Suppose I am writing a mathematics paper and discover some object and call it a "thingy"; not knowing of its existence outside of my discovery of it.

Later while doing some unrelated research I come across a paper that uses my "thingy" and it turns out to be well known object called a "doodad".

Should I cite the paper that gave me the vocabulary to describe a well known object if it only gave me its name?

This is my first real paper so I want to get my citations right.

  • 1
    You should cite the paper if it is relevant enough to be included in your overview of related prior work, or if you make use of its results in any way. See also this answer to another question about citations.
    – user37208
    Aug 10, 2016 at 20:21
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    Did you try googling the word, along with words and phrases associated with the specific topic, in google-books and google-scholar? After a bit of searching (including Mathematical Reviews, and if necessary, visiting a university library and asking for permission if you are not associated with a university), if you can't determine whether the word is "well known" or the origin of the word, I would at this point write the author(s) of the paper you found telling them what (and what not) have have uncovered about the word and ask for their advice (or who they advise you to contact). Aug 10, 2016 at 20:48
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    For terminology, it would make sense to cite whatever paper coined the term, not the paper where you first learned of its name.
    – Jim Conant
    Aug 11, 2016 at 4:31

1 Answer 1


It is not wrong to cite the paper which clarified the term. In fact you must if you were to imply or use the definition that the paper provides.

A technical term may have multiple definitions in which some may even redefine it in different fields and aspects. It would be better to cite the one that connects to the most appropriate definition that connects to your use of the term.

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