I totally agree with Jeff that
- The quality of the questions and answers is paramount.
- Joke questions pose a real danger, because (a) everyone likes them, and (b) they can easily end up trivialising the site.
However, I can't help but think the policy in the FAQ at time of writing is overly restrictive:
- Native speaker or otherwise, someone who doesn't understand a joke ipso facto doesn't know whether "the crux of the joke is some particularly subtle aspect of English".
- While I've witnessed the potential for harm on other SO sites, I don't feel we have a joke-infestation problem here, and for a good reason: the in-depth, academic analysis that we provide in our answers kills all known jokes dead. (I only remember ever seeing one joke-related question receive inflated moderation - hardly an epidemic.)
- Jokes often raise interesting questions about language. Several people have said "well, you can say that about anything in English", but that's not true. Sure, any type of question can end up with an enlightening answer - but for many classes of question ("Proofread this for me"; "Explain this word that I could easily have found in a dictionary"; "What's your favourite word?") that's the exception rather than the rule. I haven't found this to be the case with "Please explain this joke".
I realise Jeff would probably dispute this last point, but, taking the question that seems to have sparked this debate as a starting point:
- The joke hinges on an English idiom (to give sth up for Lent), that while very common in some circles, I suspect even many native speakers will not know.
- The key word in that phrase (Lent) does not appear in the joke.
- Even if you happen to figure out (perhaps from the combination of Catholic and lint) that Lent is the key word, looking it up in the dictionary (at least, the first two that I tried) does not give you the phrase.
This is why I was happy to spend 10-20 minutes yesterday morning checking my facts and writing up an answer. (What I would criticise about this question is the title. If it were, say, Does the phrase "picking my bellybutton" have a double meaning? then I suspect the question would have gone entirely unnoticed.)
So... how to resolve the contradiction? Or rather, how to put in the FAQ "Don't ask questions about jokes unless they're good questions" in a way that questioners might be able to comply with - without forbidding the word joke on the site entirely?
I propose something along the lines of the following as a policy (I'm sure someone here has the skills to reword it to better fit the FAQ):
Do not ask for explanations of jokes that would be understood by any native speaker. Not sure? Ask a native speaker. If they understand - don't ask the question here (but you already have the answer). Otherwise, go ahead (but be warned that the question may be closed as off-topic if the joke turns out not to be language-based.)
Of course, some with good questions may not have easy access to native speakers - but for that we have chat, where there are usually at least a few native speakers, and some exceptionally competent pineapples.