What's that word?

It's happened to everyone one of us, and it happens to each and every one of us more and more frequently as time passes by.

What was that great word I read the other day?

You know there's a word but you just can't recall it. You think it has the letter "p" in it; it sounds foreign; it's really informal, maybe it was slang; you think it was an academic term, maybe a linguistic word, etc. etc.

How does one go about researching a word they don't remember but it's somewhere dormant in their brain?

Please vote to reopen the following question, which I believe is a valuable addition (is that the right word?) to the site.

Word for a cushy position awarded to a crony?

I'm struggling to recall this word. If I recall correctly, it's of French origin. My search has so far been fruitless.

Or please explain how any user, let alone a new contributor, should research a word they cannot remember.

Here's another example, in this instance the OP (a native speaker and new contributor) read the banner but was left feeling confused/bemused.

Looking for a word for "not up for discussion"


Edit: Please excuse my failure to follow the proper format. I believed that the word began with a "v" but to cite where I searched? Seemingly everywhere online. I found numerous options including "out of bounds" and "off limits" but not the one word that I knew existed. My search brought me here so clearly I'd been looking for a time.

Now, some will argue that these type of questions (SWRs) should be banned from the site altogether. But for now, they're not.

So, what solution or friendly guidance can we, as a community, offer to new contributors looking for that elusive "word" that is on the tip of their tongue?

Fodder to chew on

General Reference = general clairvoyance?

Is it really so important in English to find a single word to express a single concept?

Is it wrong to answer the intent of the question?

Are tip of the tongue questions completely unsuitable here?

An answer by Jon Ericson, Community Manager on Stack Exchange, to
On Answering Word Requests

  • 1
    I VtRO, wasn’t aware that was possible when it had been unilaterally closed by a mod.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 19, 2018 at 11:49
  • 2
    5th reopen vote. :)
    – Lawrence
    Nov 19, 2018 at 12:58
  • 1
    This happened to me, and, rather than go mad, I asked this question. So sometimes a "what's that word" question sneaks by the "show your research" close-voters. I think these are the better SWR, because there is only one right answer, not a lot of made up, fanciful answers.
    – ab2
    Nov 19, 2018 at 21:31
  • +1 for the "fodder to chew upon"
    – lbf
    Nov 22, 2018 at 15:08
  • 1
    I think the general perception of ELU users is that “elusive word” questions are sort of close relatives of “SWRs”, so poor quality, easily googleable, crosswords like questions. Recently introduced “be nice” policy doesn’t help in that respect, so my suggestion is to move those questions to ELL where a more lenient attitude towards new users and less intuitive research can help take into more serious consideration those questions.
    – user 66974
    Nov 25, 2018 at 7:14
  • @user240918 That kind of sounds like you are advocating dumping stuff on ELL to relieve people here of the need to adhere to the site-wide admonition to be nice. Surely that isn't what you meant?
    – Spagirl
    Nov 26, 2018 at 11:08
  • @Spagirl - you got it right. I am not advocating any “dumping”, but I do think that those questions, given their more elementary nature, are on topic on ELL. If you have a more appropriate site to suggest, please do.
    – user 66974
    Nov 26, 2018 at 11:29
  • 1
    "Or please explain how any user, let alone a new contributor, should research a word they cannot remember." - Remembering the word you forgot is in fact the entire point of a thesaurus (it certainly isn't meant for "spicing up writing with random synonyms," because that tends to fly about as well as a lead balloon).
    – Kevin
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:29
  • @Kevin look up "cushy position" or "cushy job" in a thesaurus (not Google) and tell me what you find.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:31
  • @Mari-LouA: I never said it was easy - it often involves chasing through several layers of synonyms (e.g. work -> employment -> occupation -> dodge -> contrivance...) and may not work at all. But the point is that you have to show your work, not just let us assume you've done it.
    – Kevin
    Nov 27, 2018 at 15:39

4 Answers 4


In general, I agree that there is not a great "reverse dictionary" easily available for researching this kind of question, so "lack of research" isn't necessarily a great close reason. I do think it's still very helpful when OPs with this sort of question include information like "I thought of X and looked at its synonyms, but none of those match" or "I tried googling fancy word for an easy job and didn't get anything", to help avoid false-positives and so that answerers can avoid duplicating the OP's efforts, but it's not always necessary and any vote-to-close for lack of this research probably ought to be accompanied by a comment requesting the info.

In this particular case, though, the question has at least three duplicates, one of which was asked just over a month ago, so I think it should properly be closed as a duplicate.


What's the Word for a Token Job?, asked May 22 2014, accepted answer by Affable Geek posted that same day:

A Sinecure is a "cushy" job that is usually given as a reward. It literally means "without care" and is a job without the cares of actual results. It is typically given for reasons of status, prestige, or patronage.

and Word meaning a job someone is installed in where they don’t do anything, asked Apr 13, 2018, accepted answer posted that day by GEdgar:


A position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit.
‘political sinecures for the supporters of ministers’


and most recently Fake job given as appeasement?, asked October 14, 2018. It apparently hit the HNQ so its accepted answer, posted that day by Robusto, managed to gain 60 upvotes:

The word you're looking for is

sinecure noun
1. A position or office that requires little or no work but provides a salary.

TFD Online.

I don't see any particular added value in yet another "the word you are looking for is sinecure" answer. So by all means don't close this question for lack of research, but do close it as a duplicate. Every marked dupe helps increase the odds that a future searcher will find the right answer, and also gets the current OP to the right answer.

And while we're at it, let's close that October one, too, for tidiness' sake. It garnered two or three close votes, but that was after it left the HNQ and they have since aged away.

  • 2
    Thanks! Yes, hopefully this new version will be easier to find for googlers. Though I think the point of dupes is that different people will find the question/answer in different ways. Interestingly, the first two of those questions are also of the "I've heard this word before, but can't recall it" variety; apparently, this word pops up a lot in situations where people think "hey, that's a neat word!" then promptly forget it.
    – 1006a
    Nov 19, 2018 at 17:47
  • As to your first sentence, OneLook has a pretty good reverse dictionary. It found sinecure when I typed in cushy job, and also when I typed in easy job.
    – J.R.
    Nov 20, 2018 at 21:49
  • @J.R. I do wish folks turned to thesauruses more often before asking here. But note that OneNote doesn't return sinecure for "fake job", "token job", or "inconsequential job" (the terms used by the three dupe OPs), so its utility depends on how close the seeker is to begin with. Also, I suspect that whereas dictionaries and encyclopedias (or at least Wikipedia) are familiar to most folks (typing "define sinecure" or "sinecure meaning" or similar into a search engine will pop up a bunch of dictionary links), even the concept of a reverse dictionary is non-obvious to a lot of people.
    – 1006a
    Nov 20, 2018 at 22:53
  • @J.R. until I became a member, I didn't know reverse dictionaries on the Internet existed. I typed "cushy job" on thesaurus.com and came up with nothing. However, googling cushy job lead me to this site powerthesaurus.org/cushy_job/synonyms, which wasn't in the top five sites listed by Google but the 11th, so kinda easy to miss.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 22, 2018 at 7:51
  • There are currently two votes to reopen the "cushy position" question. Who would have guessed?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 22, 2018 at 12:26
  • 1
    As a more general attitude, I think the “elusive word” questions should be moved to ELL where new users are not expected to be familiar with less common reference such as One look Dictionary.
    – user 66974
    Nov 25, 2018 at 6:56

Stack Exchange actively discourages requests for help remembering something you have forgotten, or any other request for guesses or ideas, as opposed to answers. This is because Stack Exchange is developing the exhaustive list of correct answers to questions future visitors will need answered. Suppose a person asks “what is the word that I am trying to remember”. Even if the person is satisfied by the answer, nobody else will ever want to consult Stack Exchange to find out what word escaped that person.

The test for this type of question is: Can answer correctness be checked objectively? You know you have a problem if:

  • A key criterion for answer correctness remains hidden in the mind of the asker

  • To earn the the green check for the right answer, you have to guess correctly

  • To vote on an answer, you have to mindread the asker

Of course it may be possible to turn such a request into a good Stack Exchange question. The asker might be willing to rewrite the question so that it is objective enough to have a clearly “right” answer no matter who is asking. This makes the question useful to future visitors, and makes it possible for experts to answer objectively and to peer review other answers as “right” or “wrong”.

Otherwise, good places to ask for help remembering a word you have forgotten:

Further reading

  • But note that a 'tip of the tongue' question, where all hints are given, and all prior research, can be a good SWR. Or you could say in a dual manner is that the reason SWRs are so bad is because they are thinly veiled 'top-of-the-tongue' guessing games.
    – Mitch
    Nov 27, 2018 at 1:48
  • Do "new contributors" come to chat asking for help on SWRs? I have seen a number of comments left by you encouraging them to pass by. Do they ever? Could you please supply a link where that happened? I'm specifically asking about new users not veterans of chat.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 27, 2018 at 9:36
  • @Mari-LouA: Remember that chat is not there to solve the asker's problem. It is there to provide an outlet, much like the "off-topic" boards that every forum in the universe has been forced to create. Nobody cares if users actually get their help from chat, just that they don't clog up the main site.
    – Kevin
    Nov 27, 2018 at 18:11
  • @Mari-LouA The chat referral works for new contributors as long as they have 20 SE reputation. Doesn't have to be ELU. It can be any site, or even distributed among multiple sites as long as it adds up to 20. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/257816/…
    – MetaEd
    Nov 27, 2018 at 21:23
  • Although I have my doubts about regarding whether or not these are against present guidelines (network-wide closure reasons were reworked since the guessing games post), if you, as the due authority, are firm on this issue, I would suggest closing these questions as P.O.B. in the future. "Please include the research..." may have ben more accurate or less questionable, but it also makes it seem like you want questioners to cite a thesaurus or something along those lines rather than addressing concerns about subjectivity guideline that regard the question's very nature.
    – Tonepoet
    Nov 29, 2018 at 5:58
  • @Tonepoet If it helps, "Real Questions Have Answers" (not guesses or ideas) is linked to by every site's "What types of questions should I avoid asking" page. So that's authoritative, and calls all requests for guesswork a bad fit. "Let's Play The Guessing Game" just gives more of the rationale for why they're a bad fit.
    – MetaEd
    Nov 29, 2018 at 19:52

The answer of Andrew Leach in the 3rd link can be boiled down to show what you found. —MariLou-A

Yes, that is mostly accurate, although it should be noted that this necessitates that you try to look.

The problem is, at least in the case of the first question, that Sue F., who asked Word for Not Up For Discussion did not show us that she found anything when it was closed. The original form of the question that Sue F. provided reads entirely as follows:

I am looking for a single word that means "not up for discussion", "will not discuss this topic", a topic that is out of bounds. noun/adjective? Example, "Several months ago, our daughter made talking about her weight _______".

Everything else was edited in after summery closure by MetaEd, which he did because she did not show us that she found anything. If this was "It's fixed and now it should be reopened" that's one thing, but I interpreted this question as expressing surprise over it. Perhaps I was mistaken.

Anyway, what she did after the question was closed that lead to it being reopened makes the question an somewhat interesting case study for what could be done in the future, as do a few of the other facts regarding the case.

Here is what I wrote for your review so far MariLou-A

Except in cases where the questioner misremembered, which would render such a question de-facto unanswerable, since the word would not actually exist if so, these questions all share something in common:

That would be that the questioner encountered the word before, and may know in what kind of circumstance that the word is likely to have been used. Perhaps the questioner does not know what circumstances the word is used in, but then again, if the questioner does not know that, I am not really sure how somebody else is supposed to do much better.

Considering these factors, questioners should have the ability to retrace their steps for the purpose of finding the exact circumstance in which they have last encountered the word. They can therefore explain to us how they have tried to do this or explain why they can not do this, and then show us that they have checked analogous sources where the word is likely to be found.

One thing somebody could do is ask around with any friends, family or acquaintances who are likely to know it, and this is what our questioner explained that she tried to do in the case of Looking for a Word for Not Up for Discussion. She claims that she found her answer independently of us by asking her 82 year old mother what the word was. If she had tried this first, then there would have never been a need to consult us about it. I do not know if that's a good thing or not since we want questions, but it is a fact to be considered.

If the questioner was unable to ask her mom directly, perhaps because her mother was out of reach, then she could shown us a quotation from a source that she believed to be likely to use the word based upon her knowledge of the word.

When Phenry expressed his consternation at people closing questions as being General Clairvoyance he assumed total ignorance of the answer and asked:

Really!? How … is the guy supposed to look up the answer when he doesn't know the name of the thing he's supposed to look up?

Although I would at least sometimes agree with this sort of rationale, it does not really apply in these cases, because the questioners claim to have at least partial knowledge of their desired answer, and if we look to the information she provided us, then we can see that Sue may have had some clues regarding what she could have used as a basis of her search. I most particularly look to the title of her question, and the fact that she was talking about subjects of discussion.

If I plug the search term "this topic is not up for discussion" into Google Books, passage I find this excerpt from The Fixer-Upper Man: Turn Mr. Maybe into Mr. Right in 5 Easy Steps by Cooper Lawrence:

"When my mother starts asking me when I'm going back to medical school, I walk away and don't see her for a period of time until she learns she can't talk to me about that every time she sees me. Now I just say, 'I love you but this topic is not up for discussion,' and she lets it go." One thing you can do is let your Fixer-Upper know that temporarily excluding someone from his life in order to get a message across is okay. Another thing is getting him to realize that you can't have a sit-down with everyone; some folks in his life will need action, not words. As Theodore says, "consequences," and now his mother has learned that there are certain topics that are verboten.

Upon reading the word, I presume her memory may have been sparked without need of further explanation. Personally, I would suppose that verboten is often collocated with "not up for discussion" as an emphatic reiteration of the sentiment.

Keep in mind that I have only derived the first revision of the question, without the extra benefit of knowing that a mother is likely to be involved, and that extra clue was not even available to us until after the question was closed. Since she decided to consult her mom, I therefore presume she had the benefit of this additional knowledge which may have been used as an additional aid to her efforts.

Now I am not insisting that somebody should have tried this exact method of finding the answer. It is just that I also do not want us pretending as if questioners are completely clueless and unable to help themselves if evidence suggests the contrary, and my goal with this example is to demonstrate that useful search terms could have been derived from the nature of the query, especially since I borrowed them from it almost word-for-word.

Moreover people should probably try to find where they encountered the word before, or at least show us that they have at least tried to find it by showing an analogous context which might have contained the word before resorting to enlisting the aid of many strangers.

Here is a possible comment I might use if I wanted to suggest this should be done.

Welcome Sue! We have a research standard which requires that our questioners provide basic research while consulting us, mostly to avoid us giving out redundant data. Would you please mention any steps that you may have taken to remind yourself which word you want? Did you ask someone what it was, or read anything that might contain it? Knowing what you have done may even give us clues that help us to find the word, even if you can not.

One thing I like about this comment is that it gives a reason why it is mutually beneficial for both the questioner and us to have such an effort documented, which may increase the likelihood that we will be obliged.

If the research requirement is just to show us where you looked to show you put a modicum of effort into it yourself, then that should be reasonable in my opinion. It is not unreasonable to expect somebody to take steps to at least try and remember something that he or she has forgotten before asking anybody else, since the person in the best position to do that it is the person who forgot. This applies even more-so when somebody is trying to enlist the help of a group of strangers.

  • So next time we should ask a new contributor if they have talked to their mother on the phone? :) Let's presume they have, and let's say they have asked a friend but neither one knows this word. How does supplying that piece of information help the community find that word? The truth is, that type of research was not needed. Answers were in fact posted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:37
  • Both users had provided their definition, and Sue F. had included that all-important sample sentence in their first draft "Several months ago, our daughter made talking about her weight _______". Now, admittedly the question was very short but was that a valid reason for closing? Because I think they were both closed b/c they looked like typical LQQs.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:37
  • @Mari-LouA I'll try to address these matters later. I have things to do right now.
    – Tonepoet
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:51
  • @Mari-LouA I made a pastebin with the promised response. I set it to expire within a week. I am not really quite sure what to do with it. It is far too long for commentary, and it does not seem apt for an answer either, if It adds anything of lasting value at all.
    – Tonepoet
    Nov 29, 2018 at 5:45
  • I think posting three lengthy detailed answers is excessive. You can always delete one of them. Or why not edit and fill in the cracks with the newer post? I'd also prune it down a bit. The first paragraph is fluff.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 29, 2018 at 15:55
  • I'd also remove the paragraph beginning with "We are looking for literally just one out of [about a million words]..." It's all very true but I think it dilutes your argument.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 29, 2018 at 16:03

Regarding Our Research Requirements

Despite the fact that I very much prefer the philosophy of the reading material provided, General Reference based posts are not reflective what the moderators consider to be standing policy

The standing position of the moderation staff, and the top voted answer regarding our research requirements on meta, is that all questions should require at least some amount of research irrespective of subject matter or how readily available the answer is. The following reading material helps to demonstrate this:

I do doubt the assertion that closure voting patterns set policy rather than being restrained by it, especially since setting policy is the role of meta votes, but even if we assume that the single highest voted answer regarding a subject on meta establishes policy, then it would still be accurate to state that it is presently the policy that is in effect is Research Required, because Andrew Leach's answer to How Much Research is Required outscores Jeff's answer to Basic Questions Are Not Not So Basic by a margin of four. Thus this type of closure comes as no surprise.

If this interpretation of policy is correct, then these questions were appropriately closed. That more questions are not closed is really the exceptionalism, but even so that has more so to do with the nature of moderators on the network and that is another subject altogether.

  • I was asking how we, as a community, help any user–but especially a new contributor–include that essential piece of research in order to prevent their SWR from closing. If a user is looking for a specific word but cannot remember it, how can we possibly tell them to look in a dictionary or say it is general knowledge? What tip would you give that user whose question risks closure? Can you please suggest some ideas, not hidden in one of those eight links. 1006a suggested using a reverse dictionary. Finding an identical question in the archives is also another solution.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 24, 2018 at 18:19
  • I had some free time, so I thought I'd look into those links. The last entry is dated October 31 2012. chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/6144/2012/10/31 What was the point of including that link?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2018 at 16:49
  • The 2nd link is relevant but Andrew Leach's answer says, and I quote "No Stack Exchange site is a substitute for looking in a standard reference work." Well, if you don't remember the word for something where do you look? The OPs in the "cushy position" and "Looking for a word for “not up for discussion” both provided definitions and the second OP said that they had searched online, …Seemingly everywhere online…, before posting their question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2018 at 16:53
  • The 3rd link was an answer to someone who had posted this question: Please explain 'where this would otherwise'? and asked What's the antecedent of ‘where” here? Why not a relative pronoun of the form "preposition + which" ? and Would you please explain the thought processes behind how to determine the answers here and resolve the ambiguity ? That OP has a long history of asking questions with little to no research on relatively obscure texts.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:02
  • @Mari-LouA Hi: Sadly, an absolute research requirement based on showing minimal effort such as this doesn't require a recourse for askers to have their votes reopened until it is shown that they comply, and I took this as on-topic/off-topic discussion due to the reopening request. I am sorry if I misinterpreted the question, and I have been thinking about what could be done for those who insist upon it. The link is there for historical sentiments which may have lead up from the transition from Gen. Ref. to Include Research, but I may have overestimated its importance.
    – Tonepoet
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:02
  • The answer of Andrew Leach in the 3rd link can be boiled down to show what you found.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:04
  • Link 4 is another answer by Andrew Leach, the phrase "Provide details. Share your research" is circled in red. Links 5 and 6 serve no purpose. Both mention the current phrasing on the banner, the same one which @Sue F. mentioned in their edit. That post has been reopened but we've lost a potential user forever b/c there were no constructive tips or comments. Instead of posting obsolete references and links that require users to leave this page and read paragraphs, it would have been more helpful to future visitors if the contents had been summarised.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:22
  • I'm sorry, but I have to DV. I never asked, "why" research is needed or the history behind the "Please include the research" banner.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2018 at 17:25

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