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What level of discourse are we aiming for here? What does our audience expect and desire? What are we capable of providing?

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    Is there a clear difference between this question and the other two regarding our audience? – MrHen Jul 16 '11 at 21:47
  • @MrHen, no, not really, but I wanted to ask and answer my own question. We do things fast and loose here on the meta. – nohat Jul 18 '11 at 5:46
  • Mmkay, just checking. :) – MrHen Jul 18 '11 at 12:53
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It is important to note that the topic of this site is intentionally and irrevocably middlebrow, like it or not. Grammar discussion and usage advice is an inherently middlebrow activity. To elevate it to something highbrow would require transmuting the entire nature of what we do here into what linguists do—that is, to study the phenomenon of language in a scientific way. While I personally find linguistics fascinating (that's why I have a degree in it), I also know that the audience for linguistics discussions is orders of magnitude smaller than the audience for discussions of English language and usage.

We can prevent the middlebrow from becoming lowbrow by demanding a certain level of seriousness from question-askers, and we are already doing a fine job of that. Complaints that we have too many low-quality questions are unfounded and unsupported by non-anecdotal (read: substantive) evidence. Furthermore, it must be remembered that lowbrow topics like taboo words and slang can be and are valid topics for serious investigation and discussion. Linguists can and do write very serious papers and theses about these topics. We are not a community of linguists, and such a highbrow approach is not appropriate for this site and our community. Lowbrow topics can and should be discussed here in a decidedly middlebrow way. I will NOT tolerate attempts to force us to squelch all discussion of taboo words, slang, vulgar speech, and the lexicon of anger and hate. They are valid topics of linguistic investigation.

  • Upvoted because I was 100% behind you until about the middle of the second paragraph. Not that I disagree with anything from there on, but it just doesn't seem too relevant. Obviously all language usage is (or should be) potentially interesting to serious linguists. Surely the issue is whether 'trivial' questions and answers should be discouraged. IMHO that's more a matter of sticking to language usage, and trying to discourage questions that are really more about (often, popular) culture than about language. – FumbleFingers Jul 16 '11 at 21:25
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    With regard to your last sentence -- it is the solely the question titles that need to be network-friendly (or, as I like to say, "publishable on the front page of the New York Times"). The bodies can be whatever you deem necessary and appropriate. – Jeff Atwood Jul 16 '11 at 23:08
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    @Jeff, I accept that restriction on the titles. Though I myself will not personally engage in such bowdlerization, there are plenty of others who can take on that particular task while I plug my nose and look away. – nohat Jul 17 '11 at 3:50
  • @Jeff That's an important clarification that I haven't noticed you making before this comment. I am confident that users here will find ways to sanitize titles in ways that will continue to serve EL&U without attracting undue attention. – jimreed Jul 17 '11 at 11:02
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    @Jeff: This has been discussed before. It was decided that titles should ideally not contain vulgar words as a compromise, even though most academics (including myself) seemed to disagree. It was our most learned and balanced member, Kosmonaut, who proposed that. Perhaps it has not always been applied as thoroughly—possibly because nobody really wanted the compromise and thought "let someone else do it". I for one could never bring myself to lower academic standards by censoring titles; let someone do it who is willing and had enough time. Or fix the Multi-Collider to exclude certain titles. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 17 '11 at 11:54
  • This is the previous discussion I mentioned: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/561/… – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 17 '11 at 11:55
11

This may be a semantic distinction, but I balk at the word middlebrow. That suggests we cut off the bottom and the top. Not that you need a dictionary citation, but let me air my fears a bit here:

middlebrow |ˈmidlˈbrou| informal chiefly derogatory adjective (of art or literature or a system of thought) demanding or involving only a moderate degree of intellectual application, typically as a result of not deviating from convention : middlebrow fiction.

I would suggest that we are more than that. I would hope that we embrace all of English, from the lowest and most vulgar to the loftiest and most refined — and, yes, everything in between. I suspect that's probably the essence of the answer you yourself supplied, but I wanted to make it clear that I don't believe "middlebrow" should mean either anti-intellectual or crusadingly mundane.

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    To be clear, I mean that the level of discussion on the site is middlebrow, not the English that we are discussing, which can—should, even—range from the most base to most elevated. I do mean, however, to clarify, that we do not expect of ourselves that the level of discussion here should be exclusively highbrow, because that would constitute a different site entirely. – nohat Jul 17 '11 at 3:47
  • Agreed absolutely. I'm sure quite a few contributors are more than capable of discussing linguistic issues at such a rarefied level that most visitors would have trouble following what was being said. Some Questions (and some Answers) must be considered either too abstruse or too trivial for the site, 'broad church' aspirations notwithstanding. – FumbleFingers Jul 17 '11 at 4:07
  • Crusadingly mundane? Haven't come across that pairing before. Quotated, neither has Google! :) – FumbleFingers Jul 17 '11 at 4:09
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    @FumbleFingers: I have a whole stock of "untouched by Google" expressions. But I dole them out sparingly. – Robusto Jul 17 '11 at 10:36
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    Guard your stocks carefully! Googlewhacks (one and only one result) are a fragile species, easily disrupted by unwelcome publicity. Chocolate Prognosis used to be one of my favourites, but now it returns 730,000 hits... – FumbleFingers Jul 17 '11 at 12:02
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    @Robusto, Fumble: "Crusadingly mundane" appears to be still inviolate. – Daniel Oct 6 '11 at 20:27
  • @drɱ65 What have you done! – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Oct 7 '11 at 1:46
  • @Cerb: Nothing. It is still a Googlewhack. This is the only webpage in cyberspace containing the term. – Daniel Oct 7 '11 at 12:22
  • @Fumble Actually, "a Googlewhack is a type of a contest for finding a Google search query consisting of exactly two words without quotation marks, that returns exactly one hit." – Daniel Jan 16 '12 at 1:39
  • @FumbleFingers: No longer. I'm damned if I can tell why that paragraph got lifted and placed where they placed it. – Robusto Feb 4 '14 at 3:11

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