Today is the second time I had an "English Language" question and visited this forum based on the result of a Google Internet search using a query such as:

"proper use of the word _______"

Both times links to your forum were at the very top of the results list and both times reading the brief summaries of the web page caused me to be confident that I would find the explanation I needed. Both times I was delighted to find the thread to which I was redirected contained enough information for me to properly use the word that was causing me grief. Unfortunately, both times the threads containing answers to my questions were denoted OFF TOPIC and the author was chastised for failing to read the preamble to this forum.

For eighteen years every question I asked my father drew a response that never included an answer, chastised me for not thinking properly, not looking in any of the right places, not asking a more inquisitive question. At an appropriate age these gyrations would have been valuable learning experiences. At five and six years old, they were cruel.

Like the bear that does not go near the tree with the teeth in the grass that mauled his leg, I will post my question on a forum with nicer folks.

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    Ironically, Joe Coletta, one of the (very inconsistent) goals of English Language & Usage is to be a go-to resource for people who are interested in finding reliable answers to questions such as "proper use of the word _______". But it's also a place for serious linguists, etymologists, and English language enthusiasts to diligently close questions that don't meet their serious linguistic, etymological, or enthusiastical standards for what should be permitted on the site. It's an ongoing source of controversy here. I'm sorry that you got caught in the middle of it, and that we weren't nicer. – Sven Yargs Feb 16 '17 at 1:15
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    If you posted links to the questions you found, we may be able to provide better insight into the bad experiences. I'm not standing up for mean people, but I've found my fair share of new members that are just downright rude to criticism, regardless of whether I'm nice or not. Not saying this was the case, but sometimes it does get frustrating when people don't read the rules and then get upset when you point them out. I do wish good experiences on all new members and i think most of us do strive to provide thy positive experience, while still helping this website benefit all. – Hank Feb 16 '17 at 3:35
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    @SvenYargs I strongly disgree with your comments here. The serious linguists and etymologists here tend to see a useful and interesting point in almost any question and are more often than not on the desperately trying to keep questions open side of things. It's an everyday occurrence on here for JL, for example, to be bemoaning the closing of a good question. It's the people who'd like to be traffic wardens who are normally overzealous question-closers. Don't blame the linguists! It ain't us!!!!! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 16 '17 at 11:34
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    wow... 11 upvotes. Who's upvoting this post? The user has been on site for less than 24 hours and pouts and moans, instead of spending time looking, reading, and learning. Sounds very much like sour grapes to me. – Mari-Lou A Feb 16 '17 at 12:01
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    I guess that last comment of mine makes me not a nice person. – Mari-Lou A Feb 16 '17 at 12:21
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    @Araucaria: I am well aware that you and the other dozen or so serious linguists and etymologists who regularly contribute answers to this site are not the problem. People in that group have the knowledge to identify interesting questions about English that lie scattered in the one-off dross. The problem is the serious enthusiasts (like me), who have insufficient grounding in the subjects of linguistics and etymology to make informed distinctions of that sort. My apologies for seeming to blame you for a problem (ill-advised closure of good questions) that I know you find very irksome. – Sven Yargs Feb 16 '17 at 17:24
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    @SvenYargs You know that I know that you are not in that group. There is no difference in my book between a serious linguistics/etymology enthusiast and a serious linguist/etymologist. Which is good for me, because I am in the former camp :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 16 '17 at 21:02
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    @Mari-LouA I think this question points somewhat to the heart of who is this site for? Is it for the "insiders" who have proven themselves and learned the secret handshake, or is it for the wide variety of internet users who are interested in English language and usage? First impressions count, and people are exceedingly unlikely to stick around and learn the nuances of a site that presents an initially hostile front. -- I agree with the principle of keeping the site focused and non-trivial, but we need to do it without being hostile to and driving off new people. – R.M. Feb 17 '17 at 16:27
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    @R.M. prove to me that someone drove away the OP. One piece of evidence. There's none. The OP found two questions closed and made his/her conclusions. So I can draw my own conclusions about the OP as well. – Mari-Lou A Feb 17 '17 at 16:31
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    @Mari-LouA The last sentence in his post "I will post my question on a forum with nicer folks" doesn't indicate that he's been driven off? -- I didn't say that people were deliberately driving off new people, I'm just saying that brusque comments don't make a welcoming environment where people are interested and willing to continue on and learn the finer details of the site. (I'm also not attempting to imply that hostile/brusque comments are anywhere near the majority.) – R.M. Feb 17 '17 at 16:48
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    @R.M. where are those unfriendly comments? I'm not saying there aren't users who might appear standoffish, heck maybe I'm one of them, I don't mean to be, but where's the evidence of these "unfriendly" comments?! It's hearsay. – Mari-Lou A Feb 17 '17 at 17:15
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    @R.M. I don't think we should be upset because some Joe Blow has gotten butt hurt (pardon the harshness). I mainly feel this way because the sole purpose of this post was the moan and gripe; not one detail of this post gave us anything beneficial. If he had posted proof and links of such behavior, we could've used it as an example of what not to do and moved on from there, possibly even explaining why some users may have acted the way they did. – Hank Feb 17 '17 at 22:15
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    I'm with @Mari-LouA. For all we know, the subject questions were one-liners asking how to use a basic word and then proceeded to argue with others and refused to edit the question; people like that do exist. My point is, I refuse to automatically assume the community was at fault unless proof is given. It's not worth the effort. – Hank Feb 17 '17 at 22:15
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    @Hank My original point was to explain why people might be upvoting this meta post. If you don't see how labeling people with (admittedly inelegantly worded) complaints as "butt hurt Joe Blows" might indicate a hostile environment to new people, I don't know what else I can say. -- Also, "It's not worth the effort" to think about how to be nicer and more welcoming? Keep in mind the bigger issue is not Joe Coletta specifically, it's the hundreds of other people coming in from Google who may have seen the same things, come to the same conclusions, and wrote off the site without saying anything. – R.M. Feb 18 '17 at 2:21
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    @R.M. - I agree with what you are saying. I'm speaking out of personal experience here as well as on other SE sites. the point is: why do users tend to be hostile and unfriendly especially with new users. A sociologist or better, a psychologist, might help us understand. Humam nature and sort of natural selection where only the stronger survive, but the problem will remain .... unsolved. – user66974 Feb 18 '17 at 17:40

Like you, I stumbled on this site by accident. My own first interactions were less than felicitous: I was chastized (rightly, as I see it now) for a sloppy answer, and never officially "on-boarded". I actually have left off using the site twice for extended periods for personal pique over other matters. In spite of difficult beginnings, I persevered, and I feel that I am immeasurably richer for having been here for a year.

Since then, I have learned to be more philosophical about the reception my questions get. My own top-voted question was once closed for off-topic, and then re-opened.

I myself may also be guilty of being over-zealous in closing answers which I did not feel were up to the standards of the site, and if I have given offense to anyone who feels I was not fair with them, I apologise. Some of us are still feeling our way around the "culture".

You should realize that this is a loose association of unruly participants from divergent backgrounds and beliefs: what holds us together is our interest in the language.

Management of the site works like a self-appointed committee, and I think I am quoting Stalin when I say that an octopus is a horse designed by a committee.

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    This is a very good answer. The crucial point is that, among people with sufficient reputation, participation in the close vote review queue is strictly by self-appointment. Reviewing questions is tedious work and it tends to attract participants who have rather inflexible standards and a sense that the site is in constant peril of being inundated by an incoming tide of garbage. People who take a less apocalyptic view of the site's circumstances need to bestir themselves and participate in the vetting process, to avoid excessive closure of questions that are worthwhile and good for the site. – Sven Yargs Feb 16 '17 at 18:25
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    @SvenYargs Yes, exactly so ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 16 '17 at 21:03
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    The point of my earlier comment isn't to argue that people whose motto might be "so many rotten questions, so few close votes" should restrain themselves from serial close-voting; it's that people who don't share that view should get more involved in reviews queue vetting—unappealing though the task may be. Whatever your views on the closeworthiness of particular review-queue questions may be, Cascabel, you seem to be a thoughtful, reasonable person and your continued participation in the reviews process is valuable to EL&U. – Sven Yargs Feb 16 '17 at 22:03
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    I think you have the quote wrong. What Stalin said was "You have been designated for elimination by the Central Committee." It doesn't sound any better in the original Russian. – deadrat Feb 17 '17 at 9:16
  • @deadrat I was playing fast and loose with a quote from Len Deighton quoting Stalin. He´s an unreliable narrator.;-) – Cascabel Feb 17 '17 at 13:05

I'm a reader and a rare asker, not an answerer, so basically I'm one of those "eternal newbie" types.

I feel the problem that you brought up is pertinent to any Stackexchange subforum, not this one exclusively.

A while back I had to leave the financial subforum for a similar reason... I naively came in with a succinct question about making an anonymous payment that stemmed solely from my social anxiety problems, and instead was treated essentially like the greatest scum of the Earth and a sponsor of terrorism, or at least a druglord-wannabe craving to launder some blood money. It happened well over a couple of years back, and I am still deeply shaken by the reception that I got there.

It always seemed to me that the main "secret sauce" of the Stackexchange forums was spurring competition with their upvote/downote system, along with badges, bounties and the inevitable "fight" for getting your answer accepted... which on the one hand results in nice and detailed answers, while on the other brings some degree of hostility, tension and dare I say, occasional herd thinking, to the table making the forums more stressful than more "traditional" forums like Wordreference.

I hope you stick around and cast your own votes on what you consider good questions, though! During my limited stay I've witnessed some very nice and insightful users on this particular subforum.

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    Upvote because you deserve it. Though I'll state for the record that I feel that once past some low threshold, say 2k, 3k, 5k rep, the whole gamification aspects feel ... toothless. I downvote, closevote, upvote, delete vote regularly, and none of it is due to a sense of competition, but a sense of containing chaos and promoting order. When I do vote emotionally, it is principally on lazy posts -- those drive me nuts, personally. – Dan Bron Feb 21 '17 at 23:41
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    Some smart, humane person once said that the way to tell a person's real character was by observing how that person treated people from whom he or she had nothing to gain by behaving politely or considerately. Many, many interactions on this site fall into precisely that category of no-strings-attached character test—and I have to say that overall people here are a lot less mean-spirited and cold-hearted than my pessimistic self might have predicted. These days, I actually come here to cheer up. – Sven Yargs Feb 22 '17 at 1:40

The two pages you found you took as representative of the site as a whole. I get that. Yours is not so much a question as it is a bug report on the English Language & Usage community, or at least those two pages. As a moderator, I am here to investigate such reports, but it’s hard without seeing the search terms and the resulting links.

I tried anyway. I googled queries matching your pattern until I found two with our site high in the search results:

The resulting questions, answers, and commentary all seemed appropriately collegiate: respectful and honest.

One question has an accepted answer, but the other is closed pending the asker showing their prior research results. This type of closure might seem unfriendly to first-time visitors. However, showing research results is a precondition for asking experts on any Stack Exchange site. It helps both the asker and the experts, and is unlikely to ever go away.


Years ago I used to participate in Usenet discussions, which routinely degenerated into "flame wars" and other silly useless stuff. And I see the good in the Stack Exchange ambition to set aside this space for a narrower and constructive purpose. It's philosophically interesting to note how badly it works, with well-meaning, intelligent, hard-working people implementing such capricious and absurd judgments with so little relation to consistency or merit. (I am thinking of the Stack Exchange in general, and not one exchange in particular.) I guess that it teaches the same lesson that many life experiences teach: we find less agreement than we expect and a greater demand for patience, kindness, and the courage to be derided for trying to communicate.

  • This answer sounds awfully like the pot telling the kettle it is black. We have no idea if the OP's experience matches your own. We have no idea what these "capricious" or "absurd" comments may have been because the OP did not cite them. – Mari-Lou A Mar 2 '17 at 9:00
  • I don't follow the pot-and-kettle analysis. You say (mysteriously) that "we" have no idea of one thing or another, but I have some idea (although of course not perfect certainty). Are you suggesting that I am laying accusations of which I could myself be accused? What accusations are those? And by the way, do you and I have the relationship to Stack Exchange? – Chaim Mar 2 '17 at 12:47
  • You yourself seem to employ capricious comments in judging people's motives. if you don't provide examples, how can a discussion be held. what's absurd for you, might make a lot of sense to me. – Mari-Lou A Mar 2 '17 at 12:49
  • Well I'm wondering how to save us from self-referential bickering. I agree that what seems absurd to me might seem sensible to you. And the only capricious comment I made about people's motives is "well-meaning." But I don't feel that exploring that will really take us to the heart of the matter. I'd invite you to email me if you'd like to discuss my beef with Stack Exchange outside these tiny boxes in which I seem to have 137 characters left and falling. Or, if you think it best, I could contrive a question to ELU Meta, although it's not specifically their issue. – Chaim Mar 2 '17 at 13:14
  • So then your accusation of capricious judgments about people's motives goes all-together undefended? Some examples of caprice would be examples like in the OP, of "off topic" questions that seem as on-topic as many other uncensored posts. On the Movies and TV stack, there's an identify-this-film tag; sometimes such a requests stands, and sometimes Jamie Farr hits that gong, arbitrarily. – Chaim Mar 2 '17 at 13:18
  • Well I disagree your assessment that SE works badly. I cannot say if what you witnessed were capricious and absurd judgments, like the OP you provide no support. None. This Internet port, contains such a myriad of personalities, people of different races, cultures, education background, languages etc. but we're all trying our best to get along, to learn something new, to share something about yourselves and our experiences. Just some are more successful than others. And we all have our cranky days because in the end we're just people. – Mari-Lou A Mar 2 '17 at 13:29
  • I’m glad we’ve got behind us your original comment about my “capricious comments in judging people's motives” through your own copious lack of examples. And we turn to my lack of examples. I’m not clear why the OP and my reference to the Movies stack are not examples. Do you want links to specific posts? At the movies stack it's the cumulative effect of seeing one question accepted and another rejected without any underlying difference that makes the point. If I can figure out how to link to deleted content I can show you a smattering of each example. Is that what you want? – Chaim Mar 2 '17 at 15:45
  • I have not figured out how to link to deleted content in general; I guess that what’s meant by the word “deleted.” Here’s one of my own posts, deleted by Napoleon Wilson after four other people voted to close it. But I don’t know how long that link will be active. – Chaim Mar 2 '17 at 16:06
  • I posted this question at the movies stack exchange [movies.stackexchange.com/questions/68147/… which was about a scene in a film in which American POW’s in Viet Nam are given a bowl of food crawling with roaches. The notice of closure remarked “While what’s on- and off-topic is not always intuitive, you can learn more about it by reading the help center.”But that link did not explain much to me. – Chaim Mar 2 '17 at 16:06
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Chaim Mar 2 '17 at 16:06
  • Unfortunately, I don't have the necessary rep to see deleted post on TV Movies. So I can't help or express an opinion either way. You wanted to know the title of this movie? It's a bit lean your description ... I know that many users on SE Movies have expressed frustration by the sheer number of identify this movie questions. You probably got caught in the crossfire. Ask them why they closed your question on meta. How you could have improved it. Look at older posts, see which ones get upvoted and answered and ask yourself "why". – Mari-Lou A Mar 2 '17 at 17:00
  • I've been chatting like a fiend. You saw? – Chaim Mar 2 '17 at 19:50

I'm sorry to hear that our community made you feel unwelcome somehow. But let me tell you, you are not alone in this. Many visitors, including myself, have had bad first impressions. But that feeling won't last.

Stick around, get involved in the daily activities of the community, and you'll soon find that there are many good things we can offer you, and you us.

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    i.e., Just wait for the Stockholm Syndrome to set in. – R.M. Feb 17 '17 at 16:25
  • @R.M. In a sense, yeah. ;) – NVZ Feb 17 '17 at 18:10
  • To everyone who commented, read, or reads my original question, – Joe Coletta Feb 20 '17 at 2:33
  • Sorry. I accidently posted my reply by hitting enter and when I attempted to edit it, I timed out. It appears that you only have five minutes to edit a comment and it took me 12 minutes. Accordingly, I will retype my response off-line since I lost my original reply and then post it. Sorry for any confusion or inconvenience I may have caused you. Sincerely, Joe – Joe Coletta Feb 20 '17 at 2:52
  • To everyone who commented, read, or reads my question above,<br/> I began reading the your comments by first reading my question and continued reading until I came upon the notation:<br/>**Migrated from english.stackexchange.com Feb 16 at 0:48. This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.**<br/>Gulp!<br/>After reading this it was clear to me that I inadvertently posted my question in the wrong sub-forum.<br/>I am going to read the replies to my question giving my error and will reply accordingly.<br/>Thanks!<br/>Joe – Joe Coletta Feb 20 '17 at 2:52
  • @JoeColetta that's okay. I see it now. I hope something changes your opinion of ELU, and makes you stay. :) – NVZ Feb 20 '17 at 2:55
  • First, I must apologize for posting my question in the wrong forum. While I did not actually ask a question, if I had, it would have been: <br/> I have always been frustrated by not knowing whether or not to use the word “so” and if I use the word “so”, its proper use. <br/> To guide me now and in the future, I would like to receive advice/suggests on the most appropriate ways to use the word “so” or to not use the word “so” in the five examples below: <br/> [Examples Omitted] <br/> The only other thing I have to say is before providing an answer to a question that was obviously – Joe Coletta Feb 20 '17 at 4:05
  • asked by someone with far less knowledge of the English language than you, imagine yourself visiting an observatory, you ask a question about the manipulation of light beams passing through the telescope lenses, and the response is something like… That’s not a relevant question here because we only use digital telescopes. Now, I did study optical telescopic methods in grad school, but your question should really be answered by optical telescopists in our sister observatory. – Joe Coletta Feb 20 '17 at 4:05
  • (No I am not that naïve. I realize the people who need to hear the message are too busy finding all sorts of shortcomings in my story.) Finally, consider what Ellen DeGeneres says at the end of her acts “Thank you for coming, I hope to see you again, and remember to be nice to each other.” – Joe Coletta Feb 20 '17 at 4:06
  • @JoeColetta the thing is, there is actually a sister site called English Language Learners for people with "far less knowledge of the English language..". This forum is not for learning the basics of the language. This is for the linguists, etymologists, and serious enthusiasts. Feel free to ask good questions here, or over there if you are still learning. – NVZ Feb 20 '17 at 4:10
  • @JoeColetta do not expect people here to be very welcoming to learners. Different sites, different rules and cultures, and that is for a good purpose. – NVZ Feb 20 '17 at 4:13
  • @JoeColetta do you think it makes sense to file a missing person case at the fire department? No! It should be done at the police department or a detective agency. Don't expect the firemen to investigate such cases. – NVZ Feb 20 '17 at 4:16
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    Joe Coletta doesn't strike me as being a non-native speaker in the meta post. As for being "nice" it was not very nice of him to say that users are being patronising, or being dismissive without actually citing the relevant examples. His words were, and I quote: ` I will post my question on a forum with nicer folks.` If he wants nicer folks then he should have no problem if he visit Yahoo answers! Or Answers.com. – Mari-Lou A Feb 21 '17 at 10:27

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