation question on-topic for the main site and what should be required of for Kanji compound word translation questions (I think particularly for ones which have 4+ Kanji?)

I guess the main concern is that I think the above form might tend to encourage one-line answers, but at the same time I think this one is a legitimate question and that others like it could be too, so I'm not sure how strict we should be either.

I think another option could be to allow these kinds of questions, and to edit the questions of the above form #3 into form #2 in places where it might benefit.

Some related questions on meta:

  • 3
    (1) Are you really asking about four-letter Sino-Japanese words, or are you asking about compound words? (2) At least for me, mentioning 四字熟語 was confusing. More often than not, 四字熟語 in Japanese means what Wikipedia calls “idiomatic yojijukugo,” and they are usually listed in dictionaries. 各種設定 is not one of them because it is just a compound word of 各種 and 設定 and its meaning is just the combination of the meaning of its components. Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 5:03
  • @TsuyoshiIto oops sorry, I think you're right. I've edited it to be about compound words made up of Kanji, I hope I've got the terminology right this time..
    – cypher
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 8:30
  • Thanks for the edit! Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 19:22

2 Answers 2


How do we draw the line at what makes an on or off-topic translation question?

Honestly? No... I don't think we can. I would not have voted to close the question you linked to, as it initially appeared to be a somewhat more serious issue. It only turned into a trivial translation question after the typo was realized.

We might be able to add a note about the 4-kanji pattern to the translation rule in the FAQ since it's insanely common, but I'm not sure we want to go down that road. We might then need to add a 'deconjugation' rule, and a comment about verb/noun crossovers.

  • OK, I think you might be basically right (though I think it probably was too localized, if not off-topic). I was primarily talking about the 四字熟語 pattern (even though it may have implications for longer Japanese phrases by extension), so I've edited my question to be more localized to them. We can't be too strict, but I think we need to have some standards, I guess the primary reason of this question was to "test the boundaries" and make it more clear where this kind of question sits if we get them, as I didn't think the edge case of 四字熟語 was covered by existing articles on meta.
    – cypher
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 23:28
  • In the "we don't do translations" FAQ post, it says "Our resources page shows several dictionaries that could and should be used to lookup individual words". In the case of 四字熟語 I wasn't sure how to apply that as I didn't know how to define what an individual word would be, or whether to just count them as one word, and how it fits in with "questions that display the asker understands most of the phrase, but is simply confused about how an individual word or grammatical structure fits into the sentence are encouraged".
    – cypher
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 23:30

It should be obvious, but a question should be asked in a way such that answerers do not have to guess what is being asked. Doing so makes it more likely to receive answers, and less likely to be closed.

I've seen ABCD in context XYZ. I can't find it in the dictionary, what does it mean?

When I read a question, I try to understand what the asker understands and what the asker does not understand, because I cannot explain everything from the beginning to the end. When someone asks, say, “What does 孝行息子 mean in the following sentence? [some sentence which uses 孝行息子] I cannot find 孝行息子 in a dictionary.” there are several possibilities:

  • The asker does not know that this is a compound word, or has not thought about considering its components.
  • The asker does not know what 孝行 and 息子 mean individually.
  • The asker understands what 孝行する and 息子 mean individually, but cannot combine their meaning to understand the meaning of 孝行息子.
  • The asker actually understands what 孝行息子 means, but cannot fit its meaning in the context where this word appears.

These possibilities require different answers, and this means that the question is underspecified. This is why it is important to write what the asker understands in the question.

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