This recent highly controversial question appears to offer more personal impressions on how the object in question is called rather than a definitive answer. Though AmE users appear to agree on a single definition (see the upvotes) , there is still a fair amount of disagreement among them, to say nothing about the BrE definition (see the downvotes), which has found the strongest opposition.

Given all that, is this question really helpful for a site like ELU? It reminds me of the more famous yellow ax question. Should it be closed or locked?

PS. I posted the first answer just to give a suggestion..the rest is history.

  • 2
    I don't think that OP cares for the differences in Am E and Br E names for the item. They mistakenly put that Am E tag there, and mistakenly accepted your Br E answer. So your answer ended up with those heavy downvotes.
    – NVZ Mod
    Feb 26, 2018 at 18:53
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    I think I have had a lot of similar questions in mind, and I just use Google Image Search to identify items. I don't think it has anything significant to do with ELU.
    – NVZ Mod
    Feb 26, 2018 at 18:57
  • What would you expect locking to do for the question?
    – Mitch
    Feb 26, 2018 at 20:26
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    Ah, the Yellow Axe! ELU is about English Language and Usage. To my mind, that includes English Language Misuse, and the Yellow Axe revealed a lot about how one billion people, most of them not native English speakers, can misuse English, and thus was right on topic. (Disclaimer: All of us native English speakers routinely mangle other languages and should have the profoundest respect for anyone over seven years old who is studying English.) –
    – ab2
    Feb 26, 2018 at 22:05
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    @ab2 - with all due respect, but I don’t think that native speakers are immune to misusing English.
    – user 66974
    Feb 26, 2018 at 22:11
  • Native speakers (some of them very prominent) misuse English all the time! The YAQ was an example of how creatively English can be misused by non-native speakers. See the hilarious and brilliant answer of @Draakhond.
    – ab2
    Feb 26, 2018 at 22:20
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    Argh, the axe wasn’t yellow! I spent like a week proving that yellow had nothing to do with the axe! Well, there’s glory for you. :)
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 26, 2018 at 23:14
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    Actually, this reminds me more of the oven glove/oven mitt question.
    – herisson
    Feb 27, 2018 at 0:06
  • @sumelic - yes, and incidentally both questions are either locked or on hold.
    – user 66974
    Feb 27, 2018 at 11:46

3 Answers 3


If your main concern is that the existing answers to the clip question are poor, or contradictory, or not getting the votes they should, I think locking the question is the last thing we'd want to do. We'd want people to improve their answers or post better ones, and locking the question would make that impossible.

I get the connection you're making to the ax question. Both tools are familiar objects, so it is a reasonable presumption that each has a common, accepted English expression describing it.

But the questions asked about them are quite different.

  • The question about the clip was simply what's its common name. There is not, as yet, a general reference which will reliably tell you the name of something pictured, so maybe it's a reasonable question. We've answered such questions before.

  • That's not what was asked about the tool. In fact the asker was readily able to identify it and associate it with the words "ax", "hatchet", and "tomahawk". Adding the qualifier "whose name begins with y" is what put it beyond the pale. Given that the asker already knew what the object is called, and already checked a thesaurus and discovered that there's no English expression that qualifies, that question was undoubtedly general reference.

  • My issue is, the question, but mainly the answers with contrasting comments and views where every user and commenter seem to know what the correct term is contradicting each other. Is all this helpful?
    – user 66974
    Feb 26, 2018 at 20:32
  • @Tonepoet In the original question, the asker wrote "I searched for synonyms for axe (hatchet, tomahawk)". I'm going to assume the search was made either in a thesaurus or in a dictionary with synonyms (for all practical purposes, a thesaurus++).
    – MetaEd
    Feb 26, 2018 at 22:32

"What is this called?" questions are entirely on-topic for ELU. The item can certainly be called different things in different varieties or contexts. The question may be closable for other reasons, like too elementary or no research at all (as NVZ's comment noted, the not-too-old tech of Google image search should come close to an answer but is not guaranteed to clarify any nuances).

The fact that one answer, which was entirely correct for one variety, got downvoted considerably (but was upvoted quite a lot), is not a sign of it being a bad question, but of poor understanding by voters. If anything the lesson from the strange behavior around the question should be to think before you vote.

As to comparison with the 'yellow ax' question, this one is about specialized technical vocabulary, very much on topic. The 'yellow ax' question, as fun as it was, was more about sleuthing a one-off multilingual error, and not likely to help anyone after this on ELU (but if I go to Sweden and need to chop wood...).

Short answer: the question is on-topic.

  • Ok, but after reading comments and answers what do you understand? Everybody disagrees on anything...not really helpful I’d say, but mainly, not ELU standard.
    – user 66974
    Feb 26, 2018 at 20:29
  • @user5768790 The contents of the question are well within standard. The contents of the answers are very good. So the voting was bad (the tagging was also poor, but it is my educated opinion that the tags are ignored almost entirely, this being a glaring example). That doesn't make the whole thing bad. My interpretation of it all is that the question hit the HNQ list and all sorts of very desultory visitors visited and voted implicitly according to most common nationality ('bulldog clip' is entirely jarring to me as AmE).
    – Mitch
    Feb 26, 2018 at 22:41
  • I'm actually not understanding now why you're asking this meta-question. Your answer there is highly voted (just not much relative to the American one)
    – Mitch
    Feb 26, 2018 at 22:42
  • Because after 8k views, a fair amount of upvotes and downvotes, a few answers and tens of comments, it turns out that it is a sort of POB issue. There is no agreement even among AmE speakers; what do you understand from reading the whole thing? Not really helpful, and to some extent confusing.
    – user 66974
    Feb 26, 2018 at 22:54
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    @user5768790 POB means that the question only allows peoples opinions. Your question about what a thing is called may have different aswers depending, but that 'depending' is not by opinion or art, but by language variety. If this kind of question is POS then the entirety of SE technology encourages POB because it allows more than one answer. POB is for what word fits best in this slot in this poem. What a thing is called may vary, but there are explicit right answers. This question is not POB.
    – Mitch
    Feb 27, 2018 at 0:42

First, I think most of us are not really sure if the Yellow Axe question should have been locked in the first place. It was a case of human exception handling on the part of a moderator, and when we discussed it on meta, we either expressed uncertainty or approbation for it. It's not really sound precedence for deciding what's on or off topic in my opinion. However, for the sake of discussion, I will posit that it should be closed in deference to authority.

The best reason I can see for it having been closed is that Dan Bron's answer revealed that it probably wasn't an English word, and as such had questionable ties to the English Language. At best, it was the English language context (for lack of a better word) that rendered the question as being remotely anything about English, which was determined to be inadequate Sometimes some people also complain about typos on similar grounds, e.g. the covfefe question. The logic seems to be if it is not in the English Language, then it can not be related to the English Language. At the risk of putting one of my better answers on the chopping block, I feel it is necessary to repeat that this is why I did not try to answer the paraphrase bracket question sooner, because it shows that I feel this logic is somewhat understandable.

In this case however, the answers show that there is English terminology, even if it is relatively little known and dialectical which renders other questions significantly different in that they have a stronger association with the English. Indeed, it is not in any way unreasonable to assume that something that many English speakers have frequently seen in everyday life for over a century should have its own distinct name. This is a very, very common utensil found in offices, and I remember seeing these items ever since I was a very young child since my mother worked with papers quite often.

As far as go, questions may even be among some of the better questions we receive, because a picture objectively demonstrates what it is we are seeking and the need for it much better than a contextual sentence or a personalized definition: A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say after-all. Even though Terdon is otherwise a strict adherent of the contextual sentence requirement, he did admit to me that a picture mitigates against the usual necessity of it in a brief debate. This leads to much more definitive, specific and accurate answers that are of the sort we are supposed to prefer. These also have a fairly good chance at revealing some rather interesting lexical items.

Indeed, among one of the personal favorites of the answers I wrote is the answer to the question I exemplified for Terdon, which was Describe the Color of Raw Liver. In it I suggest words I happened to chance by terminology from heraldic tradition, sanguine (blood red) and its close synonym murrey (the color of mulberries). Sadly, it did not satisfy the questioner so much, so he added to his criteria to exclude similar answers but I think it should be of interest to anybody else looking for a relatively precise word for that color.

Similarly, Is There a Word for an Individual Spark in a Firework? produced some interesting evidence in the top voted answer, and scintilla looks like a promising answer, even though the commentator who mentioned it suggests is of the opinion that it is wrong. Granted, in that case, I do not really think the picture alone is adequate to identify just what is meant: (Does the questioner mean the head or the tail of the ignited firework, or the combination of both as the circle suggests together?) but the question seems to have promise.

The only questionable bit I think is if we really should be answering questions regarding concrete nouns, and personally, I think we should be answering questions regarding the entire vocabulary if they are otherwise within scope. While it may seem tempting to suggest otherwise,major lexicographers seem to all admit to the wisdom of addressing these words.

The Oxford English Dictionary for instance decided not to include proper nouns on the grounds that those were more encyclopedic than lexical in nature, and this led to the very glaring Omision of needful words like African. People wrote in to complain, and it was claimed that since this portion of the dictionary was already published it was too late to fix, and it would remain unfixed until the 1933 supplement was released nearly a century later.

Similarly, I think Johnson's Plan for an English Dictionary makes a compelling case that words of all sorts are needful and merit being addressed in the art of English lexicography, and while we are not quite a replacement for a dictionary, I do believe we intend to serve as a sort of supplement to one when it's necessary since word choice and usage is within scope.


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