I'm not sure if this applies to all the Stack Exchange sites, but one of the close votes is 'not a real question'.

Surely this is a poor choice of words, when is a question not a question? I would expect it either is or it isn't a question, the only area of confusion would be when rhetorical?

Just so I am clear, I'm not asking for it to be changed on the site, I'm actually asking whether it is a misnomer or not.


Well, despite my question making it explicitly clear it was about the use of language, it has been migrated and as such, I'll change the question.

Should the phrase "not a real question" be changed to "to not a suitable question"?

  • 3
    It's evident the question here is about the use of language, and the question should be migrated back to the main site.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 12:43
  • Using 'misnomer' for this is a misnomer. It may not be precise enough language for everyone's taste, but it may not be the best expression (it works fine for me though). It's figurative.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 14:03

3 Answers 3


I never liked NARQ as a choice for closing. Its reasons seem solid, but the phrasing of the title itself is inaccurate and condescending.

Still, it is what we use when we throw up our hands in bafflement at some of the questions we see here. I think in those cases it could easily be replaced by the following two choices:

wtf and tl;dr

  • 1
    This answer is incoherent. First you seem to say the real reasons given for NARQ are solid. And I agree: we get many questions which are incomplete, for example. But then you seem to criticize the whole category as boiling down to the replacement reasons in your mock-up. Which is NARQ? Solid, or petty?
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 11:11
  • 3
    If a question could be closed because another user was offended by it, the site wouldn't last a month. Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 12:10
  • 2
    @TimLymington oh but we did have questions closed and in fact taken down completely because a user happened to be offended by it. Two years ago. We're still here.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 12:27
  • @MετάEd: Chillax. I'm trying to inject a little humor here. Now, hold still and look the other way while I insert the needle.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 13:56
  • @Robusto I see the humor in your graphic; it still seems you undermine your own point (that the reasons for NARQ are solid).
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 13:59
  • 1
    Cognitive dissonance, judiciously applied.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 14:00

(I am seeing your question for the first time after the migrate. I'll try to address both the original and the updated question.)

“Not a real question” is not a misnomer, for two reasons: (i) it has a definition in context, and (ii) it is actually common in English to use “not a real X” rhetorically to mean “not having the qualities that we expect a proper or suitable X to have”.

In context, “not a real question” is defined to mean “cannot be reasonably answered in its current form”. Once you define something in context, it becomes a technical term and it doesn’t so much matter what the general meaning is. So your apparent contradiction evaporates. A question is “not a real question” when it “cannot be reasonably answered in its current form”, and that makes sense.

When defining in context there is a practical consideration that the definition should not create a completely confusing situation. Its meaning should not be completely unrelated or contradictory to the general term. But that does not apply to “not a real question”, because of how we use “not a real X” rhetorically.

Consider the words gentle and gentleman. From the root *gen- (“beget” or “be born”), and cognate with genus and kin (and the kinder- in kindergarten), gentle once meant simply “born of a high-ranking family”, and gentleman meant “high-born man”.¹ And it made sense, rhetorically speaking, to say that “John is not a real gentleman” meaning that John, while high-born, lacks the qualities that we expect a proper gentleman to have. Notice we have made such rhetorical judgments so easily and so often that the word gentle has lost its original sense completely and the word gentleman is not far behind.

On to the metaquestion of whether it should be changed to read “not a suitable question”. I think both the original wording and the proposed wording are fine. You could also substitute proper, or answerable. Regardless of the wording, the meaning seems clear, especially considering that it is defined in context. So I am not convinced that any change is necessary.

  • This is great, and you are right, my question was 99% about the use of the language first. I only updated it to ensure it wasn't off topic (although I appreciate the irony of it being moved to another forum for it to be off topic) :) The second paragraph of your answer really helped the penny drop for me. Thank you, this is a great answer.
    – Dave
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 12:21
  • Actually, I have a follow up if I may? You answer suggest that because it is defined then it becomes a technical term hence why it can be used as it is (which makes sense), but actually, in the close vote section, it is used before it is defined within the context.
    – Dave
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 12:35
  • A word appears in the dictionary immediately before its definition, too. That's a pretty common idiom.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 12:38
  • Yes, but that is very mush stand alone, the point you make is how it was used within context of everything else (and just so we're clear, I'm not trying to be difficult, just understand it better - emotion and tone is very hard to get across in writing and I don't want my response(s) to be read as ungrateful :) ).
    – Dave
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 12:44
  • Are we maybe looking at different texts? I'm looking at english.stackexchange.com/faq#close, where the term appears in bold and its definition follows immediately after.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 12:49

For me I have always disliked the label and especially its subtitle: "It is difficult to tell what is being asked here." It is difficult to understand X it could mean either that X is inherently incoherent, or that the person considering X is simply not up to the task of understanding X, understandable as X may be. The phrase gets used in polite company when one wants to ask for a clarification without directing blame for the confusion. At this point the one who is challenged will either apologize for not communicating clearly, assuring the challenger that it is not their fault, or the matter gets clarified quickly and the challenger apologizes for being slow to grasp something he/she should have understood on the first pass.

When the question gets closed it is always understood that the OP is the one who is at fault for misunderstanding, so the usual double meaning of the phrase is not there anymore (this might be different if there were more time for the OP or someone else to offer clarifying edits). There is an air of pretension with this nice little phrase getting used tactlessly.

I do endorse the OP's suggestion of reworking the language for this closure category.

  • In both your "polite company" examples, it's the one who is challenged who has to clarify for the challenger. It's no different when a question is closed: the asker needs to modify it to cater for the readers' not understanding it (whether it's because they are simply dense, or the question really wasn't very good).
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 8:04

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