# Explicit vs Specific

Recently I asked on the personal productivity Stack Exchange

Is there specifically a reason why there isn't an ADHD tag?

The context here, being that people with ADHD have issues with productivity, and that the ADHD tag didn't exist on the site. Searching the meta didn't show any reasons for this. I thought it might be possible that dealing with ADHD might not be on topic on the site.

Then afterwards I was considering whether explicit would have been a more appropriate word to use here.

Explicit (when not being used to denote adult content) is usually used as a contrast to implicit, making it clear that the thing was said out loud or put in writing.

eg.

I gave you explicit instructions not to engage.

The manual explicitly states not to turn the computer off at this stage.

Merriam-Webster gives this definition:

very clear and complete : leaving no doubt about the meaning

openly shown

Dictionary.reference gives a better definition:

fully and clearly expressed or demonstrated; leaving nothing merely implied; unequivocal:

Specific on the other hand, tends to denote detailing, or to distingush one item from another.

eg.

She told me to specifically press the red button, then the green button.

The boss told us that he wanted us specifically to work on the project. (Implying that he didn't want other teams working on the project).

Which word would have been more appropriate for my question, and what's the difference?

• ADHD tag? lol. Anyways, what's the context? I'd like to know what you needed that tag for, please. – Blubberguy22 Jul 13 '15 at 21:20
• @Blubberguy22 Question edited. – dwjohnston Jul 13 '15 at 21:23
• Can you link to the original meta question for context, please? – Blubberguy22 Jul 13 '15 at 21:30
• I'd have asked. "Is there any particular reason why there isn't an ADHD tag?" It's a more open and less confrontational phrasing than the light demanding connotation ("Show me exactly why there isn't an ADHD tag!") either of your choices have. – Ben W. Jul 13 '15 at 22:25
• @Blubberguy22 The tag isn't for this EL&U... – jimm101 Mar 11 '16 at 12:21

To put this as concisely as possible:

Explicit means 'clear.'

Specific means 'narrowed down' or 'unique.'

A better way to word this would be

 Is there A SPECIFIC reason... ?


One cannot technically 'be' or 'say' specifically - unlike explicitly, it isn't a very good adverb. Instead, one is a specific (something).

From the OED:

Of declarations, indications, utterances: Distinctly expressing all that is meant; leaving nothing merely implied or suggested; express.

Having a special determining quality.

Explicit is meant to define something as not having characteristics that are open to interpretation while specific does not. It seems that explicit is a type of specific (for a lack of a better way of saying it).

• There could be an explicit reason that is general and not specific, like "We don't want an ADHD tag." However, a specific reason would implicitly be explicit. – Ben W. Jul 13 '15 at 22:26
• What's the reason? I don't see it in "We don't want an ADHD tag." But you may be correct. – Blubberguy22 Jul 14 '15 at 13:15
• Q: Why isn't there an ADHD tag? A: Because we don't want one. – Ben W. Jul 15 '15 at 22:00
• @BenW. The reason seems not to be explicit. It doesn't leave "nothing ... implied or suggested." They "don't want" implies that there is something against the tag, but doesn't directly state it (want can be vague without details). – Blubberguy22 Jul 16 '15 at 13:57

Others have made explicit the difference between that word and specific, I shall try to show that either would be acceptable to use.

If I say "Is there a specific reason that I am not allowed to take a piss here?" I am asking that general protests against my behavior be narrowed down to protests against only my piss-taking. I might ask this if, for example, I felt that some might not like me taking a piss in a given spot simply because of who I am or how they personally feel about piss-taking; I am fundamentally looking for clarity in their argument via reductionism.

If, on the other hand, I ask "Is there an explicit reason that I am not allowed to take a piss here?" some may be bewildered, because it is not idiomatic as the prior formulation is, but it is perfectly understandable. I am asking for someone to be clear about protests against my piss-taking in this place; I want to be shown the exact (specific, even) rule, in writing or spoken word, that says I can't or shouldn't take a piss here. In other words, I am fundamentally looking for clarity in their argument by reducing the problem to the fundamental existence or nonexistence of a rule to support their desires. It is a reductionist desire by other means.

There are times when it would not be acceptable to substitute one word for the other, however; they are not interchangeable. "I need that specific hat" cannot be replaced with "I need that explicit hat" - your reader goes from imagining a very particular speaker to imagining a rather crass one; the derby becomes a trucker hat with a middle finger emblazoned on its bill.