“English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.”

This is the first sentence on the Tour page, yet we are overwhelmed with first posts from non-native speakers or those with poor education asking proofreading questions or basic questions about the language. Most of them get closed (I spend my 20 close votes each day on them) but are visible long enough for other similar posters to think this is norm.

What to do?

Prevent them being posted in the first place.

How to do it?

If you think of these posts as a sort of spam (I know they are not literally spam), then what one needs is a ‘spam filter’. Like on gmail or whatever. So how do real spam filers work? Presumably by ‘training’ or coding them to recognize certain features of emails that indicate they are spam. Are there features of off-topic posts that could be used in a ‘spam filter‘? Many of them contain poor English, so perhaps a grammar checker could be used. Other features might be numbered lists and embedded images. And one could use AI (Artificial Intelligence) to train a program with examples of on-topic and off-topic posts.

Who would do it?

A bit like belling the cat. But surely someone knows somebody’s cousin who has a boy-friend that does that sort of thing. Please, before we all drown.

  • 2
    Upvote because I deeply concur with the concept, and it's something I think SE needs to consider and deliver. They have the people, the data, and the methods. But don't hold your breath.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 28, 2017 at 2:10
  • Aren't there already rule based ..um... rules that are in place that automatically put relevant questions on different queues (like the Low Quality queue), or so that SmokeDetector flags them? Maybe you're talking about bad questions that get pas those thresholds?
    – Mitch
    Jul 28, 2017 at 2:58
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    Well I'm no-one's boyfriend, but I can tell you that natural language parsing is difficult, and that it's really difficult for a computer to tell the difference between an interesting question and an uninteresting one with more discrimination than the current SE quality filter that is in place already. An AI will throw the baby out with the bathwater in this situation unless it's used just to put the questions in a review queue.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 28, 2017 at 14:01
  • @ColleenV — Point taken, and I should have written that I envisaged a warning notice suggesting ELL and forwarding for review (although that could mean more work for someone). Perhaps we should migrate this to Stack Overflow or I should suggest it as a student project for a colleague who does machine learning.
    – David
    Jul 28, 2017 at 14:18
  • 1
    Well ELL isn't really a dumping ground for unwanted SWRs. Our focus is more on helping a NNS find and idiomatic way to express something they already know how to express in another language. While the community might not close an SWR if it was originally asked on ELL (folks do love answering them), we don't necessarily want to collect more of those sorts questions from other sites.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 28, 2017 at 14:35
  • Yes, I can imagine. But everyone needs to be informed what ELL's remit is. 1. A new user posing a question on ELU should be asked something like "Are you a non-native speaker asking for English Help. If your question etc..". 2. Reviewers, like me, who are not on ELL should be told what ELL handles and what it does not. I would like a set of approved stock comments for use in making close votes. I just got my knuckles rapped for implying all proof-reading questions were off-topic.
    – David
    Jul 28, 2017 at 18:52
  • What topics can I ask about is a good description of what ELL handles. Reviewers should read the "What's on-topic here" page for the site before voting to migrate. The purpose of migration is not to get rid of questions; it's to help someone that has asked a good question that is off-topic for ELU and on-topic for another site get an answer. Some questions are off-topic on all SE sites. There is a big gray area though, so we will disagree and need to persuade each other sometimes.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 29, 2017 at 15:17

1 Answer 1


somebody’s cousin who has a boy-friend that does that sort of thing

The cousin's boyfriend would also have to be a Stack Exchange developer and get authorization of their managers to implement a feature like that. Stack Exchange is a closed source platform.

Something that is more likely to help: if those voting to close do not forget to downvote off-topic questions as well, they will disappear from the front page quickly. Posts scoring -4 or less are not shown on the front page.

  • 1
    It's also the case that downvoted and closed questions contribute hugely to the automatic question ban. The precise details are a closely guarded secret, but you don't get all that many tries if you don't do well.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Jul 28, 2017 at 7:04
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    I'm just reviewing some close votes and the problem is that while in that facility the downvote option does not appear to be available. So if I were to downvote as well as vote to close I would have to go and find the question (OK, I just need to click on it) and then come back to review. It would make people more likely to downvote if they didn't have to. (Mind you at, say, 10 downvotes a day I'd soon end up without sufficient privilege to do any reviews.)
    – David
    Jul 28, 2017 at 8:15
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    @David Downvoting questions does not affect your reputation at all.
    – NVZ Mod
    Jul 28, 2017 at 12:09
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    @Alex You're right about the -4 score kicking out questions from the front page: english.meta.stackexchange.com/a/10526/50044
    – NVZ Mod
    Jul 28, 2017 at 12:11

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