Codacy: Unpacking TLDR

Technology has fundamentally reshaped how we are able to explain things to one another. visual explanation leverages the ease in which we can now share images and visuals since our minds process them well. explorable explanation drops people into interactive environments to provide first-hand experience with interactable concepts. commoditized explanation takes advantage of repeatable, instantaneous sharing made possible by web-platform distribution mechanisms.

I’d like to add one more to this lineup: “Compressed explanation”.

tldr; When someone asks for a ‘tldr’, they are asking for a compressed explanation. When someone wants to “unpack that”, they are asking for a decompressed explanation.

A Question of Compression 🐝

What do I mean by “compression?” Rounding might be thought of as a form of compression: If I want to transform a decimal number to an integer, like rounding 1.2 down to 1, I have acknowledged that I am going to lose some information for the convenience or necessity of dealing with simpler integers. Even though some information will be lost, hopefully the meaningful information is preserved.

Explanations can move through the same sort of compressions and decompressions. The way I see it, the ‘tldr’ (“too long, didn’t read”) is a sort of compression size. Sure, some might bristle when asked to provide a tldr, but it makes sense and is completely rational:

People want to orient themselves in the landscape of pre-existing human knowledge before committing the time, energy, and attention to going down that rabbit hole.

Considering the tidal wave of information we have access to in the internet-age, it makes sense that people have asked for short summarizations so often that it has become its own acronym. Many want the massive amount of data to undergo compression first with the option to decompress it later.

And while tldrs are a form of compressed explanation, decompressions can be spotted in the wild too:

  • ELI5” for testing understanding of a concept
  • “Let’s unpack that…”
  • “Please explain in your own words…”
  • The “5 Whys1 for debugging system problems.

When a concept is explained in more detail, that concept is undergoing decompression: The smaller concepts that contribute to the larger one are brought out to develop a clearer, more precise understanding of the original concept. It’s sort of like taking a tool or machine and inspecting its internals – where the “5 whys”1 is often quite literally applied to inspecting mechanical insides.

If we made a map of explanation compression and decompression, it might look like the following:

Acronym Name Length Examples
tldr too long didn’t read sentence - paragraph 🔖 definition, abstract
nenm not enough, need more paragraph - page 📝 summary, review
fidr2 f#@! it, down the rabbit hole! source material 📓 blog, book, documentary

Notation Nomination 🐝

EDIT: See “analysis” + “synthesis”. Although, what would the adjective be? “Anal-erate”? “Synth-erate”? “Thesis-erate”?

So, when someone asks for a ‘tldr’, they are asking for a compressed explanation (fidr -> tldr). When someone wants to “unpack that”, they are asking for a decompressed explanation (tldr -> fidr). But what do we call this process? The end results are certainly “compressed explanation” or “decompressed explanation”. I don’t know of any verbs that encompass both compression and decompression, but I did find this…

“codec (noun): a device or program that compresses data to enable faster transmission and decompresses received data.”

What about turning this noun into a verb? “Codacy” - pronounced “cod” (the fish) and “-acy” (as in “literacy”):

“codacy (verb): the ability to 1. create a succinct summary which preserves the essence of a larger concept or idea (compression) and 2. to unpack and describe the constituent components of a concept or idea (decompressing).”

So, if you are coderate you are able to take an idea and either compress it or decompress it while preserving the fundamental essence of that idea. This is useful for things like content creation, where a resulting explanation needs to be a certain size for a particular audience. But it’s also a crucial skill for testing true understanding of a concept or body of work – even if just for yourself.


  • 2022-07-25: In some sense, this post hints at the first steps in visualizing a dashboard.
  • 2023-09-25: Another way to think about it: summarization :: compressed explanation; analysis :: decompressed explanation.
  1. I like to call them why chains.  2

  2. ‘fidr’ also starts moving out of sharing via linguistic communication toward sharing full experiences.