We have had some translation requests and Nathaniel wrote a nice guide for asking them. One of the key points is that questions should show effort to solve the problem before coming here. But how much effort is enough? How little effort is a sufficient reason to close?

For example, consider such demonstrations of effort:

  • Google translate gives <insert gibberish>.
  • I tried to translate it myself and got <insert gibberish>.
  • I tried to translate it myself and got <insert attempt>. Here is why I think this may be wrong: …
  • This is what I want to say in Latin: <insert detailed description>.
  • This is what I want to say in Latin: <insert description>. I looked up some words from an online dictionary and these Latin words seem to be most appropriate: <insert words>.
  • Just translate these words from English to Latin for me.
  • I want to give my company/project/dog a Latin name. I came up with this but I'm unsure if it's Latin: <insert catchphrase>.

What demonstrations of effort are clearly insufficient, and what are clearly sufficient? There is inevitably a gray area in between, but it would be nice to give clear guidelines to new users asking such questions.

Most questions related to this meta question can be found under the tag . This tag seems quite popular among newcomers as one might expect.

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    This is an important issue. What's also important: what should we do when the criteria are not met? Comment? Close? Or should we have two tiers of criteria: one for saying "this question is good", and another, lower one for saying "we won't close this question at the moment"?
    – Cerberus Mod
    Commented Jun 4, 2016 at 23:20
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    @Cerberus, yes, we need to decide how to react to different amounts of effort. It might help to create a custom reason to close which politely tells what is wrong and emphasizes that it can be reopened if improved. But we need to be able to point to some specific criteria to make it clear what is needed. I agree, there are many tiers of criteria. Criteria for closing are most important to me, as they steer the content of the site.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 8:33

2 Answers 2


Here my opinion in the form of an incomplete answer. I would like to see more other views of the matter.

A good translation request should

  1. explain what the asker wants to express in Latin (translating short phrases without context is often impossible),
  2. give a list of appropriate words found from a dictionary (start with an English word, get a list of translations, look up a list of English translations of each one, then pick the most suitable ones),
  3. give an attempted translation with own assessment of its validity, and
  4. ask a question.

I don't mind if part 3 is missing if the first two things are well done. Judging by my experience of translating things to Latin upon request, part 1 is extremely important. It is too harsh to require all these points, but demanding the first two would not make a bad policy. It might be good to give a list of explicit requirements or give some model questions to help.

This is what a good translation request might look like, in my opinion:

I have made a painting of a dog who cannot sleep because the cat is so loud. The curator of an art exhibition asked me to give my painting a Latin name. The title in English would be something like "The dog who cannot sleep because of the cat's noises". The cat is not meowing, but banging kettles together. I looked up some words from an online dictionary, and some were easy: dog (canis), who (quis), can (posse), not (non), sleep (dormire), because (quia), cat (feles). There were several words for noise, and I think strepitus is best here. Or would turba or tumultus be better? I haven't studied any Latin. How can I combine these words into a sentence? Can you please explain what you did so I might do the same in future myself, especially if the structure is the same?

(I might offer Canis qui felis strepitus causa quiescere non potest with some explanations, but that is irrelevant.)

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    Part of what makes this tricky is that we don't have enough non-mods to close questions on their own, and I like to have a pretty bright line for moderator closures. I certainly agree that #1 is absolutely necessary. I'm okay with quickly closing if it's not there. I'm more ambivalent about #2 and #3 – we could close immediately and be prepared to quickly reopen after editing, but that's potentially unfriendly. We could comment for #2 and #3, but then answers will start to come in. Neither is really ideal, but that of course is the challenge. Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 16:29
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    A question containing 2 can be usually asked by itself as "what's the difference between these words". Even with minimal input (search for an English word in an En → La dictionary and list all hits), these questions do somehow generate interesting content, probably because comparing synonyms and their nuances is usually not done anywhere, at least not in dictionaries.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 11:52

I believe Joonas Ilmavirta’s answer covers the most important aspects of your question, but would like to add one pointer: We should not underestimate the mystery (if you will) surrounding the study of Classics, Latin and Ancient Greek. To some, this in and of itself will make them hesitant in even making suggestions, afraid they could offend someone by being perceived as stupid. (I for one would never (I hope) think so, but I can understand the fear of this; I have been and still am one of those fearful ones myself.) For that reason, I would suggest that we should have the following as our main guideline:

Especially when we get a new user asking a question, our first and foremost priority should be helpfulness, courteousness and creating a welcoming atmosphere. Feedback on questions that do not follow the guidelines should include links to where these can be read and specific (courteous) instructions on how to improve the question. Despite the growth our community has seen, it is still small and in all likelihood will continue to be so, so we should always make an effort to make newcomers feel welcome and welcomed to ask even what they might perceive as silly questions.

Concerning the suggested list, a standard reply could take the following shape:

Hello [username], and welcome to our site! We welcome all levels of budding classicists, from complete beginners to seasoned veterans. Translations are difficult, but we are eager to help, teach and learn, and make you feel welcome. For us to be able to help as well as possible, please address the following in your question: What do you want to say? What is its context? Which suggestions – words or phrases – have you found that might work? How do you think it could be translated? (Any attempt is helpful, no matter how far off the mark it might be.) And what is your specific question? Thank you, and again a hearty welcome from us all.

I cannot stress how much it meant to me the way I was received by this community when I first came here 2⅔ of a year ago. I asked a question which was a possible duplicate, received guidance from amongst others Asteroides and Nathaniel is protesting, and was generally made to feel welcome. This was even more true when I asked my first question in meta, greeted very heartily by Joonas Ilmavirta. I hope we will be able to maintain that communal feeling even as we grow.

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    I fully agree that we should maintain our friendly atmosphere! It'd be unreasonable to expect new users to be familiar with all the explicit and implicit rules. I think we've been doing much better than the bulk of SE, but it's good to be reminded if elitism towards newcomers ever raises its head.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 19:50
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    We've been thinking that it might be useful to have a meta post with comment templates. Would you find that useful? What you wrote could well be there, or perhaps pruned versions. (Did you check that you're within the comment character limit?)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 19:52
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    That sounds very useful! I did not check the length of it; it currently is 642 characters, so it would need some pruning. I would be more than willing to assist in writing out such templates. ••• With regards to Latin SE as compared to other SEs, no doubt this is amongst the most friendly of all the SE sites. My first endeavour at Music SE was very much the template for how to scare new users away. That is part of the reason I wrote the above: You guys were great examples, and it is important that people are aware of how good it is, so we can keep it that way.
    – Canned Man
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 22:48

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