I've noticed that some of the questions can be answered with a quick online dictionary check. Examples:

Should the site be used as a dictionary?

I think we should suggest somewhere on the site (on the FAQ?) that users first check online dictionaries before posting this type of questions. We could make a list of recommended dictionaries.

  • Good question. For simple meaning/definition questions it might make sense, but are you sure origin (etymology) questions should also be declared off-topic?
    – Jonik
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 18:12
  • 3
    I think etymology questions can be really interesting, so I wouldn't want to do away with them. I found the origin of "goodbye" to be interesting. Even definition vs. usage or a non-native speaker trying to understand a dictionary definition I find okay. But yes, anyone asking a question should be advised to at least check the dictionary first to see if the answer is right there.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 18:35
  • 2
    If the asker has already consulted a dictionary and is still confused, then I would think it's on-topic. "What is the plural of X?" is off-topic. "What is the plural of octopus; dictionaries disagree" is on. Things like, "What is the difference between Monologue and Soliloquy?" should similarly be off-topic unless the asker can show he/she looked up the defs and is still confused. E.g. "It seems that X and Y are synonyms. How is their usage different?"
    – tenfour
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 16:19
  • 1
    Agreed, simple look-ups should be closed. So should the usual "help me with my homework" items. However, persons like myself have extensive etymological and lexicographic reference works in print - many of which are rare and out of print, allowing us to provide etymologies far more detailed (and authoritative) than some of the common online databases allow. So the etymology in a dictionary can be helpful, but it won't have anywhere close to the amount of data given in, say, Barnhart's.
    – The Raven
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 21:20

3 Answers 3


I think they should be allowed so long as it encourages answers that provide substantial value beyond a simple definition.

Example of off-topic:

I saw the word descry in the newspaper today, what does it mean?
What is the plural form of octopus?

Example of on-topic:

What is the origin of the term jerkwater?
What is the difference between the words right and correct? Is there a different connotation?
Should I use octopuses or octopodes as the plural for octopus in a journalistic context?

  • 4
    Dictionaries don't agree on the plural form of Octopus, so I think that it might qualify for an on-topic discussion.
    – Zoot
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 19:20
  • 2
    This is a Q&A site, not a discussion site. If dictionaries don't agree, then the users of this site are unlikely to be able to provide an authoritative answer either.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 19:43

There is now a new experimental close reason, as previously discussed:

general reference

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

Give that a try; we're evaluating the results. Also refer to the blog post on the topic with its handy chart:



I think posting on the FAQ that users first check online dictionaries before posting these types of questions would be very helpful.

In my opinion a great example of an off-topic question is: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/10659/what-does-tldr-mean

A 2 second google search would have revealed this answer. Not only do questions like this contribute nothing positive to the site, other than entertainment value, but they also have a negative impact as well. Users will think EL&U is nothing more than an online dictionary, just like some think SO is nothing more than a wiki. They will leave before giving the site a chance.

Why don't we encourage questions that demonstrate a minimal level of research? We should encourage questions that are practical, that solve a problem users could not easily solve in a couple seconds in another manner. I say we should close questions like this regardless of how popular they are.

  • 2
    (1) TL;DR does not (yet) appear in any reputable dictionary; and (2) expanding the abbreviation does not fully explain all the meanings of the term. Thus, I don't think it's off-topic at all.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 21:12
  • It makes more sense when you say it like that thanks.
    – D W
    Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 21:22

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