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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeMay 27th 2010

    It was originally a spurious remark and I apologise for discombobulating those more interested in mathematics than linguistics (and my contrafibulations to those involved for getting the discussion back on track), but the distinction drawn between the (ugly and modern[1]) word “disambiguation” and the (elegant and established) word “clarification” made me ponder a little.

    My gut feeling is that “disambiguate” is a negative word whereas “clarify” is a positive one, and that we should prefer the positive one to the negative one.

    This is based on the question “Why would someone look at the page basis in its current state?” (to take the example discussed in the thread that sparked this train of thought). I can think of a few cases:

    1. They followed a link there from another page.
    2. They are writing (editing) a page and wanted to make sure that they linked to the correct page.
    3. They found it via a search.
    Case 1
    This shouldn’t happen; or (as it inevitably will), if it happens once then the original page should be corrected to point to the correct notion of “basis”. So the page basis should have a big box at the top saying “If you came here from another nLab page, please choose the appropriate page and change the link on the original page.”.
    Case 2
    This might happen quite a lot, or might not, depending on how people find out what the correct page to link to is. Where it might happen is if someone doesn’t know that there are several different notions of “basis” out there, so they link to “basis”, then go there and find their mistake. In that case, they are effectively in Case 1 except with a higher level of responsibility to go back and alter the link on the original page.
    Case 3
    Given that the other pages with the word “basis” will come up in the same search, this shouldn’t happen. Or, rather, if someone sees all the different pages with the word “basis” in them and still clicks on this one, then that person probably is better off looking at Wikipedia than the nLab.

    So a disambiguation page, such as basis currently is, is primarily for the benefit of authors, not readers.

    A clarification page, on the other hand, would have the same list at the start (as there’s no need to remove the benefit to authors), but would go further. It would point out the links between the concept in the different topics. It might explain that the notion of a basis of a free module is a generalisation of that of a vector space, and that the connection between those an a “basis of a topology” is the idea that the whole can be generated from the smaller, but that “basis of a topology” is closer to “span” than “basis” as it doesn’t contain the notion of linear independence. And so on.

    The different between “disambiguation” and “clarification” is linguistic, and probably many will disagree with the splitting that I see between them, but my point is less about exactly which word is used or exactly where the split should be and more about the thinking behind pages such as basis. I see a danger in the thought “Wikipedia has ’disambiguation’ pages so so must we.” and would rather take a moment to think “What sort of ’disambiguation’ page would actually be useful in the nLab.”. Perhaps “danger” is too strong a word. I should say rather that here is an opportunity to think a little more carefully about what would be most useful to the nLab and to the people actually doing research there.

    [1] I’m British. 1827 is modern.

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorEric
    • CommentTimeMay 27th 2010
    • (edited May 27th 2010)

    I’m for anything to help with your domestic tranquility :)

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeMay 27th 2010

    A clarification page, on the other hand, would have the same list at the start (as there’s no need to remove the benefit to authors), but would go further.

    All right, next time I look at basis I hope to see your edits there!

    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorTim_van_Beek
    • CommentTimeMay 27th 2010
    • (edited May 27th 2010)

    Case study: To find existing pages the search keywords need to be rather general (DF-space finds nothing, but “DF” does). On “DF space” there is a reference to “fundamental sequence”. Let’s assume that were “fundamental basis”. Now I would search for “basis”. The search finds several links that I cannot put into context, like “basis theorem” and “crystal basis”. Next I would go to “basis” to find out which one of those may be the one I am looking for -> Now it would be nice if that one did not only list all the keywords, but had one sentence explaining what it is about.

    And if I got your point that is what you are after, correct?

    P.S.: First rule in management: “Think positive!”

    Corollary: There are no problems, only opportunities.

    Second rule in manamgement: “Power talk!”


    1.1 Yoda (Star Wars Episode 5): “do not try, there is no trying. Do it or do it not”.

    1.2 Andrew: “We will improve the nLab by using ’clarification’ instead of ’disambiguation’ and filling the listed buzzwords with their spirit on the clarification page”.

    Disclaimer: I know the British think that the Germans do not have any sense of humor, I hope I am not a striking example.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorMike Shulman
    • CommentTimeMay 27th 2010

    I think “disambiguation” is a perfectly pretty word, and I have no objection to modern words, especially when they are more precise than older ones. (-: And I don’t really know what is meant by “negative” versus “positive.” However, if we want to have a page that does more clarification than mere disambiguation, that’s great!

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2010

    “negative” versus “positive.”

    well, the prefix on disambiguation gives it away… :)

    …not that people are used to ambiguation pages (although I think Stanisław Lem, were he alive and working today, would like the idea)

    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2010

    I agree with Mike. Disambiguation is more precise than clarification. You’re not clarifying the word; you’re removing the ambiguity caused by its different meanings.

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2010

    I tend to agree that disambiguate is the term I prefer. To me clarify means to resolve to a single end, whereas disambiguate allows to resolve to several ends, which is the intended meaning here.

    I’d like to hear some opinions from non-native English speakers, because disambiguate is a complicated word (although with the predominance of wikipedia it may be more common then otherwise)

    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorTobyBartels
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2010

    I think that “disambiguation” better fits what Wikipedia’s pages do.

    But I would also like to see more “clarification” (if that is the right word) pages also.

    As Urs hints, this is more work. But at least we can be sure that it is what we want.

    • CommentRowNumber10.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2010

    As Urs hints, this is more work.

    It’s not more work than typing this long thread here…

    • CommentRowNumber11.
    • CommentAuthorTobyBartels
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2010

    Here is me trying to make a clarification page instead of a disambiguation page on Wikipedia:

    They don’t allow that kind of thing anymore; it violates house style.

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