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I just came across the question "Does "another" mean "another" in mathematics?". This question is asking about how the word "another" is used in mathematical writing.

Someone posted a comment saying that the question would be a better fit for the English Language & Usage site. I was surprised by this comment, since to me, the Mathematics site is clearly the best place to post questions that are specific to mathematical terminology.

I looked at this site's What topics can I ask about here? page, and I was a little surprised to see that it doesn't mention mathematical language, either.

I acknowledge that a question about mathematical writing is not, strictly speaking, a "mathematical question". But almost everyone who studies mathematics uses language to communicate about it; and if I have a question about mathematical writing in English, then a mathematics expert is more likely to know the answer than an English writing expert.

Are questions about mathematical language, writing, and terminology on topic for this site? Is this site perhaps a better place for these questions than the English Language & Usage site? Should we even edit the "What topics can I ask about here?" page to explicitly state that these questions are on topic?

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  • Questions about mathematical terminology are on-topic on MSE. Indeed, there is a tag which has been used to tag over 5000 questions. For reference, the tag-wiki reads as follows:

    Questions on the usage and meaning of words in mathematics, the names for mathematical entities, and other such questions.

    Terminology is a discipline that studies, among other things, the development of terms and their interrelationships. This tag is intended to be used for questions on the usage and meaning of words in mathematics, the names for mathematical entities, and other such questions.

  • There is some overlap between questions that are appropriate for MSE and the English Language & Usage SE. It is possible that a question asked here might be more appropriate there, and vice versa. However, I think that question you bring up here is a better fit for MSE.

  • That being said, I don't think that the question is a very good question. I don't think that there is an objective "right" answer. The question depends on the opinion of the person asking the question. The question also asks about whether or not this usage is "technically correct" or "good from an expository point of view". This is a matter of style, which differs from person to person (or publisher to publisher). As such, I voted to close the question as "Primarily Opinion Based".

    Moreover, as per the conversation below, I don't think that the question is about mathematics as outlined in the help center. The usage described is informal, non-technical, and not really in the context of a mathematical discussion. At best, this is a more general question about English language usage. The best answer possible is "Go ask the person who used the phrase," which makes the question inappropriate for MSE.

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree that this question should be closed as "primarily opinion based". Surely the answer is (essentially) what you wrote in your comment - the sentence is ambiguous and should be rewritten. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Sep 19 '18 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ The question, as I read it, is "what is the meaning of another in mathematics?" Since that depends on the speaker (some might use it to unambiguously mean that $A$ is distinct from $B$, while others might not), the meaning of the word "another" in mathematics is a matter of opinion. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Sep 19 '18 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly. Hence, the answer to the question should be: "The meaning is a matter of opinion, and hence is ambiguous. So avoid it." (I mean, simply closing the question is unhelpful...) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Sep 19 '18 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 If that is the answer, then this isn't a question about mathematics, because that would be exactly the right answer in any context. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Sep 19 '18 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree that if that is the answer then its not about mathematics. The fact that the answer coincides with common usage does not mean that the question is not about maths (it is clearly "on the usage and meaning of words in mathematics, the names for mathematical entities, and other such questions".) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Sep 19 '18 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ But the usage in question is not a mathematical usage---it is a usage in informal language. It is a non-technical phrase that is used in informal conversation, which has no unique, specific meaning in mathematics, and which can change meaning from one speaker to another. The usage itself is non-mathematical, so the question itself is not about mathematics. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Sep 19 '18 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Xander Your argument seems problematic. The point is that an outsider would not be able to know a priori whether the term is used just as in natural language or in a technical sense. If it had happened that the word (such as "or") is used in a technical manner, asking someone who is not a mathematician would not lead to the right answer other than by accident. In this one instance it just so happens that the word does not have a separate mathematical way of being used. But, again, assessing that can essentially only be done from within the community. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Sep 19 '18 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ (This is subtler than one might expect. Of course hyperfinite subfactor is jargon, and an outsider would readily recognize that. But when we say that two things are equal we mean something different than when the word is used in a nontechnical context. $A$ or $B$ means something different than in a nontechnical context. Group, implies, almost surely and so on. There are many common phrases and words that we use in a technical manner. How would one know other than by asking or from years of training?) $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Sep 19 '18 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ @AndrésE.Caicedo Your comment implies that any informal usage which might be confused for a technical term should be on topic. Should I ask what is meant by "roughly" in the sentence "$x$ is roughly equal to $y$"? or what is meant by "very large" in the sentence "when $M$ is very large?" The correct answer to any of these questions is "Ask the person who used the phrase." If it turns out that the meaning is technical, then it is a reasonable question for MSE. Otherwise, it is a poor question, showing a lack of very simple research. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Sep 19 '18 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ In short, I think it does a disservice to the repository nature of MSE to have questions to which the answer is "That is a non-technical use. It is just English." $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Sep 19 '18 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ Well, @Xander, I am sorry we disagree. I will say that based on years of experience and much reading, it is quite naive to think that "very simple research" is all that is needed to answer questions of this kind. Anyway, thanks for considering what I said, and try to keep these comments on mind, even if you don't change your opinion. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Sep 19 '18 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ @AndrésE.Caicedo Just to be clear, simply asking the speaker for clarification is the "very simple research" to which I refer. If someone uses a phrase that you don't understand, the very first step you should take is to ask them what they meant. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Sep 19 '18 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson I have a question, how you have embedded the tag "terminology" in the text? $\endgroup$ – tarit goswami Sep 21 '18 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ @taritgoswami With the "magic link" [tag:tagname]. In this case, [tag:terminology] renders as terminology. Note that it provides a link in a comment, but is sexier in the body of a question or answer. Also note that you can hit the "edit" link above to see the source of the answer. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Sep 21 '18 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson: "Just to be clear, simply asking the speaker for clarification is the 'very simple research' to which I refer." But surely this is not always possible, because (e.g.) the "speaker" is an author of a text. The original question is not a very well-worded question, perhaps, but I also disagree that it should be closed (it's a point for well-reasoned disagreement, so the vote is fine). It should perhaps have asked what the standard way is for expressing the notion that we have a mapping from one object to a second object that may (or may not) be equivalent to the first object. $\endgroup$ – Brian Tung Sep 24 '18 at 20:00

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