I'm personally of the opinion that word-choice questions are more about jogging the OP's memory rather than trying to teach him or her vocabulary. This came up with my post here, in which several people rewrote my question (which I preferred to leave concise).

Since it seems there are people on both sides of the issue (notice we both got up-voted on the comments), I thought I'd ask the opinion of the community as a whole.

I promise to abide by the will of the collective. :-)

2 Answers 2


I made comments there which I will explain here.

An 'answer' on an SE site is expected to be a self-contained answer.

A question and answers are not just for the OP but for others too.

If the question is all just for the OP, then it's too local and should be closed.

If the question could be answered by a simple web search and all you're doing is giving a link and maybe a quote, then either the question is 'general reference' or the answer is impoverished.

These principles are pretty standard across SE and where not, they are certainly the culture here at ELU.

Jogging one's memory may be a poor (too local) reason for a question, but often it is hard to distinguish it from a legitimate question by a non-native speaker who may not be able to connect a vocabulary item with its nuances or for the native speaker who is trying to make connections where none were noticed before.

  • Answering and providing a link is no different than answering and coping the link text (in this case dictionary definitions) verbatim. It just wastes space in my opinion, and makes readers spend more time in case there is more useful information among the filler. I remain unconvinced that any service was done by including dictionary definitions verbatim. Dec 14, 2011 at 7:10
  • @DeepYellow: I don't see much difference either, both are wastes of time and effort. Add some value (commentary/explanation) in either case, otherwise it's a waste.
    – Mitch
    Dec 14, 2011 at 13:20
  • Ok, now I see where you are coming from. There doesn't seem to be much chance that readers other than the OP will benefit from word-choice questions, is there? It's a one-off benefit for one poster. One could argue that this tag really shouldn't be on this site. Personally I answer them because I enjoy the challenge. Dec 14, 2011 at 19:56
  • @DeepYellow: now that you see the issues, see the meta-question Against single word requests.
    – Mitch
    Dec 14, 2011 at 21:38

I think there are various types of word-choice/phrase request/word request questions. Some are concrete like short-and-well-known-term-for-jump-from-one-branch-to-another.
Others are a sort of "neologisms", that is they try to define notions that appeared in recent times.
As Andrew J.Brehm explains here : "Whenever humanity discovered something new, it used old words to describe it.". But here the burden is on ELU users. Yours is such a question. Another example is asks-a-question-never-responds-to-answers-comments . These type of questions are more open to interpretations. So I understand where you are coming from.
A third category of questions have more importance as cultural reference than for the word itself. They may be searchable through Wikipedia articles.
Example: What is the word for "fear of heights"? which leads to Acrophobia.

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