The following recent and very popular question "Is “You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!” still considered a compliment in English? " is an interesting case about what is or should be off-topic on this site.

The question has clear POB issues, as suggested by the high rep and highly esteemed OP, but what strikes me most is that all answers are actually about sensible issues such as politics and racism on which we all have our very personal opinions. As if that were not enough, OP finally accepts an highly upvoted answer which has really nothing to do with the supposed original question (the one about the current usage of the famous sentence).

While this is all terribly interesting (as shown by users active participation and upvotes) it is also terribly off-topic, or am I missing something?

Does all this mean something new about the site "off-topic" rules or is it just an original exception?

(P.S. I am not suggesting the question should be put on hold).

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    It doesn't seem to be one example out of many that form a trend, I would say 'no, this is not a turning point'. It's special on its own. – Mitch May 19 '17 at 13:35
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    But it is funny that the highly voted and accepted answer doesn't address the actual question. That answer basically jumps to 'How dare you accuse me of racism'. – Mitch May 19 '17 at 13:38
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    @Mitch - yes, a rare case of "thanks for answering the off-topic question I didn't ask". – user66974 May 19 '17 at 13:40
  • @Mitch, on the subject of trends, I think the currently-active question Gender-neutral nouns that are mostly applied to persons of a particular gender? is very much a sociology question masquerading as an English question. Full disclosure, I have voted to close that question (I didn't for the Gunga Din one). Two is still not a trend, but it's more of a trend than one ;). – 1006a May 19 '17 at 15:14
  • Sociolinguistics questions are on-topic. Of course they tend not to be easily objective without real research. – Mitch May 19 '17 at 15:23
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    @Mitch I voted to close because it's asking for lists of words that meet some very nebulously-defined characteristics. What does "by structure gender-neutral" mean if we're including words like "watchman"? What counts as "mostly" applied to one gender, and is that different from "almost exclusively"? And what population pool are we talking about? I don't see how it would be possible to have (or judge) a "right" answer to the question in its current form, but several people have taken a stab at it and have had a fascinating conversation in comments. – 1006a May 19 '17 at 16:58
  • An opinion-full sociolinguistic question can be converted to an objective one by answer 'how people use it today'. That may be considered a thin veil, or it may be the right way to answer objectively. That is a meta-opinion. Or maybe a meta-objective-answer. – Mitch May 22 '17 at 13:32
  • Your concern is very justified. I think the question on Gunga Din is on-topic for being about language & usage, but the answers including mine are primarily opinion based. If somebody could have written an objective and scholarly answer that provides ample citation, that answer would have been very much on-topic. What is puzzling is that nobody raised this concern at the time! – English Student May 26 '17 at 0:18
  • @1006a I agree my question you refer to was too broad and ill-defined, and had no specific answer. Regarding the reference to its being more a sociology question, I am indeed a sociologist, which might explain it. After a full day of discussion, only 11 words that fit the nebulous description could be identified by expert & enterprising members, and I considered the exercise had run its course. That's why I didnt try to reopen the question. OP here is very right that we members are too willing to engage in social and political discussions & arguments which are not germane to this website! – English Student May 26 '17 at 4:02
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    I had no idea what POB was until Google led me to meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/306496/… but surprised not to find POB at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/40353/… – MikeRoger May 29 '17 at 14:06

Possibly, if the question had not hit the Hot Question Network, it might have been closed as being off topic —might being the operative word here — because the OP herself admitted that the post was bordering on POB territory.

The question is asking if a quotation, once famous, could be used and understood today.

So, is it still a compliment or have the racist overtones made it obsolete?

It is asking not only for opinions, but for users to draw upon their own personal experiences. Whether they are familiar with the quotation and use it in their everyday life; whether their friends, family or acquaintances are familiar with its origin, meaning and connotations; and whether users consider Kipling's ciation to be derogatory or complimentary.

Is it a language question?

I believe it is. Native speakers, who live in English speaking countries, could either confirm or refute the OP's reluctance to cite the quotation to a stranger, whose youth possibly precluded them from having heard the line or read the poem in the first place.

As another example, what purpose would it serve to say carpe diem, a phrase written in a dead language, if nobody knew what it meant?

So, I have no qualms with the question itself. The quotation is in English after all, but I do share the OP's perplexity that the accepted answer with 94 upvotes (thanks HNQ!) does not specifically address the question. What conclusion is a non-native anglophile speaker suppose to draw? Are they supposed to carry a copy of Kipling's poem in their purse o backpack in case they are accused of being rude? Or if the listener looks at them oddly? Oh wait, we have the Internet, they can type "English Stack Exchange Gunga Din", and show the listener what they meant.

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    But, after reading all answers, what did you understand about the current usage of the famous line? Would you use it? And in what circumstances? And, could we extend this to all famous quotes from Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde, of even to quotes from movies or song lyrics? (No problem for me, but...) – user66974 May 20 '17 at 7:46
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    I had left a comment, which was deleted, stating clearly I would never say to anyone's face "Gunga Din", because it sounds racist. Seeing as you ask, I'll expand on that initial reflection; it's a fact of life that words that sound racist are off limits, regardless of its etymology. If there's one thing I know about Americans, and Brits, is that racist words (or sounds) are taboo. It doesn't matter if the line is complimentary, it doesn't matter who the author was and the message he was conveying. To a stranger, to a person I don't know, I would say "You're better person/man than me". – Mari-Lou A May 20 '17 at 7:53
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    @Josh Note, I didn't use the subject pronoun above, I wouldn't even say (in casual conversation) You're a better person than I am but rather ... than me. A scholastic essay is something quite different. – Mari-Lou A May 20 '17 at 8:00
  • @Mari-LouA I agree with you vehemently on both accounts - all this logical justification one way or the other is too much. It is just vaguely distasteful to invoke some vaguely I-don't-know-if-it-is-racist-or-not thing. Also, 'than I' is the worst ('than I am' is slightly less than worst). – Mitch May 22 '17 at 13:36
  • The problem I ultimately have with this question is that it seems to have been a rant or possibly literary analysis disguised as a real question. I don't see how asking for "personal experience", when it varies so tremendously from person-to-person, can be a basis for an objective answer. Out of all the answers (besides Josh's, which is deleted?), there is only ONE outside authority cited to back up the various opinions. No one even pulled out an Ngram, surely the very low bar for "current usage" questions. – 1006a May 22 '17 at 21:17

Wow, sorry about that. No drama intended. However, drama ensued. Again, my apologies.

Did I think twice before posting the question? Indeed, because I respect the site, and did not want to post a question which would be deemed off-topic. However, I was genuinely intrigued by the use or non-use of the phrase in English today. So I took the chance. I knew someone here could answer the question.

As if that were not enough, OP finally accepts an highly upvoted answer which has really nothing to do with the supposed original question (the one about the current usage of the famous sentence).

I thought the prevailing opinion on most SE sites is that the OP is free to pick the answer that is most helpful to the OP. That was, in fact, the most helpful answer to me. I awarded a bounty on another user who supplied a helpful answer, with a reference to boot. I upvoted every answer. I appreciate that people took time to answer the question. I would have awarded another bounty to another good answer, but the bounty system demanded that I double the bounty award, and I didn't want to suggest that the first bounty recipient's answer was less worthy than a more bountiful bounty's recipient, so I did not do so. But I expressed my thanks in comments.

Should I apologize for my choice of answers? I'm not too proud to do that. I'm sorry that my choice offended you (whomever was offended.) I sincerely meant no offense.

I might add that the OP of this meta question was only too happy to jump on the question with an answer which I immediately upvoted. When another answer took the lead, the OP deleted his perfectly acceptable answer.

Unfortunately, it leads me to ponder Aesop's sour grapes in this entire scenario.

... as suggested by the high rep and highly esteemed OP...

Please don't kid yourself. Rep does not confer esteem, and I don't consider myself to be highly esteemed here. If I am - by any - I hope it is/was for better reasons than rep (e.g. integrity would be nice), which is easy to accumulate by an enthusiastic and/or attentive and/or persistent and/or long-time user.

...a turning point in the “off-topic” history of ELU?

Clearly I'm missing something here, but that's not a surprise. I missed this question for nine days.

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    It is a pity you are trying to minimise my question to a "sour grapes" issue. It is not. I deleted my answer when the question was already in the HQN (I could have just left it open if I had been looking for upvotes). The reason I deleted it was that I understood the answers would be about (as they actually were) discussions on politics and racism, something I didn't want to be part of. My asnswer, as you can still see, tried to be as neutral as possible, but oddly, it looked "off-topic" given the nature of all the rest. – user66974 May 29 '17 at 8:49
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    This is not a personal issue, and I am not saying your question is bad, actually it is interesting, but it is clearly "off-topic". I think it will remain as an important "precedent" on future debates about what should be CV or not. – user66974 May 29 '17 at 8:49
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    See Josh's comments and replies in my answer. Don't let him bother you; it was a good enough question and a very good thread for the topic. – lly May 31 '17 at 10:13

No, it's not.

As Ms A says, the question is perfectly topical and, as she's wrong about, the lead answer addresses it (albeit from a philosophical and lit-crit angle rather than a post-grad research-of-use one). Disagreeing with the other editors' answers does not make them off topic.

Beyond which, the question is a service to the site. Even if it attracted some completely unhelpful and off-topic responses like the mother's anecdote, other answers addressed nuance of usage and completely misunderstood biblical references in such a helpful way that the path forward—even if there were a problem with the phrasing of the question as 1006a feels—would be editing it into compliance, not having an admin smack it around.

  • I will ask again; But, after reading all answers, what did you understand about the current usage of the famous line? Would you use it? And in what circumstances? And, could we extend this to all famous quotes from Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde, of even to quotes from movies or song lyrics? (No problem for me, but...) – user66974 May 29 '17 at 9:17
  • Well, for starters, I already grew up hearing it and do use it, albeit not around lit majors who just learned about how much they're supposed to hate Kipling and actually read enough to recognize him. (Vanishingly small bunch, that.) – lly May 29 '17 at 9:25
  • For the rest, it seems like an insult to your reading comprehension to go into this, but if you insist: You should be able to understand, should you actually read the thread, that the posters clarify that it is a bit of a minefield (Kipling broadminded for his time but lashed to the imperial mast; the narrator openly bigoted but openly declaring his error in this instance; some Indians themselves use it which I would expect to be true in a country of a billion plus but wouldn't've expected to hear here); that the current usage differs from the original context and essentially functions as a – lly May 29 '17 at 9:29
  • synonym for "there but for the grace of God" or "better you than me". Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde are not discussed because they are entirely beside the point; neither is in any danger of being removed from the canon except from people who want to burn it to ashes altogether. Shakespeare is a literary deity and Wilde's gay suffering protects him from most identity-political inquisitors. Kipling meanwhile has been nigh blackballed from respectable literature, except as a cautionary tale about the composers of imperial anthems. – lly May 29 '17 at 9:32
  • I'm sure your original post here was in good faith, but since you're just so blatantly wrong about the "challenge" in this comment, it'd be nice for you to actually read the thread and then apologize. – lly May 29 '17 at 9:35
  • Excuse me, blatantly wrong about what? Apologize for what? Your personal view is as good as anybody else's, and I did say anything offensive in asking. – user66974 May 29 '17 at 10:48

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