It seems that there is a lot of people interested in these things, but it may bother some that these are not objective type of questions for a linguistic SE.

An example of this type of question is Common phrases for something that appears good but is actually bad

I talked to another SE user and he mentioned that some people get annoyed with this kind of question around here. You may see a comment on that question, saying that a question with more than 20 answers has got some problem with it.

For more comments on the problem, look here Against single word requests


4 Answers 4


I think you're barking up the wrong tree. Why pick on Words & Idiomatic Expressions (instead of, say, Prepositions, or Meaning, or Verb Tense)?

I've seen plenty of good questions, and plenty of bad questions, and there doesn't seem to be a correlation between the quality of a question, and whatever that question happens to inquire about. We could probably investigate all the tags, and find plenty of examples that run the full length of the quality spectrum.

The link you provided has some of my favorite refrains running through it: Do your research, then share your research. Context is everything; don't ask your question in a vacuum. Don't ask me something I can answer in 60 seconds or less with a dictionary or thesaurus. Don't just tell me your problem, explain why you are struggling with it. Those simple fundamentals determine the quality of a question, more than anything else – at least that's been my experience.

Sure, some single-word requests drive me crazy: "What's a good word for someone who feels depressed?" (Answer: "Um, depressed?"). However, we already have mechanisms in place for discouraging or thwarting bad questions: downvotes, close votes, comments – not to mention upvoting questions that we find exemplary.

One last thought: sometimes it's hard to know if a question is good or bad until after it's asked, and the answers start coming in. My favorite example here would be the recent "umbrella question." That question had 8 answers, but I want to highlight these four:

  • The basic, common sense answer: No, you wear a coat, and carry an umbrella. (81 votes)

  • The "ask a silly question, get a silly answer" answer: Sure you can! Just like she's doing... (86 votes; this was like Florida in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election)

  • The well-researched answer (with three links to fashion websites; 46 votes)

  • The let's see what the dictionary says answer (which only got 10 votes, but that may have been partly because it arrived so late at the umbrella party):

    Wear - to carry or have on the body or about the person as a covering, equipment, ornament, or the like. [emphasis added]

So, what's my point? Instinctively, I thought just like the first answerer: "No, you don't wear an umbrella!" But the dictionary and fashion mavens would warn me: "Not so fast, J.R.!" Bottom line is: it's hard to categorize "bad" questions with such a broad brush; one man's trash is another man's treasure. Someone may ask what appears to be a basic question – maybe about meaning, maybe a search for just the right word – but we never know what will end up entertaining or enlightening the community (or maybe even both).

P.S. I find it curious that you singled out a question with 28 upvotes. That question doesn't appear to be "annoying" too many users.

  • the suggestion of "words & idiomatic expressions" ocurred to me as a place for single word questions and quests for metaphoric expressions that may have multiple answers, as some people might feel that this is annoying as very subjective
    – Tames
    Jun 21, 2012 at 1:23
  • Just my opinion: Subjectivity, in and of itself, is not nearly as annoying as hastily-written, scantily-researched, vague and ambiguous questions. I don't mind subjective questions, so long as they tax my brain and cause me to think. (But I don't want to hog the soapbox.) Thanks for clarifying; I appreciate your comment.
    – J.R.
    Jun 21, 2012 at 1:29
  • thanks to you for answering and being gentle!
    – Tames
    Jun 21, 2012 at 1:38
  • +1. If I had my way, it would be compulsory to read this answer before asking a question. Jun 22, 2012 at 16:55
  • 1
    The original figures were related to 2012, I don't see the necessity for keeping them up to speed.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 14, 2016 at 9:54

Per comments, OP is welcome to propose such a site on Area51.

Personally, I wouldn't sign up for such a site even if it existed. We get quite a few questions here asking "Is [some phrase] an idiomatic expression?". If in fact it is, I usually think the question is "General Reference". If it's not, the answers usually seem subjective to me anyway.

EDIT: The question text has changed since I answered. It now seems OP is asking about requests for idiomatic expressions suitable for some context.

As a general principle I don't think ELU should encourage such questions either. Occasionally there is a single "correct" answer, but usually it's just a "popularity contest". And I suspect some people are tempted to vote for an expression they've never come across before, simply because it's striking.

  • 1
    I agree with you. Rather than annoyed, I'm bored to this kind of questions; but, after 16500 questions, I think there are almost nothing of interisting to ask. I know. I know that many members of ELU don't agree with me, but this is a real problem.
    – user19148
    Jun 19, 2012 at 20:42
  • @Carlo_R.: Well, even the most competent speakers can learn things about their own language. Personally, I'm disappointed that a question about bored of/by/with was closed as General Reference. Although it's common, I find "of" there really grates - but I've never even heard "bored to" before. Jun 19, 2012 at 20:56
  • "Bored to": could it be a new phenomenon? Probably not, but my Italian mind is not able to differentiate the meaning (in context, phrasal verb, etc.) of "to", "with", "at", "in" ... I'm sorry! However, thank you for your comment.
    – user19148
    Jun 19, 2012 at 21:09
  • 3
    There really doesn't seem to be enough traffic to fork anything from english SE at this point.
    – user19589
    Jun 19, 2012 at 21:11
  • 6
    @Carlo_R. "Bored to" absolutely exists! (Though you've used it wrong). Bored to death, bored to tears, bored to sleep... Jun 19, 2012 at 21:48
  • 1
    @LessPop_MoreFizz: yes, correct, but is (for Carlo's benefit) very different from how Carlo used it (which is wrong).
    – Mitch
    Jun 20, 2012 at 12:42
  • 1
    @Mitch - I'm still learning English, so, obviously, my sentences cannot be perfect! However, the fact that my use of "to" was wrong was already arguable from LessPop comment. Thank you, anyway.
    – user19148
    Jun 20, 2012 at 19:27
  • 1
    @Carlo_R.: I'm not sure what you're saying. "bored to X" seems idiomatic to me, and only works with those three items or something -very- similar (sorry I just don't know how to make it more precise). So 'bored to (arbitrary noun phrase)' is incorrect. Just trying to help.
    – Mitch
    Jun 20, 2012 at 19:41

You could propose it at Area 51, but I feel that acceptable questions about that topic are acceptable also on English Language & Usage. It is probable the proposal would be closed as duplicate of EL&U, except in the case the proposed site is accepting questions about languages different from English.

The only difference between EL&U, and other sites is that EL&U has "general reference" as closing reason, while other Stack Exchange sites don't have it. It is not said that closing reason would be added to the proposed site, but for example Drupal Answers doesn't have that closing reason, even if it was asked.


I don't think it would be worth it. Nobody would go there to ask questions (too obscure), and nobody would bother hanging out there to answer the 90% of boring questions already answered badly elsewhere but not particularly salvagable.

Sometimes you just want to ask somebody real quick what a word or phrase for something is. Sometimes that works out here (as an SE type question), sometimes it doesn't so SE is not the place for it.


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