As per the FAQ here, questions about word choice are clearly on-topic. However, this word choice question was closed and sent to writers, where these questions are very clearly off-topic. It's possible I'm missing some subtlety here, so I'd like to understand what's going on.

On Writers, we discussed this in meta a bit before closing a couple of word choice questions. While I migrated a simpler word choice question here to EL&U, the other one (the one I linked to above) started life here and was closed. The user who started this question seems to be, understandably, a bit confused.

So why was this question closed and migrated? Do the translation aspects of the question confuse the situation? Did a bunch of users just not like it? I'm not a 10k user or mod here, so I can't see the question, which has been deleted.

Do you have a bunch of users who hate word choice questions and just vote to close them? Is there something I'm missing here making this question unsuitable for ELU?

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    As a newcomer I cannot see an issue with the question. Seems legit. – Sam May 24 '13 at 22:24
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    Some of the high-ranking community members here are quite narrow-minded about what's on & off topic in EL&U, & few, it seems, are willing to edit a Q to make it on topic, which is too bad because a good edit will teach users how to write good on-topic Qs. I make such edits all the time, but earlier this month, one of those impossible-to-please community members reverted my edit to the original just to make his nasty & unhelpful comment relevant & to attack me indirectly. Then another user edited the post, but that was left untouched by Mister Nasty. The answer to your question isn't simple. – user21497 May 26 '13 at 4:40
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    @BillFranke - On Writers, I can tell you that we have taken action against high-rep users in the past. If that's not the case here, perhaps it would help to bring up specific cases on meta. (But I'm not a mod here and can't speak for them.) – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 26 '13 at 20:42
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    @NeilFein Thanks a ton for taking the initiative and putting this up for discussion on meta. You rock! – Soulz May 30 '13 at 6:38

The only thing I can tell you for sure is that five community members closed it as off-topic. No mods were involved. If even one of them suggested it be sent to Writers, the system would have automagically done that as soon as it closed.

I don't know why one of our members thought it would be a good fit there. I am also not certain why, of all the word choice requests we get, that particular one went to you. Maybe someone else can shed some light there.

  • No surviving comments on the post shed any light, either (though a comment suggested that the title might prompt NARQ or NC, so it's possible that off-topic wasn't the reason for all five closers). – Monica Cellio May 23 '13 at 18:22
  • It looks like there weren't any deleted comments either. And I think that unless all 5 people voted to close as off-topic to Writers, it wouldn't have been migrated at all – simchona May 24 '13 at 1:31
  • @simchona It only takes one vote to migrate it to Writers (that's an off-topic vote) as long as there was a plurality of off-topic votes. – Kit Z. Fox Mod May 24 '13 at 10:30
  • @kit interesting; I always thought there had to be agreement. – simchona May 24 '13 at 16:05
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    So should we send this one back to you? – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 26 '13 at 20:43
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    @NeilFein I think that's fine with me, at least. – simchona May 27 '13 at 2:31
  • Actually, would you be willing to reopen the existing question? – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 27 '13 at 3:53
  • @neil sure--is that easier than bouncing it back? – simchona May 27 '13 at 5:19
  • @simchona - I'm mostly trying to avoid bouncing the question back and forth. But if the question is reinstated and is closed again, not sure if that'd be any better. Would prefer to try to identify what's causing people to vote to close. Are there any explanatory comments at all? – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 27 '13 at 5:25
  • @neil it seems like some people thought the question was of translation, which is off topic. I'm going to open up the original though and leave a comment saying not to migrate it to writers. – simchona May 27 '13 at 5:27
  • @simchona - Thanks. Will leave a note on Writers as well. – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 27 '13 at 5:39
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    @simchona Thanks a lot for reopening my question. Cheers! :) – Soulz May 30 '13 at 6:38

@MετάEd I don't think "translation" had anything to do with my question being closed. I did not mention anything about translation in my question when I posted it in ELU. All said and done, my question was really a word request. (I didn't think people needed to know about the translation aspect here. My final work will be read in English. It won't matter to the average reader if it's a translation. Any word or phrase I use will be judged by how it works in English.)

I only added the background information about it being related to my translation after the question got migrated to Writers. I did this because I think the audience there is very different from ELU. They needed to know that this was a translation and there were certain constraints I was working with. (Otherwise, the first natural reaction would be "why don't you rephrase?")

I edited my question once more, a long time after it had been put up at Writers. A good alternative had struck me as I was working on something and I thought I should it put up it on Writers. I thought since a long time had passed I could edit out the part that it had been migrated and that I was adding background information to my question. This was how the question got it's final form.

PS: I'm not sure everybody can check the edit history of my question. I'm attaching an image capture just in case.

(Oh and in case anyone's interested, the phrasing I finally zeroed on is "a miasma of death")

enter image description here


I agree with @MετάEd's answer (obviously a minority position, with currently a net -2 votes).

I assume there's no significant dissent from the "translation is Off Topic for ELU" principle as so eloquently defended there. It's worth calling attention to the first two sentences of the question...

This a piece of Korean text that I'm trying to translate into English. So I really don't have much freedom to change the phrasing.

It's somewhat irrelevant whether the OP had originally included those words, since obviously that was always his position, and would always constrain his willingness to accept any given answer.

I had assumed that "translation" aspect caused the question to be closed on writers, since it precluded the possibility of "creative" answers involving significant rephrasing. But per Neil's comment below, that's not actually the reason.

Turning to the matter of why I think the question is Off Topic for ELU, I don't see the translation of a single word/phrase as inherently Off Topic here. For example, even though this ELU question hasn't had much attention, or received an unambiguously "correct, universally endorsed" answer, the OP gave a precise definition of the meaning he sought, so answerers didn't need to be familiar with the Japanese term which had prompted the question in the first place.

The difference between that "acceptable" question, and the case in point here, is that Yoichi could reasonably have supposed there might have been a single "correct" answer that we'd all agree on.

But all answers to the question under consideration here are inherently subjective, since there isn't (and probably never could be) a standard term for "sense of impending death" in English.

I will also make the point that within the question lies a "supplementary" that I consider to be completely On Topic (for both ELU and ELL; I can't decide which is more suitable)...

the sense/aura of death - is there any difference in meaning if the article 'the' is changed to 'a'?

...but so far as I can see, not one of the seven answers addressed that "valid" component.

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    "I also assume it was the 'translation' aspect that caused the question to be closed on writers" - No, translation issues are firmly on-topic on Writers. Single-word requests and rephrase requests for very short pieces of text, however, are off-topic there, and that's why the question was closed. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jun 1 '13 at 15:06
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    @Neil: Noted. I've edited to clarify that I was mistaken on that point. From my perspective, it kinda creates a "gap" for exactly this kind of question, since I still think that SWR questions where all answers are effectively "stylistic choices" aren't likely to be a good fit for ELU. – FumbleFingers Jun 1 '13 at 16:35
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    -1 I see time after time requests for a single word, sometimes the OP gives a detailed description of what (s)he is asking for, providing a context and sometimes not. In a way, are we not acting like interpretors when we seek or instantly "know" the word. And when, more often than not, a single word does not fit, do we not try to get as close as possible to the meaning requested? In the end, there is no right answer but we hope to have given some guidance or useful suggestions. So why not with Soulz? – Mari-Lou A Jun 5 '13 at 21:39

To the author of the original question:

A good answer depends not just on the expertise of the person providing the answers but also on the expertise of the entire community to review it. The review process provides an essential quality check on the answer.

The ELU community consists of English experts. This is why translation assistance is off topic per the FAQ, even when the question is otherwise on topic. When you ask a translation question, you are putting your question beyond the community's expertise. Even if an exceptional expert could answer correctly, most of the community would be unable to review it for correctness.

You could try to restate the question to take the translation aspect out of it. In my experience, that mostly doesn't work. You typically end up with correct answers which don't satisfy the ultimate need for a correct translation.

If you still feel you can make the question work, I strongly recommend you post the original Korean passage you are trying to translate. The community already has one hand tied behind its back when you ask it to help with translation; no need to tie the other hand too.

To Neil: I hope this sheds some light on why such a question might be closed at ELU even though it has to do with word choice.

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    It's not really a translation question, though. – simchona May 27 '13 at 5:19
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    Translation questions are those where the answer's acceptability to the asker is limited to whether it translates the foreign word correctly. "This a piece of Korean text that I'm trying to translate into English. So I really don't have much freedom to change the phrasing." Q.E.D. – MetaEd May 27 '13 at 5:31
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    No, it's a single word request where he's trying to find one that fits. He's doing translation but he isn't asking for a Korean to English translation. – simchona May 27 '13 at 5:33
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    Or to put it another way, a translation question is a writing advice question which has the additional problem that the advice is about how to translate from a foreign language. Even if you don't see this as a translation question I guess you might see that it's a request for writing advice. – MetaEd May 27 '13 at 5:34
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    I think you're taking the application of "translation" a bit far, otherwise we'd have to close half of Yoichi's questions too. It's not a request for writing advice either--he wants help picking one word. Just one. That's on topic. (And was kicked back from writers, so it's not really writing advice) – simchona May 27 '13 at 5:36
  • The problematic part is "trying to find one that fits". That's what differentiates a writing advice question from a word usage question. The answer to be useful/acceptable to the asker must not just answer the question of usage but actually fit a particular text to the asker's (more or less arbitrary) satisfaction. It is impossible to give a "right" answer in that circumstance because "right" just means "what will fit in the asker's mind". – MetaEd May 27 '13 at 5:36
  • Then that's a question about single word requests in general, and I agree it's a lot of questionable global applicability. At this point, I don't think it should be closed for being translation, but I leave it up to the community regarding whether its a good SWR or not – simchona May 27 '13 at 5:39
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    No, Yoichi doesn't ask for words which fit something he's writing; he asks for help understanding nuance of words or phrases. I have no problem with this question being rewritten to ask about the nuance of the word "aura" or "death" or what have you. It's when the question asks for help choosing the "right" word to go in a text that there's a translation/writing advice problem. – MetaEd May 27 '13 at 5:41
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    Then what's a SWR for? – simchona May 27 '13 at 5:43
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    If I am to believe Richard Cartaino, SWRs need to be well researched, require an English expert's assistance, and be particularly interesting/thought provoking (i.e., capable of generating good answers). Yoichi would probably do a good job at that. An SWR which just promotes lots of list generation is Not Constructive, and anything which is really only useful to the OP (such as a request for a word to use in a translation project) is not just Off Topic but also Too Local. – MetaEd May 27 '13 at 5:51
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    The user, at least to me, has narrowed down to aura vs sense, and wants to know if the nuance fits. He already checked dictionaries, and now requires the help of a native/expert speaker. I can see where the question might need more whipping into shape--would you be more inclined to it at that point? – simchona May 27 '13 at 5:52
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    Nobody can say that aura or sense has the better fit without knowing Korean and without seeing the Korean passage. That's the whole problem. – MetaEd May 27 '13 at 5:55
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    @MEtaEd - I tentatively disagree with you; whether a word choice question is asked because it's being used in a translation shouldn't make a difference. However... you're an established member of this community, so your opinion carries weight here. (My objective is to see if questions like this are a good fit here, not to shoehorn them into ELU.) As you suggested, much of the translation-related stuff has been removed from the question. Have your concerns been addressed? Should similar questions be sent here in the future, possibly after similar edits? – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 28 '13 at 16:54
  • @ MετάEd: I was going to say I tentatively agree with you. But I just noticed that the author of the original question has posted an answer here where he says that he actually accepted "a miasma of death" as the answer to that original. In light of that I now strongly agree with you that such questions are well outside the scope of ELU (but I don't see why they shouldn't be accepted on writers). – FumbleFingers May 31 '13 at 22:50
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    @FumbleFingers But why? Because you dislike the word "miasma" with a passion? I hope that's not the case. I kind of liked it. :'( If it makes any difference, I didn't "accept" it because no one offered it as an answer. I came up with it on my own. – Soulz Jun 1 '13 at 10:53

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