This is my first post on this Meta and on this SE, so apologies if this is out-of-scope. Feel free to delete / close / downvote, but any advice is appreciated.

The context of this post is the latest blog post:

Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change.

I come from StackOverflow (the programming sibling) and have noticed that there is a huge variation in what people consider welcoming / helpful responses to SO questions and sarcy / dismissive responses. The same response is considered by one set as the former and another set as the latter!

In the end, it becomes a long-winded argument with no answer. I have a specific question about whether the tone of an answer is dismissive / disrespectful. I'm not talking about dictionary definitions of words used, but specifically about whether sarcasm / irony in a dismissive tone is evident in an answer. Is this in scope for StackExchange English Language & Usage? I considered Interpersonal Skills, but I'm not sure it's a good fit there either.

I can either link to a specific question & answer, or paste it into a question.

For reference, this is the answer I would want considered.

Note: this is not about moderation, it's about considering whether and how we can improve the way we communicate. If the consensus is the answer is well-meaning and welcoming, so be it - no work needs to be done.

  • 1
    The linked answer doesn't strike me rude at all, if you first read the question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:11
  • @Mari-LouA, For example, is this welcoming: It's even "rather important" to know how to change the oil in your car. But forget about the question, that's another question (should an answer's tone reflect the question's tone?). My question is specifically about the answer. A question full of swearing may justify an answer full of swearing, but that's not what I'm asking.
    – jpp
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:13
  • 1
    Fine, but first you need to read the question in order to understand why Nicol Bolas began their answer by saying "It's "rather important" to know how to get started programming C++. It's "rather important" to know how to write web browsers...." without first reading the question it will sound dismissive. I think it's fine, I have read much worse responses, and from mods too, albeit they were in comments, never in answers. I don't think this is a good example. But that's me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:18
  • @Mari-LouA, Understood. Maybe I could find a better example. I'm not intending to plague this SE with questions. Maybe 1 or 2 (probably better) examples than this one. But would the questions be in scope for this SE in this format? I would only include a question when there's an explicit disagreement among users (usually on SO Meta) on whether an answer is unwelcoming.
    – jpp
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:19
  • 1
    It might be interesting and if it is, users will happily participate, you want feedback from "experts" in English communication which sort of ties in with the site's scope. But in meta. Not on the main page. It would get closed as being POB (primarily opinion based)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:22
  • 2
    What I think could be considered on SO and on SE Meta is the number of DV a single post can receive. I think for anyone to receive over 30DVs on a well-meaning, well-organsised and well-thought out question is pretty disgraceful and really alienating.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:30
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA, Yes, I completely agree. I can tell the guy who asked that question was frustrated and angry (see my edit on his question). I also posted an answer which got heavily downvoted (possibly saying I should not be helping this guy). The whole culture seems wrong. But baby steps first, there are many answers which I find, let's say, distasteful, from a linguistic perspective.
    – jpp
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:33
  • @jpp Are you asking about that particular answer or about the general problem of being welcoming ('how to do it' or 'how to recognize it')?
    – Mitch
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:48
  • Also, are you asking about a how to be more welcoming on meta.SO or about main.SO? They are slightly different communities (more newcomers on main, more experienced users on meta).
    – Mitch
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:51
  • @Mitch, I'm unsure what's in scope here. I would appreciate an answer which would say whether general or specific questions are in scope. I started with specific because it leaves less ambiguity. Re: SO vs SO Meta, as long as I specify which it concerns, does it matter? Fyi, I see many newcomers on Meta too these days (purely because of their experience on main).
    – jpp
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:58
  • Just note that unwelcoming behavior isn’t typically evident from questions and answers but mainly in comments, often quickly deleted by posters, and other actions such as downvotes, closevotes etc,
    – user 66974
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 17:23
  • I am not certain, but it sounds like you want to use this site to wordsmith an answer into one that is more welcoming. This site is not meant to be used as an editing/proofreading service. But, if you have a particular phrase that you need help choosing the right word or right expression, I think this site can help with that.
    – jxh
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 22:23
  • @jxh, Well, here's a question that I ended up posting: english.stackexchange.com/questions/444419/…. It hasn't yet been closed as off-topic.
    – jpp
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 22:25
  • Related: Practical suggestions on welcoming communication
    – jpp
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 11:40

2 Answers 2


My take is that some of these issues could fit on EL&U (main), but they would need to be very carefully posed to be about a specific English usage issue. We have a general "no proofreading" policy ("unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified"), so just posting the text of a comment or answer and asking "is this OK, and if not how can it be more welcoming" would be off-topic.

For example, we've had a number of questions and answers about "scare quotes", most of which were on-topic.

  • If you wanted to ask a question about alternatives to such uses of quotation marks I think that would probably be on-topic.
  • Asking when the use of quotation marks will be perceived as "scare quotes" rather than just quotation is more borderline.
  • Asking if they're ever OK is probably off-topic (too broad, primarily opinion-based, etc.).

If you have a more "meta" (in the non meta-vs-main sense) language use question you would probably want to vet that here. It might be on-topic, but might be a better fit at Writing.SE or Interpersonal Skills (though my experience there is that if you're looking for a scientific approach you probably won't get nearly as many responses as more general questions get--see, e.g., Is there any research showing whether sandwich feedbacks are more effective than other forms of feedback?).

  • That's very clear, thank you. This ties in with @Mitch's comment about EL&U (quite rightly) not offering sociological judgement. I take it I can ask about potential meanings / interpretations of a phrase if it is unclear.
    – jpp
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 15:29
  • 1
    @jpp It's very easy to ask "What do you think the author meant by...?" when asking about meanings/interpretations; it's very hard to ask a question to which any answer is not primarily opinion-based. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it is difficult.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 18:09
  • @AndrewLeach, I remember (so long ago) those English Language exams where you were tasked with spotting and explaining intent/bias from choice of words, sentence structure, etc. I guess I was misguided to think that this kind of analysis fits nicely under EL&U SE.
    – jpp
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 18:32
  • 1
    "Meaning" questions can be tricky--if they can be definitively answered with quick reference to a dictionary, they'll probably be closed for lack of research (and you probably wouldn't need to ask, anyway), and if they're very open to interpretation they're likely to be closed as Primarily Opinion Based or literary criticism. If there's a debate about how a message is being received, EL&U is not going to be a good place to adjudicate the disagreement. The safe zone tends to be questions about obscure/archaic/very recent (but not one-off) terms or usages.
    – 1006a
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 19:51
  • 1
    Also questions about a phrase's origin, which can help tease out how various associations have come to be attached, can be interesting and on-topic. You could probably ask questions about things like whether a particular term is used in a particular register. @jpp.
    – 1006a
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 19:53
  • @1006a, Fyi, I hopefully interpreted your advice correctly and posted a question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/444419/…
    – jpp
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 8:51

You're asking multiple questions which I hope others will also attempt to answer.

  1. There's your title question "Can English Language & Usage help with making StackExchange more welcoming?". This is a bit broad.

  2. There's your main content question "Is it in scope for ELU to judge tone for a question or answer somewhere on SE?"

  3. There is the link to a given answer to a meta question that you want judged

One, for the title question, sure, ELU can help by itself being more welcoming. ELU has some analogous problems to SO: we get lots of single word requests, synonym requests, writing advice, when to use 'a' or 'an'. Many of these are frivolous or could have been done much more easily using an online dictionary or thesaurus. And for these drive-by 'do it for me' requests can be handled abruptly or with finesse.

Two, there is the question of adjudication, should ELU be a place to judge the intention/sarcasm/tone of SO questions. Whether on SO or on the web or in life in general, things like tone are just too context dependent to have a specific process to handle, it's sociology. I don't think it would be useful for ELU to be the mediator. It should be handled by mods; that's what mods are for. It's not like people on ELU are necessarily good judges of tone themselves just because they know the history of the word 'post' back to PIE or they know the difference between a fricative and an affricate.

Three, for the linked answer, it is an answer on meta. People on meta are expected to be experienced and understand the culture of that site. So being factual or abrupt, while it may be construed as confrontational on main, is the most informative. Of course, being a jerk is uncool anywhere.

I don't think main.ELU is a good place to judge specific questions on main or meta anywhere SE, or anywhere anywhere (meta.ELU would be OK for discussion about a 'main' situation). There may be more detailed question about a particular word and its taboo status or genderedness, etc or general question about what is a marker of sarcasm, those are totally on topic on main.ELU. But to act in the position of a mod discussion for the other sites is silly. Let the mods do it or bring it up in that site's meta.

  • I understand the conflict you have with (what may be perceived as) a mod function. Mods, as far as I can see, don't have a problem with sarcasm. The comments aren't rude. Usually, they are coupled with a message. On other hand, we all know that "Don't you have google where you live?" isn't really a welcoming question. So that I understand your answer better, if this was not in the context of a moderated website [e.g. an unmoderated email discussion between individuals], would such a question then become on-topic?
    – jpp
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 13:49
  • 1
    @jpp I think there's too much sociological judgment involved to be able to answer questions like that well. Sure, some linguistic knowledge might inform the line of pragmatic inferences that would justify taking a particular utterance as rude or sarcastic or welcoming (all of which are pretty vague). But you'd have to separate the analysis from the judging.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 14:05
  • @jpp it sounds like you want there to be a place to do judging, which is not limited to mods and is more open to people. Is that where you are going? That may well be a thing to do, but I don't think ELU is the place for anywhere. That kind of thing should be done at each place's meta if they have one. (and if the handling by the mods was not satisfactory). Disclaimer: I am not a mod.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 14:07
  • Appreciate your response; I would actually make your first comment on this post explicit in your answer, i.e. the overarching reason isn't about moderation, but about the sociological judgement involvement which would make it off-topic in any case. It would be interesting, of course, to hear at least one other opinion.
    – jpp
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 15:03

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .