This question was closed as being "opinion based," and I am interested in knowing why. The main part of the question is as follows:

I am trying to find a word that can be used in formal situations that means an unprincipled, unpleasant person. I'm looking for a more formal or civil way to say this, rather than the uncivil “He’s a jerk/bastard.”.

In other words, the OP is looking to find a more formal, perhaps less objectionable, word to replace 'jerk.' The "opinion-based" part, of course, would be that each person has a different measure of what's civil or formal, but I don't see how that actually detracts from the question's validity or likelihood to be answered with "facts or citations." As long as a dictionary definition is linked and some sort of explanation is offered as to what makes the word formal (for instance, finding instances in a book where the characters use the word in a work setting), I feel that there's no issue with a lack of opportunity for referenced backup.

@Edwin Ashworth writes in a comment under the post:

Hello. Bob. Please show research, as expected in questions on ELU. Using a thesaurus to find synonyms (some of which may be formal in register) is a good place to start; even "the 7 synonyms listed by 'Allthesaurus" have no formal examples", with a link, would be fine.

I agree with that. The OP needed to include more context and more information about what prior research they'd done, but the question wasn't closed for the "Please include the research you’ve done, or consider if..." reason. (And I do agree that it should have been closed.) Rather, it was closed for being the sort of question that would attract answers that were more of opinions.

Most users of this site are common-sensed individuals who seem to have a fairly good grasp on what words are suitable for formal speech and what words aren't, and all the answers to the question reflect that: uncivil, scoundrel, reprobate, blackguard, or rascal. While none of them offer an explanation as to why those words are more formal, none of them are based on opinion.

Put another way: Would we close the question "What's a more formal way of saying 'I had a dump in the potty'" for being opinion based, or for being answerable by general reference?

To be clear: I agree that the question deserved closure, but not for opinion-based-ness. I think it should have been closed because the OP didn't provide their prior research. I haven't cast a reopen vote either.

So, what I'd like to know:

  • What about that question is opinion based?
  • Am I misinterpreting the meaning of "opinion based" as a close reason?
  • How could that question have been re-worded to not be opinion based?

Thanks :)

  • 6
    As has been observed before, 'some regular contributors to this site . . . seem to be using 'opinion-based' as a general term of condemnation that can be applied to any question that they disapprove of, . . . 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.')
    – jsw29
    Mar 27, 2023 at 21:14
  • 1
    @jsw29 This is pure opinion. You cannot judge right from wrong. Even a cheerleader contest would be better.
    – tchrist Mod
    Mar 27, 2023 at 22:44
  • @tchrist It is not more opinion based than any other attempt to find a word that will fit. It's entirely normal to ask for a more formal word for something, rather than an informal one.
    – trlkly
    Mar 28, 2023 at 7:03
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    “I am looking for a formal adjective to describe romantic sunset.” Would you like to answer a question like this?
    – user 66974
    Mar 28, 2023 at 8:09
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    @user66974 hmm, so do you think there is no difference in tone, style or register between a "jerk" and an “unprincipled person“? There's a huge difference between your hypothetical A formal adjective for a "romantic sunset“ which is illogical, "romantic" is not slang or derogatory, and asking for the formal equivalent of "jerk" or a modern equivalent of “scoundrel“
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 28, 2023 at 8:46
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    @Mari-LouA - yes, there is a huge difference between the two, as huge as the different opinions anyone can have about those questions. I think user should rearrange the question with more focus on what term they are after, avoiding terms like civil for instance. Btw, who said scoundrel is out of fashion?
    – user 66974
    Mar 28, 2023 at 11:26
  • @user66974 What's so "not formal" about "romantic sunset" in your hypothetical question? How does this relate to, in any way, "jerk" or "bastard" as a clearly inappropriate terms in formal settings? This is like people who love to dream up imaginary scenarios like "if this was a man, people would be outraged" to make themselves feel justified on YouTube or Reddit. Apr 8, 2023 at 6:08

2 Answers 2


The question one must ask oneself is how one can decide better or worse, and preferably right or wrong, when looking over possible answers here. Because you cannot, these are Primarily Opinion-Based and not a good fit for Stack Exchange.

What are the objective criteria? Nothing can separate one answer from the next. It's just a popularity contest. Every answer is just as good as the next one.

It's a useless list question for people without a thesaurus or a broad and deep enough experience with English.

Writing requests whose answers come down to let-me-google-that-for-you are unlikely to ever be of use to future visitors to our site.

We don't answer etiquette questions, either, for the same reason.

  • 5
    But then isn't every single word request a "useless list question" with no way of separating answers? (Barring perhaps terminology) Mar 27, 2023 at 23:50
  • @Heartspring Yes, SWRs classically tend towards poorer quality questions here. But this particular question is not a poor SWR. A thesaurus search might come up with something but the OP may have no way to judge. Also that search may not come up with how people actually do say 'jerk' in formal situations and it may be not through a noun or adjective but through longer phrases.
    – Mitch
    Mar 28, 2023 at 2:17
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    This is just wrong. Word requests all the time ask for a more formal word. And it's absolutely trivial to pick which answers to upvote or downvote: the ones you actually think fit and would be used naturally by a native speaker. Just like every other such question. These questions often make the HNQ, and as such I've voted in many of them, and there is nothing unusual about this one. Naming what register of English you want for your answer does NOT make a question opinion-based.
    – trlkly
    Mar 28, 2023 at 7:07
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    So, tchrist, to use the OP's own example, would you say that there is no right or wrong answer to whether 'I had a dump' is less formal than 'I had a bowel movement', that any opinion on that matter is as good as its opposite?
    – jsw29
    Mar 28, 2023 at 15:43
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    @jsw29 I didn't vote to close. I'm trying to explain why those who did may have done so. If you don't like my answer, go ask the closers, one by one, until you find somebody else to argue with. You very well know that junk Single Word Requests and the inflationary Hot Network Questions List are the bane of our site. You aren't going to get me to support any of that.
    – tchrist Mod
    Mar 28, 2023 at 19:10
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    Regular contributors to this site, indeed, probably all agree that 'junk Single Word Requests and the inflationary Hot Network Questions List are the bane of our site', and that 'opinion-based' questions generally ought to be closed. What the OP, @trlkly, and myself are wondering about is whether this question is really opinion-based (as distinct from merely involving opinions). This answer, which just reasserts the relatively uncontroversial general claim that 'Primarily Opinion-Based [are] not a good fit for Stack Exchange', does not engage the specifics of what the OP asked.
    – jsw29
    Mar 28, 2023 at 19:49
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    I'm just here to point out the argument here doesn't make sense. Nothing said here wouldn't apply to every other "single word question." And those are not generally closed as opinion based. Therefore your explanation here is not their reasoning. Furthermore, since you are a mod answering this, your reply will be seen as making policy, and thus I believe it is more important to point out logical flaws in those cases.
    – trlkly
    Mar 29, 2023 at 1:55
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    tchrist: We're probably annoying you at this point, but what makes these questions less opinion based than the question I'm asking about? I realize that this isn't exactly related to my original post, but I'd appreciate more details. Mar 29, 2023 at 14:37

I am trying to find a word that can be used in formal situations that means an unprincipled, unpleasant person. I'm looking for a more formal or civil way to say this, rather than the uncivil “He’s a jerk/bastard.”.

can be used in formal situations

This lacks context. There are many "situations" and each may call for a different word or phrase.

an unprincipled, unpleasant person

This lacks context. What is the relation to the person? What is your and their status? -- "unprincipled, unpleasant"... in what way? Are they present?

The number of circumstances and relations mean that each person answering will answer according to their own subjective guesses at the points above.

The variety will therefore result in opinions.

I had not seen the question before, but if I had, I might have closed it for lack of detail/context.

  • 1
    'Lack of detail/context' is a different reason for closing from 'primarily opinion-based'. The former implies that the problem can be remedied by providing additional information and implicitly invites the questioner to do that; the latter does not (or, at least, not clearly). Note that the OP of this meta-question does not argue that the question shouldn't have been closed; what is at issue is whether primarily opinion-based is the reason for closing it.
    – jsw29
    Mar 31, 2023 at 20:37
  • @jsw29 I did say "The variety will therefore result in opinions.". I suggest that the categories are not clear-cut and there will be some overlap.
    – Greybeard
    Apr 1, 2023 at 10:44
  • If you were to improve the question, you would edit it to be more precise/specific and to show research - the close reason needs to reflect that.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 3, 2023 at 10:52

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