Can "mongrel" be used to refer to people is on hold as primarily opinion-based.

It is, of course true, that in the opinion of some people it is OK, even required, to hurl any epithet, insult, obscenity or unkind word at a person different from themselves. Is this why the use of mongrel to refer to mixed race people was deemed a matter of opinion? And the context in which it might be OK? There are plenty of references which give guidance.

If someone had asked the same question about the n-word, would it have been closed as a matter of opinion? Closing the question as asking for writing advice might have been just barely understandable; closing it as a matter of opinion is inexplicable.

  • 2
    I think that some folks are confusing "can" with "should" in this case. Someone wants to use a pejorative (for good reason) to express something and doesn't want a native English speaker to think it's a weird expression. Yes it's somewhat subjective, but I don't think it's "bad subjective".
    – ColleenV
    Apr 8, 2018 at 12:19
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    Also, I think that 'mongrel', even outside dialogue is a word that can be used selectively to describe bias. "This particular supremacist refers to people of mixed races as mongrels, displaying their view of other americans as 'less than human' .
    – Tom22
    Apr 8, 2018 at 16:43
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    Please link to the question not one of its answers. Apr 10, 2018 at 15:47
  • @curiousdannii Done.
    – ab2
    Apr 10, 2018 at 17:27
  • In almost all cases, offensiveness is in the eye of the beholder. Some coloured people are known to use the n-word in friendly banter amongst themselves. But almost everyone would avoid using it. With 'mongrel race', I'd say that most but all people in many but not all contexts would consider the term insulting. Calling someone 'a mongrel' would however almost universally be considered unacceptable. So it's not POB that there is a large measure of unacceptability associated with the use of the term; what is POB is the extent of the unacceptability. Can the use of ... Apr 12, 2018 at 20:10
  • '... and so in course of time there grew up a mongrel race of Oriental Greeks' {The Roman Republic_Vol II_Heitland} be labelled as unacceptable? And what is the cut-off time for acceptability? Apr 12, 2018 at 20:15
  • @Edwin Ashworth The Question in question could have had a much better answer than the off-the-cuff answer I gave. Such an answer would have investigated how "mongrel" (for people) changed in acceptability after the Nazi era and because of publications like this. Sven Yargs nailed it: the real problem is the fuzziness of the close categories and the rarity of users writing a custom close reason. And what I said in my answer: English allows the OP to use mongrel, but he should be careful.
    – ab2
    Apr 12, 2018 at 20:51
  • @ab2 How does an answer 'You can use it, but you have to be [very] careful' really help OP or anyone else? Apr 12, 2018 at 22:24
  • @Edwin Ashworth I can't know what the OP found helpful, because he did not say. Possibly it was "As long as you make it absolutely clear that this is a offensive term used by a racist society or by the bad guys in your story, you may get away with it." Or possibly it was the confirmation that "mongrel" can, as far as English vocabulary goes, refer to people, which was the question he asked. I suppose I did give writing advice (so give me 50 lashes on the wrist with a wet noodle), but IMO, I answered a Q about the usage of an English word, although not as well as I should (and could) have.
    – ab2
    Apr 12, 2018 at 23:11

3 Answers 3


I agree with you that the close reason is not well chosen. It seems highly likely to me that the first close voter selected "primarily opinion based" because it was the prefab close reason that came closest to the actual reason the voter had for wanting to close the question. If the voter had taken the time to write a custom close reason, it probably would have said something along the lines of "I am voting to close this question as off topic because it is a request for writing advice."

The bigger issue that your Meta post raises is whether using the closest multiple-choice close reason when none really fits is a sound practice. Obviously the benefit to the close voter is that it helps move an objectionable question nearer to being closed with a minimum of effort on the close voter’s part. The harm is primarily to the person who posted the question, but also to EL&U's goal of generating better questions. After all, the theory behind identifying a reason for closure (as I understand it) is to educate the person who posted the faulty question—and others—as to what is wrong with it. If that weren’t the point, Stack Exchange might as well permit unexplained, drive-by close voting, just as it does unexplained, drive-by downvoting.

If someone posts an answer that is objectionable because it is green, and the multiple-choice close reasons available are red, yellow, blue, orange, and purple, a close voter might argue that selecting “I am voting to close this question because it is blue” or “I am voting to close this question because it is yellow” is the most reasonable choice—but that rationale ignores the option of writing a customized answer that identifies what is actually wrong with the question. And of course, if you don't accurately explain a question’s failings, you don’t enlighten the person who posted the question about the question’s real defects.

This leads to a second problem with choosing an inaccurate prefab close reason: stringing the questioner along. I see this happen most often with the “show research” close reason. Someone asks a writing advice question or a homework question or too-localized-to-be-of-interest-to-anyone-else question, and close voters respond by voting to close on grounds that the questioner didn’t show any results of personal research. Every now and then, in response to such a closure, a questioner will go back and say “I looked in reference books and couldn’t find an answer to my question” and ask that the question be reopened—and then one of two things happens: reviewers in the Reopen Votes queue decline to reopen the question because they implicitly recognize that the actual defectiveness of the original question was not cured by showing research, or they reopen the question and then they or other reviewers vote to reclose the question on other grounds.

Far too often, we review-queue voters are sloppy, inaccurate, and lazy in our application of close reasons. We would show more respect for everyone concerned if we held ourselves to the standard of identifying what is actually wrong with a faulty question, rather than taking the easy route of selecting the most nearly applicable multiple-choice option, even when it isn’t particularly near. At the very least, close voters who don’t want to bother with providing an on-point justification for their close vote might consider selecting ‘off-topic because...’ > ‘Other (add a comment explaining what is wrong)’ > ‘I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it’s bad.’ They’ll spend only slightly more time voting to close in this way than they do now, and they won’t mislead OPs with spurious nearest-prefab-choice close reasons.

  • I don't feel to be sloppy, lazy or inaccurate when I cast my vote to close a question. I think my track history shows that I tend to "save" questions, and improve questions whenever I see they have some merit. This question does not have a right or wrong answer, it's opinionable whether "mongrel" is a suitable term for fictitious characters living in an imaginary land. I stand by my decision and the reason I selected for closing the Q.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 9, 2018 at 22:58
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    '[P]refab close reason'. Marvellous. Apr 12, 2018 at 20:01

I'm translating a fantasy novel into English. In the story there are a bunch of races

I would cast my vote to close the question a second time, if the question is reopened (which seems likely) because

  1. it's a work of pure fiction and as such an author is free to choose any word that he or she feels is most appropriate. This feels more like writing advice to me.

would it [mongrels] be awkward for humans? I picked this word intentionally to bring a bad connotation to mind.

  1. The OP clearly knows that the term is often used derogatorily for dogs/animals, it follows that some readers will object but others will just roll with it because the story is fantasy/science fiction. If the OP were translating an essay on anthropology or a sociology paper, EL&U users could provide more culturally sensitive and scientifically appropriate alternatives. As such, the OP is basically asking

"What do you think of the term mongrel to describe an inhabitant of mixed race living on an imaginary planet?"

~ You already know mongrel has derogatory connotations. It's your story/translation, no one can tell you what to write.

  • 1
    It's possible that this question is a better fit on ELL because it deals with translation. Explaining the connotations of certain word choices (whether it is fiction or not) is something that falls well within our bailiwick.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 9, 2018 at 12:12
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    I agree with everything you say here...except the decision to close. Most questions here are in fact thinly veiled writing advice, but this question, while motivated by writing, is asking for the nuances that dictionaries don't provide. Wait... the online definitions all say a secondary meaning is for people of mixed race. That's pretty clear 'do you own homework' right there.
    – Mitch
    Apr 9, 2018 at 14:27
  • +1 And I might have been the first (or second?) closevoter. I thought it was obvious that in a fictional/fantasy work the word choices are completely up to the author. And to apply here what has become a more general cliche in US English, the writer has to "own" his words and word choices. Apr 11, 2018 at 21:51

This metaphoric meaning of the word is so well known that it is mentioned in every dictionary of recent repute. I would have preferred for this particular question to be closed as general reference, especially since the most highly voted upon answer is exactly the sort of thing the general reference standard was originally implemented to prevent. A dictionary definition should be furnished to demonstrate that this answer is not satisfactory, and an explanation regarding why this answer is not satisfactory should then be provided to make the source of confusion clear to necessitate the provision of more useful answers than what was already readily available.

However, despite the fact that primarily opinion based and general reference typically act in opposition, there are also opinion based considerations which may aply: First when you read What Kinds of Questions Should I Avoid Asking? on most if not all Stack Exchange websites, you will notice that it is a standard form that seems to delimit the subjectivity standards of the website, and one of the provisions is to not make a rant in disguise, and because the answer is so readily available and well known, it is not difficult to interpret this question as an attempt to suggest that mongrel should not be used to describe humans because it more literally refers to dogs.

Now this question may be asked in earnest, but regardless of that, there are a few ways to interpret the question. What does the questioner mean by awkward, for instance? Given the reference to the primary definition of the word, I think the best way to interpret it is "Will describing people as mongrels be confusing to my readers because of the other meaning?" and that is not entirely answerable without a sample of a potentially confusing context. Granted, normally I assume it would not be confusing. The very point of the insult is to act as a metaphor that compares the person to the very sort of dog described, but a sentence such as Look at that mongrel over there, rummaging through the trash for food might be confusing. Even then, we can not really speak on the behalf of specific groups or individuals with much certainty, and especially not a purely hypothetical readership.

Finally, you suggest that it might be somewhat understandable for this to be considered a writing advice question. If we posit that it is writing advice, then what better closure reason is there for writing advice other than Primarily Opinion Based? Despite the fact that writing advice is expressly outside of our scope, we do not have a standard closure reason for it because we are limited to three local closure reasons, which we already used for proofreading, inadequate research and incomplete Single Word Requests, plus whatever closure reasons apply across the entire Stack Exchange Network. Perhaps a custom write-in reason could be applied, but outside of the comment would just mark the question as outside of the scope described in the help center with an explanation in a potentially transient comment. Now, I think it is safe to say that our writing advice concerns are more over the fact that they are more opinion based than anything else, so if nothing else is read, the P.O.B. closure reason is more likely to address the problems a writing advice question may have than any other closure reason. This is important for helping the questioner understand what sort of edits need to be applied for the question to be salvaged if that is possible, or helping other members to understand why it is closed if not, especially in the long run.

  • Thanks for a thoughtful answer. However, I am not of the opinion that this Q is a "writing advice question"; I said closing as such would be "barely understandable". This is a valid Q about English Usage -- as distinct from merely English vocabulary: I wish I had thought to write a paragraph about the words mongrel and mongrelization as used in English translations of Nazi propaganda.
    – ab2
    Apr 9, 2018 at 19:19

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