A short time back there was a question called "I am worried about being off-topic." I answered, and I've been brooding over that answer ever since. I can't really imagine what can come of this, but now that you've finally dealt the coup de grace to my question about Waltzing Matilda, perhaps the proof will be in the pudding.

  1. There seems to be an idea at the back of Stack Exchange that if we just allow people to judge all contributions, the highly-regarded answers will rise to the top and their authors can be judged the best authorities. But in Statistics, large numbers are an important distinction. And the flaw in the Stack Exchange model is that the numbers are very small. A few people read most of the posts, and threads can be closed by just a few people. Stack Exchange lacks the benefit of large numbers. It seems clear to me that the author of "I am worried" was correct: tons of interesting questions are quashed for reasons that make sense to only a very few people, including neither him nor me. It would make sense to change the rules to require a greater consensus before dropping the ax.
  2. Stack Exchange routinely involves us in a kind of judgment at which people are simply not very good: judgments about the merits of other people’s reasoning and writing. A wise person hesitates before expressing the judgment that other people are confused. But the game-like nature of the Stack Exchange, the awarding of points and the (apparently) resultant competition to be the first to say something, the bickering over the propriety of saying the same thing that someone else said, etc., bring out our darker angels. Hanging judges cast about for any old reason, pointing to characteristics of almost all posts (it contains a typo, it received several answers, you didn't respond for a few hours) or offering reasons plainly counter-indicated by the rules (dialect is an offensive topic), apparently because they won't turn their backs on a gut-level reaction that a thread is no good.
  3. There is no clear statement of the intended level. For example, I understand only a very small portion of what happens on the math stack. There’s nothing wrong in setting aside a forum for sophisticated people. But I’m a math teacher, and I imagine that less than a couple percent of Americans are much more sophisticated than I am mathematically; is it really the intention that I (and so, presumably, the great majority of the people in the country) cannot post there? When I try to post to the math stack, I’m asked to clarify a given question again and again and again; or I receive incomprehensible or curt responses or no response at all.
  4. There is no business-like response to bad behavior. Businesses have to respond to customers in the spirit of endearing them, not alienating them. If Stack Exchange were a business whose traffic were its customers, it would not issue these curt, cold "drop dead" letters. It would have a policy of closing far fewer threads, and only for much more clearly defined reasons. If a post were more appropriate to the English Language Learners, for example, the response would go like this: "Unfortunately this is outside of our competence. We feel comfortable answering questions about English in general, but if you're learning the language we're afraid we couldn't do a very good job responding. But we could post your question to that forum. Would you like us to do that?" That would not give the unpleasant (and ridiculous) implication that your rejection of a question reflected an important flaw in the question.

I'm just saying.


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    You make good points and in general, they are quite true. But this isn't the real world; it's Stack Exchange. There are some exchanges that just don't fit the model (for example, Health.SE. What does a vote from a layperson even mean to the validity of the answer?) Lots of people don't find the SE model kind. Those people often do better in forums. Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:04
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    Link to actual question, for those who are interested. english.stackexchange.com/questions/376562/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:56
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    I know Meta is less fussy about actual questions, but this seems far too vague to be useful to anybody. "I have some concerns about the Stack Exchaneg model (without even indicating whewethwer you object to voting (which is open to everyone) or closing which is deliberately restricted) is proably better suited to chat. Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 23:56
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    In the actual question, 'My question is whether ...' after four different questions is at best ill considered. Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 1:20
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    Actually, the proof is not in the pudding, but rather the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
    – SQB
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 9:46
  • I see nothing in this that is specific to the running of this particular stack. As such, this belongs on meta.se, not here.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 14:49

3 Answers 3


It sounds like you're asking for two things.

  1. A requirement for more close votes before a question is closed.
  2. A change in wording for questions deemed off-topic but which are on-topic on ELL.

(your other two points might be debatable: that we don't clearly indicate the scope of the site, and that people rush to close questions in order to score points, using any old justification - Aside from noting that there are no points for closing, I won't address these two concerns).

First, requiring more close votes. It's possible that requiring more close votes would prevent questions from being undeservedly closed. But the problem with small numbers strikes again here: relatively few users have enough reputation to be able to cast close votes. Making the number too high will make all questions uncloseable. It's possible there is some tweaking to be made, but I don't feel it would have the effect you think it would have, unless you are basically objecting to closing any questions.

Second, it's definitely possible to change the wording of the close reasons. The wording as it currently stands is already a softened tone from what the site used to have. Now it says something like

put on hold as off-topic by user1, user2, user3, user4, user5 44 mins ago

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Please include the research you've done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic." – user1, user2, user3, user4, user5

If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Frankly, the message is pretty business-like and straight-forward. It tells you that this question was deemed in its current form to be off-topic. It tells you why it was judged as off-topic and what you need to do to fix it: either include the research you've already done, or post it on ELL. It tells you not to bother asking us for dictionary definitions, because one of our stated goals is to not be a giant slow proxy for people looking stuff up. Finally, it tells you that you can edit the question to get it reopened.

If the question is edited, it shows up in the review queues, which will allow it to be re-opened.

Is this perfect usability? Probably not. There appear to be two problems:

  1. Users don't read the message at all. <- I'm not sure what we can do to help these users.
  2. Users read it but don't notice that the "edit the question" is a link that leads them to the editing. I think it would make sense to make the edit feature stand out more, especially for the question author. I've heard people complain that once the question was closed they couldn't find a way to do anything with it. But given that many users don't even read the notice at all, improving its wording won't help much.
  • I see that the message is "businesslike" in a sense. But actual business don't have outgoing messages that say "Your call is not very important to us right now, so please leave a message." This message would briefly and clearly communicate the truth and indicate what was wanted; but like the Stack Exchange response, it would create a bad feeling, as do the unexplained, or curtly explained, votes to close. If you doubt that, how do you explain the people who said so in their answers to "I am worried about being off-topic"?
    – Chaim
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:31
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    @Chaim Businesses frequently tell customers to go away if they're in the wrong place. They have have different phone numbers for billing than tech support, or different offices where you must go to get certain services. If the department store you're in doesn't have an auto department, the staff will usually direct you to another location that does, or recommend another local business. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:24

The title question is "Why is Waltzing Matilda so rich with distinctively Australian words?"

This is unanswerable definitively because it's just idle speculation. Easily closable here.

The body explicitly asks a number of questions:

  • "Was it deliberately written with a lot of Australianisms?"

    Again, asking for idle speculation.

  • "Or does the use of a lot of Australianisms reflect something about social class, the way Cockney English would?"

    This might be a good question about sociolinguistics, what the preceived class of Australianisms is. I think the answer is they are considered a little lower class but not as bad as Cockney.

  • Do Australians think it's funny because of this quality?

    'Funny' is fairly opinion-based which is considered off-topic.

  • "The question is really whether that manner of speaking is artificial or natural...My question is whether anyone ever naturally phrases his thoughts the way the singer does."

    Interpretation of song lyrics is considered off topic because it is so opinion based. But it is nothing special about English to realize that song lyrics/poetry in general are not natural no matter what. But the vocabulary? Sure, some of that vocab is still 'correct'; for example, a lake formed by a cutoff river loop is still called a billabong. Is that what you want to know for each of the 'peculiar' vocab items?

    If so, then maybe you could reword your explicit question.

  • You say that my Waltzing Matilda question (WM) is unanswerable definitively because it's just idle speculation, so easily closable here. A “definitive” answer will provide a final solution; it will be exhaustive. If someone asks for another term for FYI, as someone did today at 2:00, she doesn’t expect an answer that is a final or exhaustive. She is inviting the judgment of careful users of the language. She doesn’t get closed, but instead gets points for asking and a lot of thoughtful answers, because you simply feel that her question is a good one.
    – Chaim
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:41
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    Those answers are not “idle speculation,” and answers to WM needn’t be either. Someone might actually know something about it. In my case, the songwriter might have spoken to the point. It’s puzzling to say (as you do) that the question should be closed because it is unanswerable, when Edwin, who actually closed it, objected that it was too easily answered at a web page to which he directed me. The truth of the matter might seem obvious to Australians, so that an Aussie Alan Lomax might have addressed the question.
    – Chaim
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:42
  • Weird Al’s song “It’s All About The Pentiums” is funny because it’s so dense with jargon, and any native speaker of American English would recognize this; read the lyrics and disagree with me. If you don’t see it about WM, I wonder whether that’s because you simply don’t regard yourself as part of an ethnic group with its own special way of talking. I invited neither opinions about what’s funny nor the interpretation of song lyrics; that might all be off topic because it is so opinion based. I did ask about the vocab, but that's substantive and not the Meta question.
    – Chaim
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:43
  • What is the meta question? That wasn't clear then. I just answered what I thought was the underlying motivation, that your question was closed. If the question here truly is something distinct then could you please clarify?
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 21:09
  • Well you remarked that a lake formed by a cutoff river loop is still called a "billabong." I was commenting that this remark does not address the four points in my post to Meta, about the way that substantive questions get closed; it goes to the substantive question about the song.
    – Chaim
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 21:11
  • I think you have a good question hidden among the distracting issues of 'was this deliberate?' 'Is this natural speech' (respective answers: 'probably', and 'no, it's a song') I think your question should be radically reworded to ask if the strange vocabulary is naturally used by australians then and today. That would be very on-topic and I think carry the spirit of your original question.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 21:12
  • I think Mari-Lou has actually done that.
    – Chaim
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 21:14
  • @Chaim not quite, I did not feel confident enough to delete or soften the distractions as Mitch calls them. I saw an opening only when I read your comment referencing Mark Twain.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 21:19
  • My (meta) answer above refers to Mari-Lou's edited question, so no, it doesn't remove (what I consider to be) the distractions. Would you prefer it of someone answer your MW question solely with respect to the vocabulary?
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 21:20
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    How is it "unanswerable"? Wikipedia says "The original lyrics were written in 1895 by Australian poet Banjo Paterson, and were first published as sheet music in 1903. Extensive folklore surrounds the song and the process of its creation, to the extent that it has its own museum, the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton, Queensland, where Paterson wrote the lyrics." Sounds like it's quite plausible that there might be information somewhere about the intentions of the writer of this song.
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 22:07
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    If somebody could find a quote from Banjo Paterson saying "I wanted to include a lot of Australia-specific words," that would be a good answer. Just because bad, primarily-opinion-based answers are possible doesn't mean any answer to the question would be bad.
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 22:07
  • @sumelic really? "Where did Led Zeppelin get their inspiration for the lyrics to 'The immigrant Song'" is on topic here? It's interesting and answerable (presumably by interviewing them) but is it ontopic for ELU? I had always thought not. Maybe for a Literature.SE
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 22:28
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    @Mitch: I think saying it should be closed because it's not on topic is different from saying it should be closed because any answer would be "just idle speculation." I object to that part of your answer. If you think it could be on-topic for Literature.SE, then it is not obviously primarily opinion-based, because POB questions are off-topic on all network sites.
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 22:29
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    @sumelic 'If somebody could find a quote from Banjo Paterson saying "I wanted to include a lot of Australia-specific words," that would be a good answer.' Not valid on ELU: that's lit crit. Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 0:09
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    @EdwinAshworth: see my previous comment. I think that's a better reason to close the post, but that's not what Mitch says in this answer. Mitch says it is "just idle speculation" and uses the words "opinion-based," which suggests the question should be considered POB, not just off-topic for this particular site.
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 0:12

Is Waltzing Matilda comprehensible outside of Australia? In Australia?

The question as it now stands is answerable. Please reopen the question.

It now shows research, but it never asked for the meaning of the lyrics, users can verify it for themselves.

Perhaps only an Australian etymologist or lexicographer can provide a satisfying answer, but on EL&U we have users who have answered questions on different English dialects from their own.

If it counts for anything, I believe the question is interesting for experts and useful for future visitors.


I would also argue that technically speaking, the question was not closed by the community. Two users voted to close it but the third, and decisive, vote was cast by a mod, whose decision was probably misled by the title of the question.

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    "The question is really whether that manner of speaking is artificial or natural." Not sure on what basis a late 19th century folk song lyrics can be considered "natural or artificial". But who knows:
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 10:16
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    Edited and reopened. I tried to maintain the spirit of what is desired with as little change as possible (though there are some radical changes made). Part of the problem is @Josh's point: lyrics are artificial almost necessarily, rhyming and meter are pretty unnatural. That's why I target vocabulary as what is really being asked about.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:16

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