I was under the impression that I know what "unilateral" means, but earlier today I received some criticism for misunderstanding the meaning of the word. Not only that, when clarified, I became even more confused.
Some relevant quotes.
uni·lat·er·al adjective \ˌyü-ni-ˈla-tə-rəl, -ˈla-trəl\
: involving only one group or country
a : done or undertaken by one person or party
b : of, relating to, or affecting one side of a subject : one-sided
c : constituting or relating to a contract or engagement by which an express obligation to do or forbear is imposed on only one party
I was specifically referred to the second definition which appears here:
unilateral [yoo-nuh-lat-er-uh l] adjective
- relating to, occurring on, or involving one side only: unilateral development; a unilateral approach.
- undertaken or done by or on behalf of one side, party, or faction only; not mutual: a unilateral decision; unilateral disarmament.
- having only one side or surface; without a reverse side or inside, as a Möbius strip.
- pertaining to a contract that can be formed only when the party to whom an offer is made renders the performance for which the offeror bargains.
- pertaining to a contract in which obligation rests on only one party, as a binding promise to make a gift.
What seems to be odd is that every closure/deletion which is not part of a closure/deletion cycle is by definition unilateral. There was one faction that decided to delete, there were no opposing votes. Unilateral action.
So the natural thing, I guessed, was to conclude that a "unilateral moderator action" is an action taken by a moderator without pre-existing community support (namely, the moderator was the first to vote without previous open/close cycles etc.) which makes this an action not only one-sided, but also separates the "sides" of the moderators and the users from one another.
If any action taken by a moderator is "unilateral", however, then we should stop using this word. It carries negative meanings and puts the moderators in an uncomfortable place just for exercising their powers. If any vote by a moderator is unilateral, why not say "a binding vote" or "a moderator vote" instead? If unilateral only means the action of a moderator when done single-handedly without any discussion or pre-existing support, then please try to adhere to this usage.
Some uses of the word "unilateral" on meta:
- Unilateral closure by moderator
- The unilateral removal of comments by Jeff Atwood
- Should we allow moderators to unilaterally close questions?
- Deletion votes retroactively become unilateral when a user becomes a moderator
- Requests for Reopen & Undeletion Votes, etc. (including the discussion in the comments that incited this very post)
- Questions from Dr. Terry Allen
And probably many other uses can be found through additional search.
Can we make an agreed decision on what does a "unilateral" vote mean?
Surely on a mathematical site we can all agree to a terminology which doesn't coincide with English, but it seemed that I wasn't the only one confused by this usage of the word "unilateral" which is being thrown more and more these days on the meta site. However, I would prefer that the term will be less confusing (since meta is not composed of mathematical arguments, it's less likely that the reader is aware to specialized meanings of a word).
Side remark: this is not the first time lingual requests have been made. Retire localized meta.MSE acronyms including PSQ and its variants requested that we minimize the use of PSQ and other localize acronyms, so the discussion will allow more people to read them without too much effort. This thread is along the same lines.