I spent much of the past week involved in a rather extended discussion about closed questions. Near as I can tell, here is the logic:

  • ELU has a lot of closed questions, at least compared to other StackExchange sites.
  • Instead of closing questions, we ought to fix them and answer them. After all, doesn't this community exist to help people?
  • When a question gets closed, no one else can provide an answer; therefore, closures are a bad thing. Also, closures might make newer users feel unwelcome.
  • Since questions are getting closed instead of being left open, these closures indicate that ELU is a down-arrow clicking clique, a bunch of anal-retentive geeks who need to get a life, people who are busy protecting their own little fiefdom from alleged pollution, run like a monopolistic cartel by a bunch of pseudo-intellectual pretentious linguistic professor wannabees. Moreover, ELU is, without a doubt, too snobby, and the rudest community on StackExchange. (The text in italics is not mere colorful language of mine; these were taken as excerpts from the discussion – some of which were upvoted).

So, I examined the last 20 closed questions on ELU. Here's what I found:

1) Why “an” is used in “December 1972 U.S. astronaut Eugene CERN an becomes the last person to set foot on the moon”? [closed]

  • answer (explained in two comments): because it's supposed to say "Cernan", not "CERN an".

2) What is the correct pronunciation of “Regex”? [closed]

  • answer (explained in two answers and several comments): It's pronounced with a hard g. Moreover, a link was provided where this specific example was discussed in a more generic but related question.

3) Usage differences between Smile vs laugh vs Sneer vs chuckle vs giggle vs titter vs grin vs beam vs smirk vs simper vs snicker vs Singger? [closed]

  • answer (explained in three comments): Some of these are ways to laugh, and some are ways to smile, but this question as a whole is probably asking too much as a single question.

4) Why do you write “receive” with “ei” but “retrieve” with “ie”? [closed as duplicate]

  • answer (explained at duplicate question): Basically, English vocabulary is a mix of mostly proto-Germanic and proto-French, the languages in use by the Saxons and Normans respectively during the Norman invasion and occupation of the British isles. (NOTE: there is much more to this very detailed answer than I have copied here.)

5) Does Doctor means PhD. or Physician? [closed]

  • answer (explained in comments): The word can be used as a title in either case.

6) Do Shakespeare use the word “whence” incorrectly? [closed]

  • answer (given in one answer): It's a flexible word, and it's a bit harsh to suggest that Shakespeare has made a mistake.

7) A girl who (or whom) I have a crush on… (?) [closed]

  • answer (explained in two answers): "whom" is formally correct, although "who" is often used in conversational English; for more information, see this duplicate.

8) Which one is correct, non or non-? [closed as duplicate]

  • answer (not given at the question, but easily found at duplicate): There are three types of compound words in English: closed, hyphenated, and open. There are also four useful articles cited at the duplicate.

9) Which one is the correct form: “The only thing which doesn't work is the engines,” or “The only thing which doesn't work are the engines.” [closed]

  • answer (explained in several comments): The short answer is "are"; there are other considerations explained in the comments.

10) what is the meaning of expressyou: Want to know whether it is "Convey you". or is there any other word that can give the message reflect your character. [closed]

  • answer: This question was not answered in its original form, but one user has tried to reword the question, and subsequently provided an answer to that interpretation. Since that time, it has received three reopen votes.

11) Should punctuation characters have a preceding space? [closed]

  • answer (provided in a comment): Short answer: no. Long answer: for more information, see this duplicate.

12) Would the wrong form of your or you're be considered a spelling or grammar error? [closed]

  • answer (explained in an answer): That would depend on the intent of the writer.

13) What is the meaning of the word “nonlesson” [closed]

  • answer (explained in a comment): It's a simple negation. In the context of "lessons learned" it would mean either (1) a lesson that was not learned (i.e, a repeated mistake) or (2) something that was thought to be a lesson, but was not (i.e, an erroneous conclusion).

14) “I got it covered” vs “I've got it covered”: Which is correct and why? [closed]

  • answer (explained in two answers): It can mean different things in different contexts; sometimes one is slang for the other.

15) What does the “did” in this sentences refers to? [closed]

  • answer (explained in a comment): It refers to the word differ in the previous sentence.

16) Usage difference between modest vs decent? [closed]

  • answer (explained in one answer): Modest and decent have overlapping semantic ranges. They can mean the same thing, but do not always. (NOTE: The answer includes much more elaboration not provided here).

17) What is the plural of “conch”? [closed]

  • answer (explained in three different answers): When "conch" is pronounced to rhyme with "honk", the plural is "conchs"; when pronounced as a near-rhyme with "launch", the plural is "conches".

18) In the Catholic rosary, there is a short prayer called "Glory Be." Would the plural be Glory Bes or Glory Be's? Likewise, do you say 10 Hail Marys? [closed]

  • answer (explained in an answer provided): Use an apostrophe. Moreover, more information is provided via a link to a related question.

19) Where to place the word “easily”? Is it: Do you want to edit and share your bookmarks easily? Or: Do you want to easily edit and share your bookmarks? [closed]

  • answer (explained in two answers): Best to put it at the end.

20) What is the question to be asked to get an answer "The 44th president of United States of America is Barack Obama." [closed]

  • answer: Not provided, but the links to 17 duplicate questions were provided.

If we want to talk about quality as a whole, these questions don't strike me as particularly well-researched, or intriguing to a serious language enthusiast. They seem more basic than profound. (If that observation paints me as a snob, I apologize. I call 'em as I see 'em.)

Still, if the issue is really about helping people, just about all 20 O.P.'s got an answer to their question, despite the fact that these questions may have been ultimately closed.

So, what is my question?

To those who have been bemoaning the fact that a high closure rate allegedly portrays us an uncaring, insular community – and to those who see us openly characterized as “geeks who need to get a life,” and respond with a hearty “Hear, hear!” – I ask:

  • Which of these questions should have remained open? Why?
  • Even if a few of these questions should have remained open, do you really believe an overwhelming majority of these questions should have remained open? In other words, do these closures really portray a reckless and egregious misuse of privilege by so-called power-users? Please explain.
  • Do you find any difference between a community that closes questions while still providing answers (perhaps through links or comments), and a community that would close questions without providing answers? In other words, does the closure itself outweigh any helpful information that was provided by members of the community?

I ask because this week wasn't the first time I've seen this line of reasoning: a lot of questions get closed, therefore you're all just a bunch of snobs. However, when I search for evidence of that snobbery, I keep finding a slew of rather mediocre questions – usually with helpful answers, by the way – rather than hard evidence of an unhelpful clique. But maybe I'm just missing something, in which case maybe you can help me out.

  • 7
    @AndrewGrimm: I picked the 20 most recently-closed questions, from the list of questions sorted by the order they were asked, (i.e., from this list, sorted by Newest). There was no cherry-picking; I figured 20 was a decent enough sample size. (Truth be told, I picked the number 20 before I had looked at any of the questions, so I had no idea what I'd find). If you think that sample size is too small, you're welcome to continue down the list and analyze the next 20. ;^)
    – J.R.
    Dec 15, 2012 at 15:19
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    Why should easy straightforward questions (which you describe as mediocre) be such an issue for you? You define yourself as a snob by merely stating this. If these questions are of no challenge to you, why do you downvote and close them? Yes those kind of questions may not challenge you or your cliquey snobby mates so ignore them. Is this SE about English language usage or is it just about really hard, tricky, difficult obscure questions that challenge the snobs like you who populate the site? It looks like I was right for once, it was au revoir and not adieu. Dec 15, 2012 at 15:55
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    @spiceyokooko: Bonjour! Um, who said these are "an issue" for me? This was meant to be an objective analysis on the first 20 questions I could find – I'm not incriminating them by discussing them here. BTW, on #3, I left a comment, and didn't vote to close. On #12 I left a comment on an answer, and upvoted that answer. On #10, I upvoted the answer. #6 I improved with an edit. I left two comments on #16. Out of the 20 questions I listed, I only voted to close on #14 and #16. I downvoted only one of the 20, and there were at least 6 that I hadn't even opened until I began this experiment.
    – J.R.
    Dec 15, 2012 at 20:12
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    @spiceyokooko: Look through the 700+ questions I've answered; you'll find most of them are rather basic. You've called me a snob, you've inferred I can't read very well, all because you see a lot of closed questions. I analyzed the closed questions, and I found a lot of duplicates, and a lot of patient answers given, yet we are still characterized as too high-minded to help those that write those questions, no matter how bad they might be. Yes, you've made your point, and every ELU downvote probably cements it in your own mind.
    – J.R.
    Dec 15, 2012 at 22:14
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    To answer your question, I think the site is about all forms of English, but some basic rules apply (like on every other Stack Exchange forum): stay on topic, abide by the FAQ, and realize this is a meritocracy where you build trust and reputation by the quality of your contributions. I don't downvote people who struggle with their English or ask basic questions, but I have downvoted when people act like the users here are nothing more than a convenient concierge, and work from the mindset "Why should I open a dictionary, when it's so much easier to ask here?"
    – J.R.
    Dec 15, 2012 at 22:21
  • 3
    @J.R. I appreciate to an extent I'm chastising the messenger rather than the originators and I appreciate at least in part your patience in answering my comments. I just feel it's a shame that this particular SE has taken a rather high brow attitude which is not prevalent (in my experience so far) of the others I'm a member of. You mention meritocracy, and therein lies its problem - it contains far too many academics who have lost touch with a living language they so profess to admire. So many questions are answered with such language the OP probably doesn't understand. Dec 16, 2012 at 0:13
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    @Billy: It seems like no matter how I word it, I piss someone off, or "prove their point." Enthusiast, expert, profound – I don't mean to imply every question needs to be a serious nut to crack, but when questions ask about typographical errors, or something that's already been answered, or something that's obtusely vague, or something that's easily found in a dictionary, I don't understand the hullabaloo when these questions are closed. Perhaps more importantly, I don't like it when people observe that, and then jump to the conclusion that we're nothing but a bunch high-browed housekeepers.
    – J.R.
    Dec 16, 2012 at 1:40
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    @spiceyokooko: I think I tried to explain this before – the other sites you visit do the same thing. Questions that are off-topic or poorly researched get closed and downvoted. It happens on Math, like in this question. It happens on cooking, like in this question. Yes, it happens more often on ELU, but I honestly beleive that's more due to question quality than member snobbery, which is why I did this analysis, which showed at least 19 of 20 people got their questions answered by ELU members.
    – J.R.
    Dec 16, 2012 at 2:50
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    @J.R. When you close a question, nobody can post new answers, only those with a high enough reputation can leave comments, and new questions on the same topic opened later in the hope of sparking discussion will be marked as 'duplicates', redirected to the old thread and closed again. It sets a precedent: "this question does not live up to our standards, and you will not talk about it here". If that's not telling someone to shut up, I don't know what is.
    – Billy
    Dec 16, 2012 at 12:36
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    @Billy: can you not see the difference between 'Don't ask this question again' (or, possibly, questions like this one), and 'Shut up and go away'? Dec 16, 2012 at 14:46
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    @TimLymington Both leave the user in question feeling affronted and rejected by the community, all future interested readers of that question feeling unwelcome, and (if such responses are common enough) all new visitors to the site feeling as though they're treading on eggshells. The former technically leaves open the possibility to come back and ask another question later, but what masochist is going to want to? The former's not even any politer than the latter - it says the same thing in a less childish way. What's the difference?
    – Billy
    Dec 16, 2012 at 15:12
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    RE: "this question does not live up to our standards, and you will not talk about it here" I've never heard that said. I've heard "This question is off-topic, so it will be closed," and I've heard, "This question needs to be improved, or it will be closed." When questions don't meet "standards," users are exhorted to improve them, not shut up.
    – J.R.
    Dec 16, 2012 at 19:08
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    @J.R. I'm having trouble working out how to answer you here. (1) It is predominantly the greenest users I'm talking about - the ones who are still testing the waters and don't know whether to join this community or not. Not coincidentally, they are the people whose questions are most likely to be closed. (2) Again, what you think is an "answer" may not be an answer to what the OP wanted to know, or what someone who turns up a year later through Google with a similar question wants to know.
    – Billy
    Dec 16, 2012 at 20:11
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    @J.R. (1) Please don't imply that disagreeing with the system makes it my personal responsibility to patch it up. I have nowhere near the time necessary to undo the damage being done. More to the point, I have no desire to stick around here long if I'm the only one who thinks this is an important issue. I am testing the waters, for the final time, for signs of cooperation.
    – Billy
    Dec 17, 2012 at 0:25
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    @AndrewLazarus I’m calling your bluff: please back up your allegation of “much higher closer rate on ELU relative [to] all or almost all sister forums” with cold, hard data. (BTW, these are not “forums”.) Every time I run the numbers, I arrive at the opposite conclusion, so do us all the courtesy of showing us your numbers. Even if it were true — and I am convinced it is not — in cannot be questioned that ELU is in a unique position, where everybody and his dog shows up wanting us to proofread their PostIt notes. “Never have so many come with so little.”
    – tchrist Mod
    Dec 18, 2012 at 0:58

6 Answers 6


As a high-rep user who votes to close a lot of questions, but not quite as many questions as some people, let me take a pass at the list:

I would have left the following questions open:

6) Do Shakespeare use the word “whence” incorrectly?

An interesting question that covers a question of legitimate interest to students of contemporary and historical English. I just nominated it for reopening.

16) Usage difference between modest vs decent?

There are some real subtleties here which may not be apparent from a dictionary. The main weakness of this question is that the OP hasn't done sufficient research, but that could be fixed with an edit.

Pretty much everything else is either duplicate or General Reference.

So do we have a problem? If there is a problem, it's the fact that it's easier to cast a close-vote than to edit a question, so marginal questions like the ones above get closed rather than edited. But the number of questions that fall between the gaps in this way is rather small, and doesn't account for the majority of close votes.

The reason that we close so many questions is because of the nature of our content. There are a lot of native English speakers, so we get a lot of bike-shed questions. And there are lots of English language learners, so we get a lot of questions which are too basic or demonstrate such a general misunderstanding of English that no real answer is possible. Neither of these things is the fault of the close-voters; they come with the territory.

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    the point you raise about the nature of our content is very pertinent, and I think it must be considered as we formulate our policy. however, i differ in that i don't think that learners are likely to ask mostly bike-shed questions. for me, the most fascinating parts about English language are those which are obvious to a native speaker, but cannot be perspicaciously explained to learners. making explicit the knowledge that we have is a great challenge for scholars of English, and it is often L2 learners who raise points which wouldn't have occurred to a native speaker.
    – user31341
    Dec 17, 2012 at 1:01
  • I agree the Whence question is very interesting and perfectly on-topic. Thing is it was closed as "exact duplicate" - and it's really hard to argue with the fact a question with precisely the same gist has been asked and answered quite thoroughly. As normally I'm rabidly against closures, I must concede that one was okay.
    – SF.
    Dec 17, 2012 at 12:19
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    @jlovegren, I meant to say that it's the natives, not the learners, who ask bike-shed questions. And I completely agree with you about good questions from learners, and we have a great many good questions of that sort. Just look at Yoichi Oishi. Dec 17, 2012 at 12:36
  • As an epilogue of sorts, #16 has since been both edited and reopened.
    – J.R.
    Dec 18, 2012 at 22:25

The ones that should have stayed open:

3): presumably there is a difference that could be uncovered with a little bit of research, and i would have liked to see what someone could find out.

6): again, this could have had some interesting well-researched answers. someone could show, for example, that compared to other contemporaneous writers, Shakespeare used the word in an apparently idiosyncratic way. (or show the opposite)

7): this is not necessary a duplicate since it asks specifically for usage in the case where the wh- word is serving as a relative pronoun. community members (hastily) assumed that all word-forms who/whom should have identical distribution.

9): i would have liked to see the answers on this one

10): that's one I edited in response to a challenge from the OP

12): a good answer could have discussed what it means for something to be a spelling vs. grammatical error.

13): the meanings of words are determined by usage (not formal logic), so a good answer could have examined actual usage of the word, and discussed whether it paralleled other similar-formed words.

14): a good answer would respond to the more general question on how I got and I've got differ.

15): could lead to an informative answer on anaphora binding. the commenter misleadingly suggested that anaphoric use of did usually binds a verb. instead it is a verb phrase.

16): this is a clearcut usage question which could be answered by examining usage data. another case where it was closed by those assuming it was a more trivial matter than it is.

17): a good answer would discuss whether there are similar-spelled words with a consistent pluralization pattern, or if conch is a sui generis case.

19): on variable placement of VP-modifying adverbs. i'd be surprised if a more general question has not been asked already, but it was not closed for reason of duplicate status.

The OP asks "Even if...do you really...", misleadingly suggesting that the only reasonable objection to question closures is that they are almost always in error. The real issue is that there is much less harm in leaving a poor question open than there is in closing a good question. Call the error quotient the proportion of closed questions which are good. Call the false closure rate the proportion of (in some objective sense) acceptable questions which are closed. Basically, the OP is claiming that we should only be concerned if the error quotient is on the order of 90%. This is fallacious reasoning: even if 90% of closed questions were bad questions, we should still be concerned for the good ones that do get closed. What I am claiming is that the false closure rate is significantly above 0%, and that is a reason for concern. Some error will invariably occur, but I think the community needs to have a discussion about what would be an acceptable false closure rate, rather than bringing up the canard that there are many truly bad questions.

The obvious difference is that closed questions become invisible to common users after some time, and people who took some care and effort in responding to questions which are ultimately closed see their work get (effectively) deleted.

  • 1
    The question of whether to delete closed questions is a different matter altogether. That question probably should be asked, too.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Dec 15, 2012 at 19:10
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    “The OP is claiming that we should only be concerned if the error quotient is on the order of 90%.” No, I never claimed that. “The OP .. misleadingly suggests that the only reasonable objection to question closures is that they are almost always in error.” No, I just want to know if such closures represent proof that we are "cliquey snobby mates" as some claim. “The real issue is that there is much less harm in leaving a poor question open than there is in closing a good question.” I agree with that; that's a good question; perhaps you could ask that on meta, it deserves its own discussion.
    – J.R.
    Dec 15, 2012 at 20:06
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    @J.R. I ignored the snobs part of the question on purpose because it's not the issue that I want to interact with; i don't want the tactless critics to be driving this debate. i hope you'll agree that the only important issue worth debating is whether the premature closing of questions is detrimental to the site. i do appreciate your suggestion to open a new question.
    – user31341
    Dec 15, 2012 at 21:07
  • I don't agree that it's the only issue worth debating or discussing; some strong words have been said, which is why I've asked my question here. That said, if the ensuing discussion inspires you to inquire about another related issue – perhaps a more important and fundamental one – so much the better.
    – J.R.
    Dec 15, 2012 at 22:02
  • Read the answer to the duplicate question of (6). It answers (6) decisively (it says lots of Shakespeare's contemporaries said "from hence" and "from whence", although they didn't say "to whither" or "to thither"). It should have been closed. And (14) was closed because the OP had much too vague a question. It has now been revised, and has three votes for reopening. Dec 15, 2012 at 22:20
  • @PeterShor fair enough; i am all in favor of closing duplicates if they have no substantial differences.
    – user31341
    Dec 15, 2012 at 22:24
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    The real issue is that there is much less harm in leaving a poor question open than there is in closing a good question. --- I disagree with this statement, and I think this is the core problem. Dec 16, 2012 at 17:14
  • @JSBձոգչ it's better if we can identify substantive differences in our values if progress is going to be made on this issue, so i'd invite you to contribute your perspective on my recent question in meta.
    – user31341
    Dec 16, 2012 at 17:27

Apart from Verb or phrase meaning “to serve as evidence of one's character”, either I actually closevoted those questions myself, or at least I don't particularly disagree with those who did.

In total, I've upvoted questions and answers ten times more often than I've closevoted, and I almost never closevote questions (that admit of a meaningful answer at all) unless I can see that the OP's request has already been dealt with in an answer, a comment, or a link to a duplicate.

I certainly don't think ELU is "snobby". It seems to me almost everyone who asks a meaningful question ends up getting a meaningful answer. But once that answer has been provided, there's often little else left to say - in which case I say it's better to close the question.

On the one question where I don't agree the closevote, there are already 3 votes to reopen. It's worth pointing out it was closed as not a real question - and 24 hours after it was asked, the OP still hasn't responded to requests for more context. I think ELU is in fact very "open-minded".

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    "But once that answer has been provided, there's often little else left to say - in which case I say it's better to close the question." This is where I disagree. It's rather arrogant for anyone other than the question asker to determine whether the question has been answered to completion. Just because you have little else to say, and you think you've provided a perfect and full answer, doesn't mean the original poster doesn't still have (maybe stupid) questions - or indeed that someone else confused about the same issue won't have questions 6 months later.
    – Billy
    Dec 16, 2012 at 10:50
  • @Billy: I agree with everything you said, except the word "arrogant." (Had you said something more neutral, like "shortsighted," I'd utterly agree.) I see this as two side of a coin: a site can be overrun with questions of low quality, or a site can become too strict in enforcing an artificially rigid standard. Evidently, this community has people who are concerned both ways, which is fine with me. However, I'm tired of one camp assuming that the other is rooted in arrogant, xenophobic highbrow pseudo-intellectualism. Based on the help they regularly dispense, I believe that's inaccurate.
    – J.R.
    Dec 16, 2012 at 12:12
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    I don't know what "camp" you're on about, @J.R. I am a relatively new and neutral user here. I do find it arrogant, and I find SE as a whole (not just English) a little stuck in its ways. I don't care if english.SE is overrun with "questions of low quality" - indeed, these are the issues on which people most desperately need to be educated. Any culture of rejecting and/or dismissing such questions as not living up to any particular standard goes against everything I believe about education.
    – Billy
    Dec 16, 2012 at 12:36
  • (I once had a history teacher who gave a passionate and inspiring speech in his first lesson about the importance of understanding over memorisation, of discussion over rote learning, and so on. Sadly, he didn't live up to his own standards. For the rest of the year, if someone tried to ask a question, he would sigh, deem it a distraction, patronise the student in question with comments on what a waste of his time it was, and point them at their textbook. He may have been correct - we were 11, so our questions probably were stupid - but he was an awful teacher. We learnt nothing.)
    – Billy
    Dec 16, 2012 at 12:44
  • @Billy: I'm in education, and I largely come here because I like to help people (much like I did this morning; see my three comments on this post). Also, I once explained my position on how I feel about "bad" questions on this post; feel free to disagree with my position, but I hope you don't conclude that your history teacher and I are of the same ilk.
    – J.R.
    Dec 16, 2012 at 12:54
  • @J.R. Has there been some misunderstanding? I'm not talking about you, and never have been. I'm talking about the closed questions in your first post. The closure of questions (stupid or not, profound or not) once they have been answered is far less rude than, but pedagogically equivalent to, my history teacher's method of teaching. A chapter reference, a snide comment, and the impression that he thought such questions were rather too trivial to bother with. (Sure, we got our answers, but we didn't just want answers. We were interested. We wanted discussion.)
    – Billy
    Dec 16, 2012 at 13:11
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    @Billy: You can still discuss closed questions by posting comments, but bear in mind ELU is supposed to be a Q&A site/knowledge repository, not a chat site. If a question is closed prematurely (i.e. - it doesn't address some precise aspect of the issue that someone later seeks clarification on), they can always raise a new question. That mechanism will in theory eventually lead to better answers overall (any subsequent "clarifying answer" may well be merged into the original question, which is very likely to be reopened at that point). Dec 16, 2012 at 15:33
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    @FumbleFingers Yes, of course - but my main concern is that a large number of closed questions reflects badly on how welcoming the community is to new users - not just to the OP of a poorly written question, but also to people who are landed here by Google and read already closed questions with interest. Don't forget that SE doesn't even let new users comment. As easy as it is to love a community when you are well respected in it, this one looks abnormally insular from the outside.
    – Billy
    Dec 16, 2012 at 15:51
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    @Billy “Large number of closed questions”? Just look at these for “large numbers of closed questions”. Those are large numbers: hundreds and hundreds per day. AND STILL THEY COME! Many are quite downvoted, too. Plus there are 50,000 more questions on the closevote queue waiting to be closed. That doesn’t even consider the deleted ones: this shows that more than 50 posts have been deleted in the last hour alone. Really, ELU is soft and slow and cuddly.
    – tchrist Mod
    Dec 18, 2012 at 1:10
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    @Billy: I wonder why you interpret large numbers of closed questions as "not welcoming to new users". Why don't you interpret them as "disrespectful of users in good standing"? If people started posting 20 questions a day about music, recipes, or porn, would you leave them open, just to be welcoming to new users? The purpose of this site is not to be welcoming to new users; the purpose of this site is to be welcoming to new users with clear, on-topic questions. And this is equally true of all sites of the network. Users that add value are welcome. Users that don't, aren't. Everywhere.
    – RegDwigнt Mod
    Dec 18, 2012 at 10:35
  • @tchrist If that is so, then so be it. I am forced to accept that the moderators do a good job of removing awful questions - but then I never denied that. I simply claimed that they also do a fine job of removing some valid questions. J.R. posted above a list of 20 more-or-less randomly selected questions that were closed; jlovegren contested the closure of 12 of them, Andrew Lazarus contested 7, JSB contested 2, and even Fumble was unsure about 1. Having too much work to do is a good explanation for its not getting done properly, but not an excuse, surely?
    – Billy
    Dec 18, 2012 at 12:32
  • @RegDwighт I am not a user in good standing, so I don't purport to speak for them. As for the new users, well, I quote a few snippets from the FAQ: topics that are "welcomed here" include (a) "word choice and usage", (b) "grammar", (c) "pronunciation", (d) "spelling and punctuation". J.R.'s questions mostly fit happily into these categories (1a, 2c, 3a, 4d, 5a, 6ab, 7ab, 8d...). So why were these questions closed? Well, according to the FAQ, they were "not a good fit for this site", and the asker is encouraged to "improve" it. And yet, when I look at the actual reasons for closing given...
    – Billy
    Dec 18, 2012 at 12:46
  • ...1, 5, 7 and 9 appear to have been deleted, 2 is now reopened, 3 is closed as "not a question" (one of the closevoters commented "too basic"?!), 4 is closed as exact duplicate (though the question has 4 upvotes and a once-upvoted comment from Kris claiming that it's not a duplicate at all), 6 is (correctly) closed as duplicate, 8 is closed as duplicate (the question indeed is a duplicate, but it's not answered in the thread it's redirected to - finally, the third link out of four answers the question, but frankly I disagree with the answer), and so on...
    – Billy
    Dec 18, 2012 at 12:54
  • @Billy: that section defines what's on topic vs. what's off topic. None of the eight questions you mention have been closed as off-topic. Indeed, four of them have been closed as duplicates; that is, they are expressly deemed on-topic. One is too localized, two have been closed as "not clear" pending clarification, and the remaining one is actually reopened now. So I am not sure what your point is. That we should never close duplicates? That we should not ask for clarification from the OP? Something else? Do elaborate, I really do not understand.
    – RegDwigнt Mod
    Dec 18, 2012 at 12:55
  • 2
    @Billy: Martha is a staunch defender of the "Come one, come all" approach - but for all the hoohah about that particular closure, it's worth noting that the only original answer doesn't actually address the specific question Is corrosion an onomatopoeia? I'd also point out that Martha's edit added 3-4 times as much text as in the original question, in order to make it reopenable. But the OP never helped (or even reacted at all) to attempts to salvage the question. I think collectively ELU bent over backwards to accommodate a poorly-posed question from a "drive-by" supplicant. Dec 18, 2012 at 14:26

I wouldn't mind if that was the goal: answer, then close as not likely to be useful in the future. But there was that meta, I can't locate it at the moment, that was practically a call to arms against this class of questions, with a strong demand to stop users from answering them. And it wasn't like anyone would seem to disagree with the notion - the idea being "if we don't prevent answers it will encourage more of these questions".

Which means the current state is not a positive, target, desired state of things, but just a result of weakness of the moderation system unable to react fast enough to prevent users from answering.


At a first-look minimum, I see merit in 3, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, and 16. As a practical matter, I don't see a compelling reason to delete any but the obvious duplicates. It's not like we get charged by the byte for open questions.

I can't imagine a legitimate reason to close 16 on a forum that purports to be about English usage. The difference between the relevant definitions of "modest" and "decent" in a dictionary will not enlighten someone who doesn't already know about the subtle differences between them. (The answer given before closure is, by the way, excellent in this regard.) As I alleged before, the size of the space between "General Reference" and "Too Localised" depends wholly on how the egos of the Guardians are feeling that day.

Moreover, I don't think the replies to 5 and 13 are even that good!

On 5, Use of "Doctor" for "Ph.D." has a number of implications and subtleties. Many medical doctors do not like it and it would be wise to use "Professor" (if true) or "Ph.D." instead in a social situation where an M.D. might be offended. On the other hand, there are institutions where the use of "Dr. X" instead of "Professor X" is customary. The comment about surgeons being called "Mister" is British usage only without being so labeled (there is at least one murder mystery that hinges on this); in the USA they are always "Doctor". At the least, it would have been useful to solicit from the OP some idea of the context in which he needed to know this.

On 13, the answers aren't blunt enough about mentioning that nonX, when an infrequent construction like nonlesson, carries a significant snark payload. The question is a good one and the downvotes are nonhelpful.

  • 1
    You and I have butt heads over the past week, but I'll admit, I admire the analysis you put into your answer here. (I still wish you'd refrain from snarky accusations like "My guess is that we have a lot of grad students and abandoned Ph.D.s who feel better about their superior knowledge of English after slagging (and closing) foreigners' silly, or not so silly, questions," which strikes me as rather incendiary, unproductive and inaccurate.) I appreciate what you wrote here; I found it informative and (almost) on-the-mark (I really don't think Gen Ref & Too Localized is ego-based).
    – J.R.
    Dec 17, 2012 at 19:08
  • @J.R. I may have gone overboard and I'm sorry if I offended you. It's too easy to do that on the Internet from any perspective, whether those who vote to close or those who think the number of such votes has gone too high. Dec 17, 2012 at 20:38

I just want to say this

There are a few users on this site that make this site seem very derogatory. And it is stuff like this that make people say that those who are closing questions are snobs... because they are. (I don't care if the question deserved to be closed--like in the example I used, but if you're going to close a question, remember that there are supposed to be manners and that you're not supposed to be rude. And people who have called me out on my bad tone, are usually the same people who are rude to begin with. Not all, but the small majority)

Now, with the example I just gave, yes, that question is questionable. However, that is no excuse for those users to be badgering the user the way they did.

When I first started coming onto this site, I enjoyed it. But then I saw so many high rep users badgering lower rep users in a similar fashion to this and I can't stand this site anymore.

I understand that most questions that get closed are truly closed for a reason (like that question probably will be), however, I am posting this in response to your saying:

However, when I search for evidence of that snobbery, I keep finding a slew of rather mediocre questions – usually with helpful answers, by the way – rather than hard evidence of an unhelpful clique. But maybe I'm just missing something, in which case maybe you can help me out.

Again, I know the question isn't good. But why should it suddenly be okay to do what they did?

  • 5
    I sympathize with your feeling there's some 'snobbery' around here; but the example you offer exhibits none that I see. There are no downvotes, no closevotes; the first comment asks for some clarification, which was forthcoming and was very helpful in providing context for three answers. One of those answers makes a lighthearted joke which is directly relevant to the question, and which the questioner takes in that spirit. What rudeness or badgering do you see? Dec 22, 2012 at 8:04
  • 3
    I agree with what @StoneyB said, and that comment addresses the heart of my question. Some folks are SO convinced that ELU folks are snobs, that any request for clarification, any exhortation to do some additional research, any votes to close irrespective of quality all counts as mounting evidence that we are a rude, insular, snobby, community. This O.P. asked, "I'd appreciate your thoughts on this," and, when a regular did just that – takes time to find a pertinent link, and ask a straightforward question – that's considered "badgering."
    – J.R.
    Dec 22, 2012 at 9:25
  • 1
    Moreover, in this case, you seem to disregard how helpful the comment by @FumbleFingers actually is. I didn't know what a durative vs. punctual verb was; at least w/ FF's comment, I could find that out and learn something. The O.P. could have included some information like that, and probably should have included some information like that, but FF took up the slack. More importantly, if any rude behavior is exhibited in that conversation, I'd say the OP's reply seems much ruder than FF's comment. Read it again with a more open mind, and try giving FF the benefit of the doubt this time.
    – J.R.
    Dec 22, 2012 at 9:29
  • @StoneyB and J.R. : I'm not talking about the comment FumbleFingers left. I'm talking about the first answer that was left. Answers are supposed to help people, not jab. And if we want to talk about reading, I already know the question was off. I even said that. I didn't manage to get a screenshot of the comment MetaEd left (has since been deleted), but did it occur to anyone OP was frustrated because of how unhelpful the first answer was?
    – Souta
    Dec 22, 2012 at 15:10
  • I don't know how anyone can stick up for a smart alec response that should have been a comment, not an answer. And yes, it is a jab, because it implies that the question has no merit. I'm not saying all ELU people are snobs, I just think that some ELU people have a little too much air in their heads from an ego trip. My only regret in this is that I didn't get that screenshot because it was the perfect example of snobbery on this site.
    – Souta
    Dec 22, 2012 at 15:21
  • 4
    @Souta That was not a jab, it was an example of durative use of attempt which spoke directly to OP's question; jocularly expressed, perhaps, but OP's response seems to me to understand that. This is not to say that rudeness never occurs; but in this instance I don't think it did. Dec 22, 2012 at 15:22
  • @StoneyB Yes, OP understood: the perfective only relates to a finished action with a punctual verb. thats why i think it is punctual. can anyone elaborate an answer that contradicts that without trying to be funny or clever.. And if it were just an example, why not state so and then elaborate? Aren't answers supposed to have something backing up their statements?
    – Souta
    Dec 22, 2012 at 15:28
  • i d like to hear the explanation if anyone knows it. thanks But as you say, OP understood the first answer.
    – Souta
    Dec 22, 2012 at 15:29
  • And I'd like to say, I know I'm coming off as rude right now, but I'm frustrated myself. It is one thing to have a sense of humor, but it is another when you use that as a smokescreen as I feel has been done in this case.
    – Souta
    Dec 22, 2012 at 15:33
  • 4
    I don't think you're being rude, I just think you've picked a poor, or at best marginal example. Note that MετάEd's response came right on the heels of the original post - half an hour before OP provided additional information about use with the perfective which completely shifted the focus and depth of the question and demanded a more elaborate answer. MετάEd's never shy about asking for improvements to questions he regards as weak; in this case he responded chattily, concisely, and with welcoming humour to a chatty, concise question. Dec 22, 2012 at 16:03
  • 1
    One more thing - it's not entirely irrelevant that just mentioning the punctual/durative contrast created the presumption that OP was among the most sophisticated visitors to this site - it's not something novices know about. Dec 22, 2012 at 18:04
  • 2
    @Souta: Wow, if that constitutes badgering, then number me among the rudest users on the site. In fact, my profile even makes explicit mention of the fact that I enjoy embedding self-references into comments and answers, much like I did in my answer to this question. (I've never meant to "jab"; I've figured such answers serve a dual purpose: they provide an extra example of usage, and are somewhat entertaining, too.) Maybe I made a bad assumption about what you were referring to, but my reply remains the same, just change "FF" to "ME".
    – J.R.
    Dec 23, 2012 at 2:22
  • @J.R. You're taking my point wrong, but I'm running out of argument here. Again, I wish I had a screenshot of what was originally there. As for you comparing yourself to someone who smokescreen-jokes, you make your post funny with polite-humor and explain what it means. But whatever, I've ran out of argument and I chose a poor example for ELU bullying in the first place.
    – Souta
    Dec 23, 2012 at 2:44
  • 1
    @Souta: Sorry if I took your point wrong, but you're the one who called me a snob. (Read the last three words of the second sentence of your answer.) (BTW, I realize that you probably didn't mean to direct that label at me personally, but you did answer my question by calling us snobs collectively, even if you did add a disclaimer later in your paragraph. And I still think the O.P.'s reply to FF is perhaps the rudest thing in that question.)
    – J.R.
    Dec 23, 2012 at 3:26
  • 1
    I did not know I was being talked about. Sorry to respond late. My points: (i) I have no idea what I might have said in a deleted comment. If I was rude, I regret it. (ii) J.R. rightly takes my post and followup comment as answers by humorous example, with no hidden criticism intended. Indeed, (iii) when a question is problematic, we should be polite and direct about it and suggest practical solutions. (iv) Correcting someone can result in loss of face. But we will get nowhere unless we assume the person is mature enough to bear corrections.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 9, 2013 at 4:54

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