First, a definition, from Wikipedia:

During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to "read between the lines" and to use the tiniest tidbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, the choice of capital or small initial letters in phrases such as "First Secretary", the arrangement of articles on the pages of the party newspaper Pravda and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics.

We get a lot of questions like this - trying to suss out what a professor is thinking based on a one-line email, or what being "With Editor" at a journal means after 7 days.

I've often thought it would be useful to be able to categorize these to help find duplicates, or mark them in the way many sites mark "Homework" questions, but it also feels a little snarky.

So I thought I'd pose the concept as a discussion.

  • 4
    Are there even any good questions that could be tagged with this? – Wrzlprmft Nov 17 '17 at 9:31

We do get a lot of questions like this, but I would not be in favor of this as a tag concept.

This sounds like a meta tag - it's about the category of question, more than it is about the key topics in the question. Meta tags are discouraged on SE sites, and I think for good reason.

Also: Tags are most useful when it's easy to find them by name and figure out what they're for. We want to make it easy for new users to find the right tags to use on their posts, and for slightly more experienced users to know how to re-tag posts. But nobody comes here thinking, "I'm going to ask a question about reading between the lines"; they think, "I'm going to ask a question about the status message in a journal submission system". This tag seems a little too subtle to be really usable (except for the minority of very experienced users).


Right. But choose a better name. The word has a direct meaning which you want to avoid (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kremlinology), apart from Kremlin in the Soviet times and Kremlin today being two different pairs of shoes. Moreover, a politically neutral tag name would be best. (Humor: Saddamology for wrong, potentially blind guesses. After all, we should be diverse in our choices.) More seriously, I would suggest a term along the line of "hidden-meaning", "unclear-meaning", "low-information", etc.

Moreover, there is a difference between trying to suss out what a professor is thinking based on a one-line email (which is unknown in general), and what does "With Editor" at a journal means after 7 days (which means exactly what it says and could be clarified in certain cases by reading the online help).

  • The word has entered wider usage. – Fomite Nov 18 '17 at 2:48
  • I'd choose something dated but in common usage over something made up ;) – Fomite Nov 18 '17 at 2:51
  • I also disagree with the second bit, since the question I had in mind was literally "What does this professor mean by saying “I do not have time to respond” – Fomite Nov 18 '17 at 2:56
  • Even without that, I think your objection is splitting hairs, and both are trying to extract unknowable intent from a small amount of information. One of the reasons I object to "hidden-meaning" as a potential substitute is that it implies there is a hidden meaning, and the intent of the tag is more about the process. – Fomite Nov 18 '17 at 3:02

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