33

We've discussed before:

Are single word requests always welcomed questions?

Are word requests allowed?

The consensus of earlier discussions was that these questions are on the low end, but not specifically disallowed. However, the last few months of experience have started to bias me against these questions, so much so that I think we need to reevaluate our decision to allow them. I'm now of the opinion that single word requests should be either disallowed entirely or subject to much more stringent requirements.

The reasons are as follows:

  1. We get lots of them. Lots and lots.
  2. Most of them are uninteresting and of low quality.
  3. They have a high propensity to attract one-word answers and poor answers from newbie users.
  4. In chat, many of the most active users have complained about them. In other words, they attract less active users but repel the most active users.

I'm opening up the floor for voting on whether to ban single word requests entirely, or else for new guidelines that will help us separate the rare wheat from the depressingly abundant chaff.

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    I totally support dramatically reducing the quantity and increasing the quality of single-word-request type questions. Anyone have a proposal for what requirements we could add? – nohat Jul 26 '11 at 18:27
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    We get a lot of bad SWR questions, but we also get a lot of bad questions for many other tags. (Cf. meaning or word-choice if you don't believe me.) I'm all for raising the S/N ratio on ELU, but any solution to the SWR problem that raises the bar for that tag should be fairly and evenly applied across the board. – Robusto Aug 19 '11 at 12:55
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    If you think it was bad three years ago, just look at it now. Total travesty. – tchrist Jul 13 '14 at 16:47
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    @tchrist If you think it was bad three years ago, just look at it now. Total travesty. ;) – NVZ Jul 10 '17 at 4:54
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    I think that regardless of the topic/tag, we need to do a better job of enforcing this stipulation: "Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic." I admit that most answers I've provided on this site can be found on the first page of a Google search but these answers are never removed and usually get at least 2-3 up votes. – AffableAmbler Jul 15 '17 at 1:57
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    open data se has very similar issues...thank you all for being active in the community and asking/commenting/answering here. very much appreciated/will share with open data se. – albert Jul 18 '17 at 16:33
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    I tried opening up the floor for voting on Meta.SE once and was told, "No polls." - Talk, talk, talk.... What's the endgame here? Where's the feature request that asks to permaban the SWR tag? (so I can go DV it) This is six years old; let's get down to it already. Not that I think that has a chance in hell of happening, but go for it. At least then we could end the discussion. – Mazura Jul 28 '17 at 20:20

11 Answers 11

43

I think the key thing here is that we must require the asker to do some research.

Comparing, for example,

What would you call someone who makes no lasting impression?

Question is a single sentence.

7 Answers, all but 2 are a single sentence. The remaining two are.. TWO sentences.

and

Looking for a better term than 'benign envy' or 'mudita'

Question is 6 paragraphs, includes link and an illustrative image.

6 answers, most are multiple paragraphs and blockquotes and sentences.

It's clear that a lot more effort went into the latter question, and this site -- and the answers to that question -- are all substantially better for it.

This is also something we've noted before in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective:

Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”. Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers.

Therefore, questions which are extremely short, and inspire extremely short answers, are a bad sign -- how much can you truly teach or explain in a single sentence?

Worst case, is like playing Charades. "I'm thinking of a word. Three syllables."

Requiring the OP to show some research is key, and simple: what have you tried? and in what context do you plan to use this? The sidebar that appears when you ask a question also covers this:

Provide details. Share your research.

... relevant bit being share your research. And if you haven't done any, should you even be asking here?

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    +1 for all, but especially Worst case, single-word-request is like playing Charades. "I'm thinking of a word. Three syllables." – Drew Jul 13 '14 at 15:27
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    @JeffAtwood, I don't think the need for "research" is suitable for a lot of valid expression (or word or phrase) requests. What kind of research can you do if the question is "What's a good word for laughing till your stomache hurt?" Besides googling or hitting a reversedictionary and getting no results, How would you go about researching that question? – Pacerier Apr 14 '16 at 8:44
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    The relevant bit is, "not just discussed." If SE has a cardinal sin, it's abusing it as a discussion forum. Just shut up and ask the question already. It seems to me that there aren't too many page long SWRs that don't answer their own question. I'm sure you know where the DV button is, starting a crusade against SWRs is your own prerogative. (At)Pacerier - good point; if you find a working (!) reverse dictionary, let me know. – Mazura Apr 21 '16 at 0:41
36

I mostly agree with Martha. I like the intent behind these questions but I am not happy with most of them. My personal favorite is: Is there a word to describe a highly desirable cursed treasure?

I feel that questions like that are perfect for this site. There isn't any way to look something like that up in a thesaurus and the concept described is extremely useful and interesting.

Another good example is What's the opposite word for “sin”? This question isn't actually tagged as a single-word-request but it essentially is exactly that.

My personal criteria for whether a single-word-request is worth having:

  • Do I instantly pick up a thesaurus to look for the answer? BAD QUESTION
  • Is the concept too narrowly focused a particular technology? BAD QUESTION
  • Is the question having difficulty describing the intended meaning? BAD QUESTION

  • Can I immediately relate to the concept being presented? GOOD QUESTION

  • Does the question provide a clear and understandable example of the concept? GOOD QUESTION
  • Is the concept distinct from similar concepts or words? GOOD QUESTION

Really, this tag is like any other. If we hack away at the "EL&U as thesaurus" perception I think we can turn it into an extremely useful category.

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    "word to describe a highly desirable cursed treasure" is a very well written question that demonstrates research. Goes back to OP doing some work, as I outlined in my answer here. – Jeff Atwood Aug 10 '11 at 4:57
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    @Jeff: Agreed. My point was that the issue isn't with the tag itself. – MrHen Aug 10 '11 at 12:48
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    perhaps updating the tag wiki to better explain the need for research would help? – Jeff Atwood Aug 10 '11 at 21:21
  • @JeffAtwood, I don't think the need for "research" is suitable for a lot of valid expression (or word or phrase) requests. More info at meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/1654/… – Pacerier Apr 14 '16 at 10:04
28

Both my top question and my top answer are in , so I'm probably biased, but I strongly believe these are valid questions that should not be outlawed. Like all questions, however, context is king: the question needs to be as explicit as possible about the context where the word is desired, as well as why the words the questioner knows (if any) are inadequate to the purpose.

(I do think that GAFT questions should be closed with prejudice, and any fastest-gun-in-the-west answers they've gathered should be deleted. But I don't see this as a problem with the s-w-r tag; it's a general problem that can exist in any tag.)

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    please, take a look at this meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/2731/… – Tames Jun 19 '12 at 18:45
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    "GAFT" meaning? – Pacerier Apr 14 '16 at 10:40
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    @Pacerier: Get A Friggin' Thesaurus (with your choice of stronger expletive substituted for "friggin'", if desired). – Marthaª Apr 14 '16 at 14:13
  • @Marthaª, Hmm, can't find it on urbandictionary even. Is this an English.SE neologism? – Pacerier Apr 15 '16 at 7:49
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    @Pacerier: it wouldn't really be a useful initialism anywhere other than ELU and maybe ELL. Even here, I'd only really expect people who frequent Meta to know (or rather, be able to figure out) what it means. – Marthaª Apr 15 '16 at 15:26
18

To me, it's the unanswerability of many of these questions that's the problem. They're not just subjective — they're mindreading, resembling...

  • Taboo — Guess away! I've got something really specific in mind, but can't tell you any of its synonyms. That would be cheating.
  • Catch Phrase — It should start with an E and have three syllables and rhyme with "aardvark," but I'm not allowed to tell you that in my initial question.
  • Outburst — Let's just list everything related to a topic!
  • Pictionary — You're asking for the name of a species of tree? No, definitely a kind of cloud. Fuzzy request, yet looks like words.

Examples of the confusing sort: A word for something you didn't know you'd like, https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/26960/alternate-words-for-paperwork, https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/3778/better-word-for-petition-when-the-request-is-a-vacation


What makes a good ? I don't think it's that different from other questions:

  • Well-defined, distinct concept with necessary context presented; not too limited.
  • To answer will require a human, not just a reverse dictionary; an answer will need to not just list words but explain why a word or phrase is appropriate, and make associations that weren't easily searchable before.
  • Doesn't ask us to do all the work; presents a practical problem showing effort at solving it (the proofreading example we don't accept, "are there any mistakes?", is a lot like "can you rewrite this idea into a coherent word or phrase for me?" in terms of a bound on effort).

What to do?

I don't know if a faq change would really help us keep some of these questions and not others, since to me it boils down to "ask good questions." We could try coaching new users with comments on borderline s-w-r questions, especially before they get downvoted or closed. Maybe something like these:

  • "Could you tell us more about where you hope to use the word or phrase?"
  • "For this type of question, we usually like to know a little more about the words or phrases you've considered. Can you tell us why [x] or [y] don't quite fit the meaning you're looking for?"
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    I agree with "The answer will require a human, not just a reverse dictionary". I call this type of questions "wikipedia entries". – Theta30 Feb 9 '12 at 17:45
  • please check this out meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/2731/… – Tames Jun 19 '12 at 18:46
  • @Theta30, When reverse dictionaries start incorporating "crowd results" from sites like english.SE the distinction would be blurrer. – Pacerier Apr 14 '16 at 10:40
  • When I signed up, this sounded like an interesting tag. However, most of the questions I've seen are like a sort of game. One that I imagine will tire quickly. Unanswerability does indeed seem to spoil things. – Dodecaphone Apr 24 '16 at 17:09
  • This is a great answer—very interesting—but I think that downvoting is key to these sorts of questions. There is a limit to how much additional research you can prompt someone to do who (a) didn't bother to do it on their own steam before asking and (b) gets an answer to their question without doing additional research. – Wildcard Sep 19 '16 at 10:49
15

When I see some of the questions tagged I always ask myself: Why is the OP limiting the answers to the one reporting a single word? Is there a practical reason for making single word requests, or the OP is just asking the question for amusement?

As the OP generally doesn't know if there is a single word that matches the criteria reported in the question, I think that the limit of a single word should be removed; thus, questions should not be tagged .

Request for phrases (including the phrases made of just a word) should not be accepted if:

  • There is not a practical reason behind asking that (as it should be with other questions)
  • The question is too generic, and it doesn't specify exactly the criteria that the requested phrase should match
  • The question is asking a synonym (or antonym) for a word when that synonym can be easily found in a dictionary

The second point should avoid situations where the OP doesn't describe too restrictive criteria, but then discard the suggested words for a non specified reason, such as "all words but that."

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    "There is no such word" is always a possible answer to a single-word-request, but I don't see how that would invalidate the whole class of question: "neither of your choices is appropriate" is a possible answer to word-choice questions, "nobody knows the origin" can be the answer to etymology questions, and so forth. – Marthaª Jul 27 '11 at 5:13
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    Also, your reject reasons are all existing close reasons. There's nothing about them that applies more to single-word-requests than to any other type of question. – Marthaª Jul 27 '11 at 5:20
  • "There is no such word" doesn't seem an helpful reply, and I don't see any case where the "give me a single word" restriction is being applied for a good reason. My point is exactly that: The existing reasons can already be applied for those questions. – kiamlaluno Jul 27 '11 at 5:49
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    I think you're getting stuck on that "single" in the tag name. In 99.9% of such questions, the OP is not "limiting the answers to the one reporting a single word." To put it another way, "is there a word for [concept]" is not a restriction of any sort. – Marthaª Jul 27 '11 at 13:39
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    In that case, the tag should not be used, or renamed. – kiamlaluno Jul 27 '11 at 14:40
  • Uh, why? I think you're missing my point. – Marthaª Jul 27 '11 at 14:45
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    In my experience, most of the questions tagged single-word-requests are requests for a single word; I don't think that asking the antonym of a word includes an answer that replies suggesting a phrase. If you are using that tag, I doubt users feel free to suggest a phrase, instead of a word; if they do suggest a word, then it's because they didn't find a single word that matches the reported criteria. It is similar to the case of questions tagged american-english. If the request is for a phrase, then the tag should be phrase-requests. – kiamlaluno Jul 27 '11 at 15:09
  • The "if they do suggest a word" part was supposed to be "if they do suggest a phrase." – kiamlaluno Jul 27 '11 at 19:23
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    Right now word-requests is a synonym of single-word-requests. Are you suggesting flipping that so word-requests becomes the master tag? – MrHen Jul 27 '11 at 20:26
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    The “does this answer add value to this site” metric is exceedingly low on the majority of so-called answers to SWRs these days. They do nothing but copy out verbatim text pinched from this or that dictionary and add no original content whatsoever. These questions then degenerate into opinion-based list requests — or rather, the answers make it seem that way. – tchrist Jul 13 '14 at 16:38
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    @MrHen I would rather merge the tags, so to have just one. If users keep using single-word-requests, we can edit questions to change it to word-requests. As far as I recall, synonyms should be used when editing questions becomes a rush against the users who are adding the wrong tag. – kiamlaluno Jul 13 '14 at 17:15
  • I agree, kill single-word-requests. Questions that use an idiomatic two-word phrase to perfectly describe the desired concept without explaining why that two-word phrase is insufficient are useless. – ghoppe Jun 16 '15 at 17:15
  • @MrHen, @ kiamlaluno, expression-requests is the correct term. Except it's a term too technical, causing people to use the tag "word request" instead, and it then gets redirected to "single-word-request". We should instead redirect "word request" to "expression request". Actual specific single-word-requests are pretty rare. This can easily be proved by pulling out 200 random threads and seeing what's the percentage specifically asking for single words (as opposed to expressions). Single-word-requests is a misnomer. – Pacerier Apr 14 '16 at 9:24
9

I am undecided.

On one hand, I personally loathe them; I don't think I've ever answered any. I hardly ever read those questions at all.

On the other hand, what will be left of us if we throw them out? The only questions here that interest me are the ones about linguistics and style, with a few high-quality exceptions. If we forbid half of what we receive now, will we still be considered viable by our Overlords? And what if we threw out all other uninteresting questions too?

As long as there are people who like answering these questions, perhaps we should keep them. Those questions are much of what we are about now. It is what many people liked when they joined us. Wouldn't we be doing them a serious injustice, if we suddenly changed policy so drastically?

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    Well, there's only 5 questions out of 30 on the front page that are single-word-requests right now. So I don't see us running out of other questions to answer if we get rid of them. – JSBձոգչ Jul 26 '11 at 17:23
  • @JSBangs: I count 3/11 open on the second page. But I suppose that is less than half. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 26 '11 at 17:53
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    Please check this out @JSBձոգչ meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/2731/… – Tames Jun 19 '12 at 18:47
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    @Tames: OK + for your proposal! – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jun 19 '12 at 22:39
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    Will we still be considered viable by our Overlords? Is that really a good reason to consider whether something belongs here? Sounds misguided. Decide first on the content you want for the site. If there is not enough traffic for that defined content, so be it. Why try to simply work around the bean-counting of SE Overlords? What's the point of that? – Drew Jul 13 '14 at 15:40
8

I think we should not allow single-word requests for synonyms and antonyms, at least.

Asking for a word that means (or that means the opposite of) XYZ, where XYZ is a description, is typically not a problem. The asker has an idea in mind and lacks a word for it. This is different from a request for a synonym or antonym.

I'm looking for another word for useless.

I'm looking for a word that means the opposite of useful.

Requests for synonyms and antonyms are something that can be easily googled for: foobar synonym. What value do such questions & answers on EL&U really add?

OK yes, here someone answering might provide some context or describe different connotations, which can help. But such info is also available by looking up the definitions of the synonyms or antonyms returned by googling, and often the google search hits themselves go into the various shades of gray.

My suggestion would be to forbid such questions a priori. Any given synonym or antonym request could still be judged to be a useful exception, of course.

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    Also people don't understand what antonyms are and keep asking for them for words which don't have polar opposites. There is no word for the opposite of something like "electrocution". – curiousdannii Jun 12 '15 at 22:08
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    @curiousdannii 'frankensteining'? – Mitch Jun 13 '15 at 19:43
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http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/02/lets-play-the-guessing-game/

These questions are not practical, helpful to others, fair, or educational. In additional, these questions are inherently subjective and don't lend themselves well to a detailed, evidence-backed answer. As such, I am against single word requests.

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    The blog post is misguided. There is no one single rule across all SE sites. Each site makes its own rules, which is the raison detre of this very thread. – Pacerier Apr 14 '16 at 9:32
  • @Pacerier: Notice how the tag [single-word-requests] is mentioned in the linked blog post. – bwDraco Apr 14 '16 at 17:20
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    I mean each site has authority over itself over most matters. Atwood is (relatively) not a frequent user of English.SE, the blog post is not authority, it can be likened to an RFC. Each state has autonomy over many areas of the law, less the really important stuff like constitution articles, danger drugs, atomic bombs, etc. This [cont].. – Pacerier Apr 15 '16 at 8:08
  • ..[cont] is how SE has decided to run. I mean sure, they have the hard power and could always be heavy-handed by shutting down the engSE section any time they like. In fact it wouldn't take more than a half hour to do that, but we can also grab the data dump, pack our bags and leave for another site like Quora and alternatives. – Pacerier Apr 15 '16 at 8:09
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    Also try seeing how some of the other "non-canonical" sites are run, e.g. codegolf.SE and etc. (stackexchange.com/sites) – Pacerier Apr 19 '16 at 14:55
4

Since this question has been asked, the information in the tag about what is required has been expanded significantly.

Back then, all that was said is

Use this tag for questions that are about finding a single word to fit a meaning. Describe the intended meaning, connotation, and/or context in as much detail as you can.

A few sample questions that definitely belong in this tag: [five example questions]

Plus distinguishing the tag from other tags

As of July 2017, the tag wiki is much more detailed:

Excerpt:

This tag is for questions seeking a single word that fits a meaning. To ensure your question is not closed as off-topic, please be specific about the intended use of the word. YOU MUST INCLUDE A SAMPLE SENTENCE demonstrating how the word would be used.

Please use the "phrase-requests" tag instead if you seek more than just a single word.

Full Wiki:

Use this tag for questions that are about finding a single word to fit a meaning. Describe the word's intended meaning, its connotation (is it laudatory or derogatory?), and/or its context in as much detail as you can. Questions that show no research are likely to be closed. It's also a good idea to show users how this single word fits in a sentence.

A few sample questions that definitely belong in this tag:

This tag should be distinguished from:

  • , which is for questions specifically seeking multi-word phrases rather than single words, though both tags may be used in conjunction when you want a term but don't care if it's a single-word or multi-word term
  • , which is for "versus" questions, when you already have several alternatives at your disposal, but are not sure which one to use
  • , which is for more broad questions, e.g. those that ask for lots of words at once

How to do research for a single word request

If you can think of a word with a similar meaning, you should look it up in a thesaurus as part of your research. If there are any synonyms that seem close to what you're looking for, but not quite right, mention them in your question and explain why you don't think these words would fit.

Relevant details you may want to include

  • connotation: should the word be positive or negative?
  • register or level of speech: should the word be formal or informal?
  • part of speech: do you want a noun, a verb, or an adjective? Or would you be fine with a word in any of these grammatical categories?

Question Checklist

Before making a single-word request, ask yourself the following questions (taken from this meta topic about good request questions):

  • Does the question describe exactly in what context you want to use a single word?
  • Does the question specify the criteria for which the suggested word will be accepted?
  • Does the question list which words you didn't like, and why they aren't suitable?
  • Does the question show that you searched for a suitable word before asking the question?

In my opinion, this counts as "guidelines that will help us separate the rare wheat from the depressingly abundant chaff", and this question doesn't need to be featured in July 2017.

  • I doubt this answer would be very persuasive to the people who want to see single-word-request questions completely banned now. Just because measures have been implemented does not necessarily mean they have been sufficiently effective in serving their purpose. I suspect some people notice no improvement, because they are complaining about the quality of single-word-requests questions and answers today in the exactly same manner as they were before, so I think you (or any proponent of the question category really) should also demonstrate the positive effect these had too, if any. – Tonepoet Jul 29 '17 at 14:51
  • @tonepoet they should write questions or answers to that effect. I think the burden of proof is on them. – Andrew Grimm Jul 29 '17 at 15:02
3

EDIT: It's a long answer, I know. What can I say? I have free time on my hands.

First, I like resolving single-word-requests, they make my brain tick. It's good healthy cerebral exercise. The higher, more intellectually demanding questions I leave to the linguists and to the real enthusiasts.

Secondly, I believe they serve a purpose; many provide a rich source of information to visitors and they increase our vocabulary knowledge and understanding. Think of the number of times when we catch ourselves saying: "What's that word? It's on the tip of my tongue." I would like to think that any online research that asks: What's another word for [...]? Would lead that person to this site.

Having said that, there are moments when I think single-word-requests are the curse of EL&U. They can be so badly written. A poorly phrased question, lacking content and context, a visitor demanding (!) a single-word at all costs; only results making users feel cantankerous and irritated towards the OP.

Not all single-word-requests are of course straight forward, native speakers find it difficult themselves to write a clear, unambiguous description. Compare the first original copy of this question: Describing the type of family a person belongs to with it's final and 7th edited version

Now compare the first version above with this single-word-request A women's accessory...what's the word? The answer was obvious but only because the description was accurate and detailed. The OP's question couldn't be answered by looking in a dictionary, so she came to ELU and immediately got the answer she was looking for.

But I digress, above all single-word-requests are fun to participate in and really involve the whole community especially when the questions are; simple, grammatically correct and more importantly, open-ended. Look at this example Idiom for magic object (or idea) that fixes everything Yes, OK. It wasn't a single-word-request but the principle is the same and it drummed up a huge number of visits in two days. Personally, I had never heard of "a gold bullet" or "deus ex machina" before, and found the OP's question very useful.

To sum up, single-word-requests are like the typical crossword puzzles you used to find in newspapers; they can be taxing and extremely hard to resolve but the pleasure and satisfaction in finishing one is immensely rewarding. But often they can be uninspiring, overly simplistic and bland. Hardly the stuff of vocabulary expansion. In writing this answer I was reminded of a comedy sketch entitled Crosswords by the British comedians; The Two Ronnies. (A comedy duo whose comedy routines I was not particularly fond of as a child but have recently rediscovered and now love.) I think we can all relate to the businessman's frustration (Ronnie Barker) with his fellow commuter traveller (Ronnie Corbett).

  • +1 And I thought I was the only one who actually liked single-word requests. – Dog Lover Jul 17 '17 at 7:20
0

Here's my suggestion: questions which are just should be off-topic. In other words, any question where the asker says merely "Please give me a word that means X" should be considered off-topic, as we're no longer in that business. This is the majority of word request questions. This is part of and parcel of the existing strategy to refuse copy editing and "name my variable" questions.

However, I think we can leave a loophole for questions which combine word requests with some other question of linguistic interest, such as politeness or etymology. For examples, I offer the following questions:

Is there a polite alternative to "No thanks, I'm full"? (word request + politeness)

English counterpart to Japanese signal word, “Dokkoisho” (word request + onomatopoeia, japanese)

What did they call illegitimate children in Old English days? (word request + etymology, Old English)

It may be a challenge to word this requirement in a way which is clear to new users, however.

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    I don't see what word requests have in common with copy editing. – Marthaª Jul 26 '11 at 18:58
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    And there it is, in the last line. This whole page preaches to the choir. Other than basically just that one Japanese (?) dude who asks a question almost everyday about something in the newspaper, your target audience cannot be fired at for effect. Which makes discussion about it worthless unless you're going to make a feature request to remove SWRs from being ontopic (which I would DV). – Mazura Jul 15 '17 at 16:02

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