7

Recently a question was posed which asked for a list of words whose etymology is an ethnic slur. The questioner specifically stated that they wanted words like "gypped" which is unremarkable to many people but is actually a slur against gypsies and the stereotype that they will cheat you. Many words have an etymology along the same lines and I honestly feel that this site is a good place to list them, because this kind of question is difficult to answer by simply visiting Etymology Online. The idea seems to be that, because a list question can have no single correct answer, this is not a good question to ask. I don't see why that has to matter. The powers-that-be, and many of the users of the stack exchange network seem to be clinging to a mantra that every single question has to be about a single objective fact, yet we have plenty of stackexchange sites whose entire subject matter is subjective, and in many cases English usage is also subjective.

So given that this "list request" question was on-topic, asking for specific information, and any given answer is not even particularly subjective, was it closed simply because "lists are always bad"? Am I an outlier in thinking this was a good question? Or is there some other, better reason for closing this that I am just not understanding yet?

6

"There's always more than one way to do it", obviously. That's why multiple answers are desirable, to a point. But an infinite number of answers is not desirable.

And arbitrary lists, such as "let's list every flavor of ice cream", are not desirable either. What would be the point of such a list? Who would refer to it, and why?

  • 4
    But this is neither an arbitrary list nor an infinite list. And someone might want a list of common or well-known flavours of ice cream, if they are writing a story where the protagonist is eating ice cream and the writer wants to add some zing to the writing. Or a person might want to stop using words that are or were racial slurs. Or a person might look up a word and find that it's on a list of flavours of ice cream and suddenly understand some zingy writing. There are lots of reasons for lists. Sometimes it's the easiest way to get to the information you want. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 6 '11 at 14:55
  • 1
    There are very good reasons for having lists. I think the relevant refinement is to modify all your questions with 'here': 'What would be the point of such a list here?'..and I agree with that. – Mitch Oct 6 '11 at 15:17
  • 2
    @mr.s that's not what we do here; if random lists is what users want, they should be on another internet web site. – Jeff Atwood Oct 6 '11 at 15:53
  • @JeffAtwood: So we answer questions, but not if the answer is a list... because, that's not what we do? It just doesn't follow from your other rules about what these sites are meant to be. Some lists are bad questions, but where else on the internet can a person find a list of words whose etymology has certain properties? It's on-topic, it has objective answers, it's interesting to the people on the site, answering the question makes the internet a better place. But nope, it's a list... so, poof? gone? – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 6 '11 at 16:19
  • 2
    @Mitch: This is a Q and A site. What is the point of any of the questions here? To find answers from other users who know the answers. I think a question about words whose etymologies have similar properties is quite appropriate for this site; OBVIOUSLY other kinds of lists are inappropriate HERE and maybe inappropriate on all SE sites. Like, "List of all radeon graphics cards" wouldn't be appropriate on superuser because it's too localized. Some lists might be too trivial or too long. But surely, a blanket rule that NOT ONE LIST EVER is EVER appropriate, seems a little arbitrary. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 6 '11 at 16:22
  • @Mr. S: maybe I'm just toeing the party line, but lists seem difficult to rate here...you can't rate each individual item, and the quality of q list is a weird combination of the quality of each item.(I've seen short lists here where I think a couple items are great but a couple are crap). – Mitch Oct 6 '11 at 21:35
  • 1
    @Mr. Shiny: There are plenty of brainstorming sites, but that's not what we do here. Jeff is talking about questions soliciting an arbitrary number of answers. Answers here are generally expected to be the product of specific expertise. Lists are the product of coming up with the entry first. There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting an exhaustive list of ... whatever. It's just not what we do here. We designed this site to answer specific questions where the community votes and the best answers rise to the top. That's the difference between Q&A and a discussion forum. – Robert Cartaino Oct 6 '11 at 23:08
  • 1
    @RobertCartaino Maybe I'm not making myself clear. Certain list questions are asking for specific expertise; certainly the question I am referring to is no different from many other questions we get on this site except in the cardinality of the unique correct answers. If someone had asked for a single word that had a racial slur in its etymology, that'd be ok, but because they want as many as possible, somehow it's impossible to rate the correct answers highly and let the voting push down incorrect answers? Everyone keeps saying "it's not what we do here" but that's just arbitrary. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 7 '11 at 1:52
  • Frankly I don't see the fundamental difference between someone who wants a solution to the problem, where there could be lots of "correct" solutions, and someone who wants to see as many as possible of those same multiple correct solutions. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 7 '11 at 1:55
  • 2
    @mr.s what problem does "let's make a list of all words with this particular characteristic" solve for the asker? for the world? What is the actual problem faced? english.stackexchange.com/faq#dontask – Jeff Atwood Oct 7 '11 at 2:15
  • 2
    @JeffAtwood This site is about English language. It doesn't have to solve problems per se. We allow questions like "why is blah the way it is". And in this case, the asker wanted to know these words in order to stop using them, so there WAS a problem being faced. Maybe it isn't an important problem to you, but it's certainly not inconceivable that other people might want to eliminate subtle racism from their language. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 7 '11 at 12:48
  • -1, bad example. I would definitely use a list of every flavour of ice cream. – marcellothearcane Aug 28 at 16:24
3

I strongly believe that questions whose answers happen to be lists should be allowed. Whether they are allowed is a different matter; people seem to have a knee-jerk reaction against them, so they tend to be closed for no rational reason.

(My objection to the particular question that brought this up is that the OP wants one word per answer, which is nonsensical for a question like this.)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .