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The question I raised here has already suffered one vote to close - for being "opinion based".

Does not "opinion" lie at the heart of the way language develops? There seems to me a childish intent among many users of the site to rule out anything which cannot be answered definitively - which is asked in order to engender a much-needed discussion of the issue.

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  • Your main site question is something I have often been curious about but never thought of asking for I'm not good at phrasing questions. I leave it up to the others to decide whether to reopen.
    – NVZ Mod
    May 21 at 11:20
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    100% agree with your question, especially for a site calling itself “English Language & Usage”. It’s not a bloody opinion it’s usage! May 21 at 13:59
  • 3
    Also seems like the closed “opinion” questions generate the most interesting and useful comments. May 21 at 14:00
  • 2
    1) It's asking for usage and meaning, not opinion - I voted to reopen 2) I'm pretty sure you can vote to reopen your own closed question. 3) What kind of person answers a question and then votes to close the question? (it's that one guy) 4) There's a lot in your question that could be construed as opinion but that's just to help motivate a more authoritative answer. 5) I feel like essays have been written about 'sex' vs 'gender' and their history (and very recent usage) - I always thought that the use of gender instead of sex was taboo avoidance. 5) I don't have a good meta-answer for you.
    – Mitch
    May 21 at 17:24
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    I feel like the question is asking almost if not exactly the same thing as What is the difference between "gender" and "sex"? (though it feels like many of the answers there are outdated and/or poorly backed up).
    – Laurel Mod
    May 21 at 22:34
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    I avoided even thinking about answering it because (a) it was about terminology, hence opinion, (b) it was about changing terminology, hence more opinion, (c) it was about either sex or gender, which is about like being about either which or that in ELU. Enough. To get a useful answer would take a well-designed survey, and the results would only be correct for one time period in one geographical speech community. May 22 at 16:53
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    The main SE sites have a Q&A format that isn't suited for back-and-forth discussion of issues. If you genuinely want a discussion, you can do that in chat or, alternatively, on a discussion forum that's intended for that use. May 23 at 8:33
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    @JohnLawler But does the EL&U site not have an implied role in the development of language? Given the levels of erudition among some of the contributors (not all), it would seem a pity if such an opportunity were lost. Who, for example, in our linguistic communities, has the role of determining what is and what is not considered ambiguous terminology? Meta would seem to me the right place to be discussing the full role of the EL&U site. As for sex v gender this seems to present opportunities for confusion, both accidental and mischievous. Should we not have an interest in that?
    – WS2
    May 23 at 9:50
  • @WS2 To answer the first question, I am not aware of or party to any "implied role" in "the development of language" that may be hidden in the small print here. To answer the next question, everybody who speaks English has that role; it's part of speaking English. As for the last question, I have no idea what topics we should have an interest in, whoever we may be. May 23 at 15:06
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    @WS2 Q&A on meta is usually considered more amenable to discussion-like behavior (it is advised against on main sites). But that is about meta topics, like the one you seem to be proposing about ELU being a prescriptive authority vs just s descriptive record. But -discussion- of sex vs gender, that's not a good fit for main. We should totally have an interest in that, and should have a question about it. But to Laurel's point, we already do. Maybe put a bounty on better answers at that question?
    – Mitch
    May 23 at 17:59
  • @Mitch I didn't object too much to the persons who pointed out that there had previously been similar questions. My ire was raised by those who claimed it was a matter of "opinion" - not because it didn't involve an element of opinion, but of the rather Putinesque idea that there was something wrong with opinion.
    – WS2
    May 23 at 18:42
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    @JohnLawler Just to be clear I intended we to mean we people who regularly, of our own free will and volition - and out of interest's sake for the language we love - contribute to this site.
    – WS2
    May 23 at 18:53
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    To elaborate @WS2's point, the role of this site in the development of the language is implied by the overall aims of the Stack Exchange system as a whole. The sites of the system are intended to be places for articulation of the contributors' own expertise, that goes beyond what can be found elsewhere. The insistence of some regular contributors to this site on the Wikipedia-style requirement that everything posted be a repackaging of the stuff published elsewhere puts this site at odds with the rest of the Stack Exchange system.
    – jsw29
    May 24 at 15:35
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    I'm reminded of Sapir's dictum "Everything that we have so far seen to be true of language points to the fact that it is the most significant and colossal work that the human spirit has evolved -- nothing short of a finished form of expression for all communicable experience. This form may be endlessly varied by the individual without thereby losing its distinctive contours; and it is constantly reshaping itself as is all art. Language is the most massive and inclusive art we know, a mountainous and anonymous work of unconscious generations." May 25 at 15:09
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    I believe it is beneficial to ask and keep "good" subjective questions with enough details, reasonable subjectivity and an acceptable tone. It is not only about references, it is about how we use the language and about our experiences also. StackExchange favors "good" subjective questions also: stackoverflow.blog/2010/09/29/good-subjective-bad-subjective
    – ermanen
    May 26 at 12:11

2 Answers 2

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Using 'opinion-based' as a term of condemnation on this site (as on other Stack Exchange sites) was originally intended to rule out the questions like:

What is the cutest word for . . . ?

What is the most creative way of expressing . . . ?

Which way of expressing . . . do you like the best?

Such questions are indeed incompatible with the aims of the site, and deserve to be promptly closed. Some regular contributors to this site, however, seem to be using 'opinion-based' as a general term of condemnation that can be applied to any question that they disapprove of, even if it is not at all like the above examples, as long as it involves opinions in some way.

Most of the questions that involve debatable opinions can, however, be answered in a way that is not itself a matter of opinion. One can summarize the disagreements that exist on a particular matter and the state of debate on them, without that summary itself being a matter of debate. The questions that ask whether it is correct or advisable to use a certain word in a certain way, can be answered with something along the following lines:

Some people object to this use of the word; their reasons are A, B, and C. Others refute these reasons by arguing D, E, and F. Yet others accept A, B, C as having some force, but argue that they can be outweighed by G, H, and I.

Posting such an answer fits the aims of this site very well, and it is unfortunate that it sometimes gets precluded by an indiscriminate use of the 'primarily opinion-based' reason for closing.

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    Answers based on opinions do not fit the Stack Exchange model. This is a Q&A website not a philosophical society. It seems pretty obvious that when opinions are involved, sooner or later prejudices and generalisations rear their little heads, and before you know it some idiot makes a racist/sexist/offensive remark, and before you know it someone claims it's their right to express their opinion, it's a free country, the first amendment, Orwell was right, it's 1984 all over again, Brave New World and... so on and so forth. Questions supported by facts and references are much easier to vote on.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24 at 20:19
  • Gender and sex are touchy topics. The OP doesn't really want to know everyone's opinion, only a selected few. P.S I neither voted to close nor reopen the question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24 at 20:20
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    @Mari-LouA, I am puzzled as to how your comments are related to the specific argument of this answer. Yes, answers that merely express opinions do not fit the model, but they are very different from the answers that strive to fairly present the opinions that are held on a particular topic, together with the arguments for them and the counterarguments against them. But, I feel that in saying that am repeating what is already in the answer; perhaps you can make it clearer what specifically you disagree with in the answer.
    – jsw29
    May 24 at 20:35
  • How would you propose to fairly represent these opinions without any supporting evidence or references? How would a visitor know we were not cherry picking the data? Opinion based questions do not fit the Stack model. The SE model does not allow an open exchange of ideas. It wants answers to questions. Preferably more than one answer, but answers should either be "right" or "perfect". Look up the credo of Spolsky and Jeff Atwood.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24 at 20:49
  • "I am puzzled as to how your comments are related to the specific argument of this answer." They're not really. They're just my opinion.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24 at 20:50
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    @Mari-LouA, with all due respect, if the comments were not related to the answer, they should have been posted below the question, rather than below the answer. And, yes, it is quite possible that an answer that tries to fairly represent the relevant opinions does not do it well; that would make that particular answer bad, but it does not mean that the question shouldn't have been asked.
    – jsw29
    May 24 at 21:11
  • You are defending opinion based questions, are you not? You are saying they can present a balanced picture. I am saying when opinions are allowed loose, you get disorder and disagreements. If the Q had hit the Hot Network Questions, I shudder what the comments, answers and downvotes would have been like. The OP got lucky or maybe the mods held back the reins? Conversely, the comments are related to the core issue raised by the OP "What is wrong with a discussion of opinion?". There's a fair bit. You haven't answered how you would fairly represent differing ideas without references.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24 at 21:15
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    @Mari-LouA, the answer is drawing a distinction between two kinds of questions: those that call for expression of opinions ('what is the cutest . . . ?'), and those that are about opinions. I agree that the former do not belong here, but argue that the latter do, because one can explicate and analyse opinions in a manner that is not itself a matter of opinion. There are several Stack Exchange sites devoted to different religions: this is because it is possible to dispassionately study, explicate, and analyse religious opinions, even though people disagree on which religion is the true one.
    – jsw29
    May 24 at 21:30
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    And many of those answers on religion sites are based on...? Just opinion or something that was written 2,000 or even several thousands of years ago. Citations are used to support answers. Theology is it not based on the interpretation of the written word? Maybe I'm wrong.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24 at 21:38
  • Opinions like "The correct term is adjunct, not adverbial" or "English does too have a subjunctive mood!" are very much like "What's the cutest 5-letter word?" Opinion is opinion, and not fact. I must say I don't care about "the stack exchange model". As I've said before, that's a discussion model ill suited for questions about English, and this question and discussion seems like more evidence. May 25 at 15:15
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    @JohnLawler, assuming that 'the correct term is adjunct' is, in some way, a matter of opinion, it would still not be a matter of opinion that such-and-such people regard adjunct as the correct term, would it?
    – jsw29
    May 25 at 15:39
  • No, if that were the way it was stated. But it rarely is; normally we get mansplaining about the Right Way. I think that may be what's at the root of the recent question about theoretical affiliations (or maybe that's on Linguistics Meta -- I forget). Same problem, though. Terminology is arbitrary and if there's a reason to use one term instead of another, that reason can be explained. May 25 at 18:22
  • Mansplaining (a blend word of man and the informal form splaining of the gerund explaining) is a pejorative term meaning (of a man) "to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner". Author Rebecca Solnit ascribed the phenomenon to a combination of "overconfidence and cluelessness". Wikipedia. Interesting choice.
    – Zan700
    May 31 at 0:18
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    From this discussion, I sense that though a question or an answer is clearly about English Language Usage, its proximity to fraught areas (a contemporary extension of not discussing politics or religion in general company) provokes the fear of passion and rancor and thus should be cut off at its knees before it does its damage. The most convenient instrument for this surgery is closure by charge of opinion.
    – Zan700
    May 31 at 7:39
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I don’t regard the question in question as unsuitable because of being “likely to be answered with opinions rather than facts and citations”. And it received an answer based on facts. However the poster seems to be protesting too much, given that he not only asks a question, but then states his opinion, without any arguments in support:

”And my own preference would be to call it…”

and elsewhere in this paragraph.

The question was worth asking. The poster could have argued for a particular usage, but merely stating his preferences in what could be take as a superior manner diminished his question and is presumably what provoked the down-vote.

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