One of the close reasons for off-topic questions is the following:

Basic questions on spelling, meaning or pronunciation are off-topic as they should be answered using a dictionary. See: Policy for questions that are entirely answerable with a dictionary.

I take it that questions like the following ones would be closed, as the answer would be provided by a dictionary.

What does sun mean?

What is the difference between dawn and sunset?

I take it the closing reason is saying that questions about the meaning of a word/phrase for which a context is not given should not be asked, as the answers would end up listing all the meanings of a word/phrase, which is exactly what a dictionary does.

Since we have already , what is the purpose of ? Does the first tag say anything to future users?

I understand that means the question is about the meaning of a word/phrase in the specific context, but the context should always be required; otherwise, the question would be closed for the reason I quoted at the beginning of this question. If users find a question that is tagged (among other tags) , they are not surely induced to think that the word/phrase always has the meaning reported in the answers, and only those meanings; if I read that moon means "expose one's buttocks to someone in order to insult or amuse them," I will not surely think I cannot say the moon because otherwise people could think I am talking of the act of exposing my buttocks.

Also, since the questions on ELL are being asked from users who could not know all the meanings a word/phrase has, they cannot evidently know if the meaning of a word/phrase is specific for that context, or it is the general meaning.

Shouldn't the be merged with another tag, for example ?

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  • This is a very interesting question. I'm going to think on this for awhile. – J.R. Aug 13 '13 at 13:11

I think there's definitely a difference between these two tags, and I'll attempt to explain the contexts in which I expect them to be used.

  1. Off topic closure; answerable by a dictionary

    What does dawn mean?

    No context or research has been given. This question is entirely answerable by a dictionary. It should be closed.

  2. Meaning tag is applicable

    I don't understand the meaning of dawn. I found this definition:

    dawn (dôn) n.

    1. To begin to become light in the morning.

    I just don't understand what the dictionary is saying. Can someone clarify?

    The asker has done research and posted a definition, but they don't understand the definition of the word. They are asking for the meaning of the word, because they don't understand the meaning they have found. The meaning tag is applicable, and the question is not answerable by a dictionary because they tried a dictionary and were still confused.

  3. Meaning-in-context tag is applicable

    I'm confused. I know the word dawn refers to the time when the sun is rising. But I just found it in this sentence:

    Jim had a feeling he'd forgotten something important, but he couldn't remember what. When it was time to pay for his meal, it finally dawned on him—he'd left his wallet at home!

    It doesn't make sense here for dawn to be talking about the sun, and I couldn't find another definition that made sense in this context. What does dawn mean here?

    The asker knows what the word means, but doesn't think the definition fits in this context. They want to know what the word means in the specific context they have found it in. The meaning-in-context tag applies, and the question is perfectly valid.

So I think there are valid use cases for both tags, which are distinct from one another.

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  • In that case, the meaning of a word always depends from the context, since a word could be classified under a different word class depending from the context. At the end, it should always be meaning-in-context, even when the word is classified under a single word class, but has more than one meaning. The simpler case is when a word is classified under a single word class, and has a single meaning; in that case, a dictionary should help. – kiamlaluno Aug 13 '13 at 17:31
  • @kiamlaluno Hmm, I don't know. I've seen valid questions like the above, where the OP has clearly put effort into the question and consulted a dictionary but still doesn't understand. It makes sense to me that these are two different types of questions, but maybe others disagree. If the tags were merged, I definitely think meaning should win out; meaning-in-context is rather bulky and confusing for straight up meaning questions, I think. But I don't know, I guess we'll see if this distinction is only in my mind or not when others reply :) – WendiKidd Aug 13 '13 at 17:34
  • To be clear, I am not saying that all the questions tagged meaning should be closed. I am just saying that the meaning depends from the context, which should be always be clear from the question. Call it meaning or meaning-in-context, but the question is always about the meaning of a word/phrase given a specific context. It's the context that tells me if moon is a noun or a verb, or which word meaning is being used. – kiamlaluno Aug 13 '13 at 17:41
  • I can imagine a user using meaning and being asked for more context who answers "But I didn't use meaning-in-context." ;) (OK, it is an exaggeration.) – kiamlaluno Aug 13 '13 at 17:44

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