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I recently asked a question here: What are the distinctions between property, quality, attribute, characteristic, feature, aspect and trait?

It was shut down for being to broad. It seems my only options are to alter the question, or leave a comment. Since the question is perfectly fine as is I left a comment, but it seems it is just ignored. I have done my own careful thinking about it and have an answer ready. I think it would be a valuable question to have answers to. A lot more useful than many of the narrow questions asked on this site.

What do people mean by saying the question is too broad?

Is there any way to get the attention of the people who placed your question on hold to get them to reconsider when you have an answer to your question prepared?

And more importantly, could some kind people release my question so I can answer it?

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    By "too broad" I think is meant that you are asking for a semantic analysis in which to contrast seven different terms. This is a significant task to do properly; I've taught college classes where this would be an acceptable term paper topic (though probably with a better-chosen set of words). Since this is lexical semantics I presume you can look them up in a dictionary or thesaurus. If so, what are your opinions? Go right ahead and answer your own question here, if you want. – John Lawler Aug 2 '13 at 22:48
  • I would have 1 paragraph to say about each term. Too long to fit in these comments (and this wouldn't be the appropriate place), but not term-paper length. I'm sorry if the number of terms intimidated people but that is what I legitimately wanted to sort out. I would have been happy with a bunch of partial answers. I know the SA format calls for one right answer but sometimes multiple answers are also helpful. – Moss Aug 3 '13 at 3:26
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    I think the SA format is lousy for language questions; ignore that part. The problem with your question is that this is a potpourri of words with different histories in use; they don't have rigorous definitions, they are not comparable together, and they have different usages in distinct contexts. – John Lawler Aug 3 '13 at 14:47
  • I guess people don't really get what I was going for or aren't interested in playing along. I wanted to sort of force them into more rigorous definitions, the way that a given field of study will give certain terms unambiguous, non-overlapping meanings. I did manage to identify a number of salient "features" for each term. Unfortunately it looks like people don't want to hear it. Thanks for your attention anyway. – Moss Aug 3 '13 at 15:35
  • You can force them into any rigorous definitions you want to, but feature analysis is based on usage, not definitions. If you have a feature analysis to post, use the "Your Answer" box right below. There's no limit on length, and there's no rule against answering your own question. Like I say, the Q:A BS is not the best possible model for language discussion. (Afterthought: if this is for conlanging, this may not be the right group.) – John Lawler Aug 3 '13 at 16:17
  • You mean answer my question here in Meta? I can't answer the original question when it is on hold. – Moss Aug 5 '13 at 16:37
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I took a crack at answering the original question, but I'm not surprised it got closed.

In my mind, the question has these two main problems:

1) Most words in the English language have multiple definitions (for example, property can be a piece of real estate, and feature can refer to a full-length film). Even after we remove those superfluous meanings, though, most words have multiple nuances, along with contexts where they fit well, and contexts where they sound more forced or unnatural. To break down seven synonyms, then, and try to explain where the usages overlap, and when one word is more apt than another, is a bit of a Herculean task.

2) All of these words can be looked up in various dictionaries. I'd recommend Wordnik, which not only lists meanings from multiple dictionaries, but also lists example usages, synonyms, hypernyms, and words that are used in the same context.

Put these two together, and one has to wonder: if the answer can be determined from doing some legwork at Wordnik, then why wouldn't the O.P. do that research? Alternatively, if the desire is to somehow learn more about the subtle differences between these words, then why were we given so many of them, so that the problem becomes very complicated, if not overwhelming? (A list of seven words means there are 21 pairs of words we could compare and contrast).

You say in a comment here on meta that you merely wanted "one paragraph about each word." That, too, is a hard thing to accomplish. Words like property and trait can be applied to a myriad of contexts: there are physical traits we can see, chemical traits that affect how materials react with other materials, psychological traits that determine who we are as a person and how we interact with other people, quality traits that determine if something is well-done or shoddy (those four just popped into my head – I'm sure there are more.

Lastly, if I were to describe a particular concert piece, I might describe it as fast or slow, exhilharating or haunting, trite or original, harmonious or dissonant. These are all qualities of the music piece. If we shift to a bottle of wine, the attributes change, and the qualities of the wine are something else altogether. So even a "simple paragraph for each word" is not an easy task.

My suggestion would be to do some more research on your own, and see what you can learn about these seven words, if they interest you so much. (Don't stop with the dictionary; try some searching on Google books as well.) If you find yourself curious about some apparent difference that you happen to discover but is hard to figure out, try asking that as its own question.

  • Thanks for the response, the link to Wordnik and even the partial answer to my original question. I DID do my own research, I DO have a paragraph to say about each one. But I guess there is no way to get enough attention to re-open it so I can answer it. Who cares that there are multiple meanings and context changes things. There are as many definitions for any word as there are contexts for its usage. I'm a linguist myself, I get that. If people understood the spirit of the question it would be no problem. – Moss Aug 6 '13 at 18:09
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    As for "who cares that there are .. context changes" – isn't that what your question asked about? (From your original question: What are their useful differences? Which are more abstract and which are more tangible? Which are more subjective and which are more objective?) I don't understand how one could address those considerations, yet ignore multiple meanings and context variations. – J.R. Aug 6 '13 at 18:25
  • You would consider the different relevant contexts that you can think of for the word and try to distill a common theme out of it. An example answer for one of the terms: "A quality is more experiential than the other terms, except perhaps 'aspect'. One must poke at a thing or live in it or with it in order to comment on its qualities. Qualities, unlike properties are hard to quantify. Size or velocity aren't usually referred to as qualities. Qualities are more often 'felt' and permeate a thing, like flavour or timbre. They are more intrinsic than properties, attributes, etc..." – Moss Aug 6 '13 at 18:46
  • Ah - that makes sense. – J.R. Aug 6 '13 at 19:14
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Unfortunately it seems that there are too many people around here more concerned with some mysterious ideal purity of the questions than actually waiting to see interesting answers to useful questions. The reason a native speaker would consult a dictionary is typically when they think they know a word's meaning/connotations/usage but they just want to confirm that their understanding is in fact the common one.

In the case of the seven words I brought up, the dictionaries can often be unclear in what is best for a given usage case. I was particularly thinking of which of these words one might choose as a formal term for some system they are developing: perhaps a computer program, or a game, or some internal company nomenclature. For example, in HTML "attribute" and "property" are both terms that are used but there actually seems to be confusion on what their distinction is. One definition I heard is that HTML elements have attributes and properties are basically the values of those attributes. In other places properties are said to be just the special case of boolean attributes. And there are more versions of the story besides that.

So anyway, I thought it would be a handy reference for people to see which of these terms is most appropriate for a given situation, based on how people are familiar with using them, and by listing 7 of them it would be easy to find by search and hopefully exhaustive enough. Oh well.

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