I have the feeling that after almost three years there are currently a lot of beginner and easy questions and comparatively few expert questions.

It is very important to have questions here that you wouldn't easily find the answer to in most dictionaries or introductory articles on the web, although Google is not General Reference.

Examples of current expert questions are:

Why is American English so wedded to the subjunctive?

Where does “Don't bogart that joint” come from[ deleted: see FumbleFinger & Hugo's comments]

The growth of English

and a few others but not many, at present I would say around 5% at most.

Having tried unsuccessfully to ask expert-level questions, I've realized that this is a lot harder than I expected, at least before the EL&U policy changed (see Cerberus' invective).

Perhaps we can use this meta thread to share advice about the kind of expert questions we want and the under-represented topics.

Let your voice be heard!

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    haha - I'm flattered that you would cite my Don't bogart that joint as an "expert" question. But I did feel a bit of a nit when Bogie's trademark "cigarette hanging from the lip" was pointed out. Dec 30, 2012 at 22:04
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    I must say I don't quite understand what an "expert question" might be. Jan 1, 2013 at 0:41
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    I don't think the bogart question is an "expert question": I didn't know the answer, but found it easily in the Online Etymology Dictionary (and Oxford English Dictionary), and it was eventually closed as general reference.
    – Hugo
    Jan 2, 2013 at 13:26
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    I suspect that once the English Language Learners Stack is up and running most of the more basic questions seen here will migrate over there, which should in theory leave this site freer for the more expert questions you refer to. Whether that actually happens or not remains to be seen. Jan 2, 2013 at 13:51
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    @John: Just between ourselves, I think the current definition of "expert question" here is "one that persuades Prof Lawler to answer"! :) Jan 2, 2013 at 14:05
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    Well, I got in the habit, when I was teaching, of answering the question that the student would have asked, if they'd had their terminology and presuppositions straight. The questions as asked are often silly and straight answers to them even sillier; but there's usually some confusion underneath that can be cleared up. After 40+ years of teaching, I've encountered most of the common confusions and figured out ways to help dispel them. Jan 2, 2013 at 15:45
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    @FumbleFingers I am terribly sad to see that your bogart question was closed.
    – user14070
    Jan 4, 2013 at 21:11
  • @Joshua: My Google-fu was weak that night! It was my father who'd unsuccessfully asked me why I'd said it to my brother, and only a day or two later he asked me why he sometimes says "Swap me Christ!" (he didn't know himself). After the Bogie humiliation I was diffident about asking another one here that might turn out to be so obvious. Which it was, when the answer eventually dawned on me several weeks later (if you're interested, and can't either figure it out or Google it, you can ask that one! :) Jan 4, 2013 at 21:37
  • @FumbleFingers I'd have to guess that the second one involves crucifixion. Still, I'm of the opinion that odd idioms and the like belong here, it seems to me that this IS the new general reference site. Like Wikipedia who always tells us to cite our sources, I'm usually content to point at Wikipedia itself, at least as a starting point.
    – user14070
    Jan 4, 2013 at 21:49
  • @Joshua: It's nothing to do with crucifixion, no. Whatever - it can sit there as a teaser until someone else either asks or answers (or linger like a stale fart, depending on how you feel about such things! :) Jan 4, 2013 at 22:13
  • How about identifying expert questions (I would prefer a term like 'questions of substance'), to start with? Let no good question be down voted, close voted, scoffed at, or meted out just plain condescension -- it reflects poorly on the voter/ commenter, not the asker.
    – Kris
    Jan 10, 2013 at 15:24

3 Answers 3


To change the ratio of expert to beginner posts, make the site more welcoming to experts. It’s necessary to create a climate in which more experts join because they feel that this is “their” site.

Many things go into this: site design, editorial policy, and tone, and these are all very big topics.

Where we, the existing community, can make a major contribution is in editorial policy and tone. Both should be much more professional than the typical “ask an English question” site.

  • This answer, including the last paragraph, sounds rather vague. Can you explain what you want changed in editorial policy and tone?
    – Golden Cuy
    Dec 31, 2012 at 4:26
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    Note I'm only saying they should differ from competing sites. Actually, I think we do pretty well on tone. I do think we fall short on editorial policy by not expecting a professional level of Q&A expertise that is taken for granted on, say, Physics.SE.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 31, 2012 at 7:50
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    @MetaEd: I would disagree about the professional level of Q&A expertise that exists on Physics.SE. There are lots of totally naive, beginner-level questions there (not that there's anything wrong with that) and the more advanced questions there sometimes get incorrect answers which are upvoted, unlike here. Dec 31, 2012 at 16:16
  • @PeterShor When I look over the question list on Physics.SE, I don't know how you can say that. As a rule, the questions are substantially less naive and more technical there than here. I am not arguing there are no exceptions, just that there is a big difference.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 31, 2012 at 16:41

I think that the site should consider contacting organizations such as the Linguistic Society of America and the website Linguist List, which is currently the definitive site for linguists, despite its UI. I went to an LSA conference in January and didn't see this site mentioned anywhere, while Linguist List was all over the place even though I know a lot of my friends and professors would enjoy a site like this. I majored in linguistics and only found this site through stackoverflow while I was looking for programming help. I'm afraid the site doesn't have enough visibility in these kinds of circles. If you're buried in research and grading, you don't have all that much time to go find new content and communities online- they have to come to you. A lot of linguists I know don't feel like "tech people" (read: are considerably older than me) and won't go looking for this kind of thing even when they do have free time, so I'm going to be emailing a couple of professors tonight that I know would spend hours on here.

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    I've been a member of the LSA since 1964, and have been on the board of LINGUIST since it was founded. This site (and linguistics.se) are in fact not professional and would be out of place in either forum. But the more linguists there are here, the less lonely I'd feel; however, few of us are up to explaining everything over and over again. Jan 1, 2013 at 3:00
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    I'm afraid my membership only goes back to 2011. I always feel like a 6th grader at conferences, awkward and clueless. But, to the point, you're right. I understand that stackexchange isn't a professional site, so I can see how it wouldn't be appropriate to list in professional contexts. There must be some way to let linguists know about it other than word of mouth, though, and where else do linguists get together en masse but at professional fora? I guess I'll just send some emails to friends and professors about the site for now. Jan 2, 2013 at 5:45
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    I've been trying to set up a base of facts and terminology to link to, but it's slow. This is all I've managed to do in a year; there's a long way to go yet. Jan 2, 2013 at 6:04
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    Well, I'm pretty sure that there will always be a long way to go yet, and that's what keeps linguists employed. I'm going to get to work on some answers myself. On another note, I took a look at your site and I've found some really interesting stuff on there- thank you for compiling it. In the future, if you are interested in doing some sort of linguistic web project, I would like to help. Jan 2, 2013 at 6:12
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    i started visiting the sites after an advertisement on LINGUISTlist about two years ago. linguistics.se probably stands a chance of attracting some graduate students looking for help tracking examples or citations while writing a term paper.
    – user31341
    Jan 6, 2013 at 7:15

Rewards are always a good way to drive behavior. We could use an "expert" tag on questions that are deemed to be advanced subject material and offer badges (gold and silver preferred) for "expert" questions with some (relatively low) level of upvotes.

Feel free to correct me if this is already in place.

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