I'm asking this question after receiving feedback from Edwin on a question I asked (and answered) on ELU.

He (re)cites all kinds of rules, which I believe do exist. I have googled some of his exact wordings, got some results, but those pages were deleted, so I could not read them. The help centre does not include those rules (at least not how they were recited by Edwin), they seemed much looser, so I thought my posts would be okay.

Rules he (re)cited (I copied them from his comments, they are partial quotations):

Please include the research you’ve done. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic.

don’t ask any questions about the following topics. They are out of scope for this site.... Criticism, discussion, and analysis of English literature [ / poetry / song lyrics / TV programmes ...]

Moderator @MetaEd has said "Interpretation requests (such as criticism, discussion, and analysis of English literature, legal interpretations, and divining the author’s intent – including song lyrics and poetry) are out of scope and may be removed." Obviously, interpretation of standard usages (semantic and syntactic) is not intended here, but niche ones (like "What is a 'parrot sketch'?") are.

No reference is given in the actual question. And the expression, with a fraction of 4400 Google hits for "Rhodesia Solution" being relevant (and many of those just repeats), is better classed as a nonce usage; it is certainly not an idiom.

Please let me know how you think about this case and consider updating the rules which are publicly available, that way new users know what is expected of them, and more experienced users don't have to waste their time reciting rules over and over again.

Some of the pages I found on Google, but cannot read:

first second

  • 1
    Banned for a month because I reposted the image of your Be Best Winter Bash knitting thing on an answer. It is definitely against the rules (unwritten) to repost not only the entire mod-deleted post but also partial elements. So, now you know. The site has gone completely and utterly haywire. Its days are counted. Oh, in case you're confused, I posted an answer on your question about the Be Best deletion, asking for it to be undeleted. It's not going to happen.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 15:46
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA yea my whoke comment thread was deleted as well. I had a good discussion with JMG but all he got was that it was controversial. So the comments had to go. I asked for them to be moved to chat but appearantly that's too much in the spotlight as well. Control the narrative, control the people, I guess..
    – JJJ
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 21:09

3 Answers 3


Most of the "rules" about poetry and such are here on meta somewhere (e.g. here and here), but I don't think they're particularly relevant for your question on the main site.

Regardless of whether you're self-answering or not, the question needs to stand on its own. (That is, if the answer wasn't there, the question should still be clear, on-topic, and not too broad.) Right now, I don't think your question is clear—it just doesn't make much sense the way it is written. You mention one use of the phrase and then ask about another without saying where you encountered that other sense. The structure is confusing and the fact that you don't give any examples is confusing.

My suggestion (if I understood your question correctly) is to rewrite your question along these lines:

While reading/watching/etc. <Name of Source>, I encountered the following:

<Quote that illustrates usage.>

I think that it means something like <meaning> because <reasons>.

When I searched, I did find <other usage>, but this is not the same expression because <reasons>.

<Question(s) here>

Note that:

  • It would be ideal to have two or more examples of the expression being used like this in the question. (The more diverse your sources are, the better.) I think that the poetry complaint is because people think it's an expression used poetically in a single work. Right now you have zero examples in your question, but you might be able to use one of the links in your answer.
  • I think the Washington Post article is enough research for the question, if you present it the right way. In my rewrite, this would be the "other usage".
  • I would remove (or at a minimum rewrite) "In addition to that, what is the relevance of this idiom in today's world?" because this sounds too much like a discussion question. (What you wrote in response to this in the answer is fine though.)

BTW, the "two" pages you found on Google both point to the same deleted question. It's not really relevant in any way here. Here is an image of the question and its comments to satisfy your curiosity (there are two downvoted answers in addition to what's shown there).

  • almost entirely, there are no rules, just varying strengths of suggestions/guidelines, and context matters. For example, there is a close reason for 'no interpretation of jokes or song lyrics'. But that doesn't mean any question mentioning a joke or poetry is off-topic. Asking 'Is 'orchid' a metaphor for sex or just fleeting beauty?' for a poem is to opinion based or broad, but asking 'The author rhymes 'orange' with 'osage', do they really rhyme?' is very on topic.

  • over the years of the site, we have attempted to enshrine all the nuances of the boundary of off vs on topic in the site FAQs. Often it only goes so far as a meta question, and even then there may have been no clear decision, and even many acceptable instances go over the line in both directions. When in doubt, meta is a good place to ask explicitly.

  • the Google search seems only to search the main site. To search the meta site, you may have to use the (somewhat inferior) search box on the page.

  • sometimes it takes experience on a site to learn its rules (or guidelines or suggestions or vague behavioral culture. It is not a particularly satisfying answer but sometimes it just takes time to get used to things.


Hear, hear!

Due to the deliberately democratic philosophy behind Stack Exchange, a lot of the 'rules' are decided by community consensus. This is done in Meta. Even your post all rules in one place might become a 'rule' itself one day.

The help pages summarise the most important 'rules' - note particularly the two links under "Asking". You could (technically) search Meta, but it takes some familiarity to know what to look for.

I'd support mods collating the rules within a FAQ Meta 'question', with each rule expressed as an 'answer'. Each rule can then have its own rationale, examples and 'anti'-examples expressed in appropriate detail. There's no need for the list to be immediately complete - they can be added to over time.

  • 1
    @JJJ They're just ordinary Meta posts with a mod-only faq tag. Editing follows the usual site rules.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 15:30
  • 1
    @Lawrence deleting my comments
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 0:31
  • @Mitch No problem. I got it off one of Edwin's comments. :)
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 0:32

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