I'm really concerned about this question, and others like it that may appear:


The purpose of this site is to help people learn, not to give people a place to rant about their personal language peeves. I feel that this sort of thing should be strongly discouraged, and that the FAQ should indicate this. Questions that ask about "annoying misuse", "most hated mistakes", "point and laugh", etc. should be automatically off-topic and closed with extreme prejudice.

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    I agree whole-heartedly. I must admit I enjoyed nohat's debunking frenzy in this particular thread though :)
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 0:23
  • Is there a point and laugh question? I have missed it.
    – delete
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 5:06
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    I liked this question, would it help to rephrase it to: "What are the most common mistakes?", this could be very instructive for non natives.
    – stacker
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 10:19
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    @Kosmonaut: what's more, I actually learned something from it.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 13:49
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    @stacker, but the question was specifically about "most annoying" misuses of language, which is something completely different from "most common". "Most common" mistakes would have been an acceptable question, although I would ask that it be made CW. Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 15:40
  • That question has been deleted (as, from the description of it here, it should be), but I'd like to read "nohat's debunking frenzy". Is it available anywhere online, or would I have to extract it from the data dumps?
    – TRiG
    Commented Dec 1, 2010 at 14:46
  • @TRiG, once you have enough rep you can view deleted questions. Until then, I'm not sure what you can do. Commented Dec 1, 2010 at 14:54
  • @TRIG: you can search for it on google (by eg the title of the question in quotation marks), then view their cached copy of the page (it’s a little link at the end of the main snippet). This worked for me a couple of days ago, at least!
    – PLL
    Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 20:08
  • Thanks for making me look for the meaning of peeving! :P
    – Mohit
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 14:49

4 Answers 4


I don’t think my heart can take a steady stream of questions like that. Debunking frenzies are exhausting.

Maybe if questions like that have a “hey, why don’t you check in a couple dictionaries first” disclaimer, then maybe people will do the bare minimum of due diligence before spouting off about their pet theory of why they think so many people are using a word wrong.

Because most of the time, in my experience, it is the pet theory which is wrong, and not the disputed usage. Too much freedom for questions like this will result in a site full of half-truths, myths, and old wives’ tales, rather than hard facts and evidence, which is what I think everyone would prefer.

  • While you make some valid points, I tend to side with JohnFx. Peevishness CAN belie a serious interest in improving the language, but it should not ipso facto be ignored. Personally, I'd like more people within EL&U to contribute their pet peeves to the universe of discourse. A minimum of due diligence is good, but it needn't be the primary criterion for submitting a question. A pet peeve can not only keep us up to date, it can also help us to improve our usage, both of which are good criteria. By the way, your use of "debunking" may not be apt. See AHD's Word History. Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 20:30
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    @rhetorician Considering this discussion is from 2 1/2 years ago, do you find that the site has evolved in a way which is too-hostile to pet peeves? Pet peeves don't keep anyone up to date or improve usage. A pet peeve is just a pretext for an argument about taste and preference. As for "debunking", etymology is not destiny; my usage was perfectly apt.
    – nohat Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 17:15

I'm torn on this. While I do think it is important to keep the site relevant and on topic, I also would like to keep a light/fun atmosphere on the site to build community.

Being too rigid might stifle enthusiasm for the site. After all, there are a ton of these questions still open on StackOverflow and I don't think they damaged that community.

Right now I vote to err on the side of fun, and if it starts getting out of hand we can moderate/vote to rein it back in.

  • Maybe it can be one of those always open community wiki questions, like stackoverflow.com/questions/1711/… . It might be fun to run it as a poll. Then, for other peeve questions that pop up, close them and point to the existing one.
    – Chris
    Commented Sep 10, 2010 at 15:13

While I agree with some of the arguments found in answers to "This is not a site for peeving," I for one am in favor of contributors to EL&U airing at least some of their pet peeves. Their contributions serve not only to keep us informed and up to date, but also entertained and amused, which as JohnFx points out in his answer is not without merit.

To use discretion in our role as gatekeepers is admirable, but to censor all "peevish questions" is taking that role too far. Granted, to consider--when appropriate--each question on a case-by-case basis is good, but by the same token, to keep a question from being responded to makes all-important the criterion to exercise "due diligence," which I find onerous and unreasonable. Must every question be researched exhaustively before it's worthy of submission?

After all, EL&U contributors constitute a pretty eclectic group of English speakers. Their choices of, and contexts for, reading- and spoken material are sufficiently unique to make the airing of peeves a legitimate source of helpful information. I, for example, might be a fount of knowledge regarding newspapers and legal textbooks. Another person might be an expert on the language of television's talking-heads, and still another person might consider politicians' choices of words particularly worthy of skewering.

I'd welcome some lists of commonly-used words that raise the hackles of EL&U readers. Perhaps I use unknowingly some of them myself, to my writing's detriment. Isn't self-improvement one of the goals of EL&U?

In order to elicit some opinions as to whether or not I should submit some my pet peeves to the scrutiny of readers of the non-meta forum, I'll first run just a few of my peeves past the readers of the meta-forum:

  1. the excessive use of ICONIC, particularly in periodicals and on TV

  2. the use of LITERALLY instead of VIRTUALLY ("They were laughing so hard, they were literally rolling in the aisles.")

  3. the use of RHETORIC in an almost exclusively negative context and with a negative connotation ("The last thing we need now is rhetoric; what we need is a debate rooted in reality")--as if rhetoric is not part of reality.

    If Aristotle was correct, rhetoric is a neutral word, which he defines as "the faculty of determining in a given case the available means of persuasion." How, then, can rhetoric exist apart from from reality if it is simply a person's ability to use what s/he has found to be persuasive in a given context?

In public discourse, rhetoric is the most valuable component, despite a given rhetor's failure both to craft a speech intelligently and to persuade auditors (such as the above person who uses the term RHETORIC negatively). What is needed today is less use of the ad hominem argument--an attack against the speaker or writer--and more use of better-researched, more-accurate, and more-persuasive arguments against the "other guy's 'mere' rhetoric." Now THAT is the reality of the situation.

  • If your question is not really a question, but just an expression of a peeve, the it's Not A Real Question, and will be closed as such. This is not a site for general discussion, but a question-and-answer site.
    – nohat Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 17:20

To answer "maven" questions is a chance for a teachable moment. The questions show misunderstanding about the enterprise of English language scholarship, so this site can do a useful community service by tactfully answering such questions in a way that helps the OP understand what issues English language scholars actually care about.

As has been suggested for unwelcome questions from learners, why not shunt these questions into prescriptivism.SE ?

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