I think it's time that we addressed the conceit that ELU is a site for "linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts." Its framers and many of its devotees intend for it to be precisely that, but it is not, and—for a number of reasons which I shall explore here—it never will be. In my opinion, this mistaken belief is harmful to the site, the people who come here to use it, and even to the Stack Exchange network as a whole.
Stack Exchange is designed for knowlege transfer: information is supposed to flow from the people who have it to the people who do not. I've been a member of Stack Overflow since the private beta days, and I currently have accounts on 18 sites. Different sites have different rules and cultures, and most sites don't tolerate questions from the genuinely clueless. Yet with the exception of this one, every SE site I've seen adheres to a basic unwritten rule: if you know enough about the topic to formulate a serious question about it, you're entitled to an answer. For example, the front page at Mathematics SE is full of questions I couldn't understand to save my life, yet they still get basic arithmetic questions, and if those questions follow the rules (don't ask people to do your homework for you; supply enough information to make the question answerable; etc.), they get answers. There's none of this "general reference" nonsense, because MSE is the general reference.
It's especially important to understand that the Stack Exchange Network is engineered for the more inclusive MSE model, not the more exclusive ELU model. The "Hot Network Questions" section on every page of every site is designed to drive traffic between sites. Visit any page at Biblical Hermeneutics or Bitcoin, at Arqade or Poker, and odds are very good that you're just a click away from one or more questions at ELU. Once you get here, you are told repeatedly in several places that anybody can ask a question, and you don't even need an account to do so. By now, the Stack Exchange network is well known to the Internet community as a place where one can ask "questions that are clear and specific, representing real problems that you face." People who visit this site have a reasonable expectation that it is a place for asking practical questions about English usage. For them to be told that their reasonable and well-phrased questions are "off-topic" is mystifying—not to mention incredibly rude.
The basic unworkability of this exclusionary attitude is illustrated starkly by the fact that even the people who are most dedicated to the "serious enthusiasts" conceit act like they don't believe it. ELU has a reputation for being a site inhabited by close-happy snobs, yet if we were truly serious about being a site for expert linguists we would probably be closing about 90 percent of the questions. Few of the questions that get asked here would ever be asked by someone with a bachelor's degree in English, let alone a professional linguist. Yet most of them get answered, and many of them get upvoted, and relatively few of them ever get closed. Those of us with 4- and 5-digit reputation scores have made them on the backs of these relatively basic questions. Don't make me link to individual profiles. We all know it's true.
Meanwhile, the overzealous "no reference questions!!" attitude here leads us to close the very questions we're theoretically here to answer. Example: If there's one topic that should be in scope for a site dedicated to English language enthusiasts, it's etymology. There is nothing more peculiarly English than the details of how this language came together and evolved, and the etymology of even the simplest words may prove illuminating and fascinating as they are followed from Beowulf to Chaucer to Shakespeare to today. But what happens when someone dares to ask about the origin of a word? "Off-topic." Get thee away from us, child; we are serious linguists and cannot be bothered with your silly questions about where words come from. Off-topic.
"But phenry, aren't many of these questions a better fit for ELL?" English Language Learners is not the answer. I've been a professional writer for more than 15 years, and I'm good at my job because I have an innate sense for the "look and feel" of English. As a result of that, though, I'm way behind on some of the technical underpinnings of grammar and syntax—I'm still not sure I completely understand the difference between a participle and a gerund, for example. (One of the reasons I enjoy answering questions here, in fact, is that it forces me to figure out why my answer is correct before I give it.) So I understand as well as anyone that anybody can have questions about the fundamentals of English. To tell 40-year-old native speakers of English that they need to go to a site for "English language learners" is insulting and arrogant.
I want to make it clear what I'm saying here: when I say "this is not a site for serious English language enthusiasts," I'm not advocating a position, I'm stating a fact. Barring structural changes to the Stack Exchange network, the Internet-using world as a whole will always see this as a site for asking practical questions about English usage at all levels, and no one here has the power to change that. So there are two ways we can respond: We can continue to circle the wagons, turfing questions that don't measure up to our rarefied standards, growing ever more insular and hostile to outsiders in pursuit of that beautiful, pure conversation about advanced English linguistics that will never happen. Or we can face reality and accepted that ELU is to English as MSE is to mathematics: while we shouldn't feel obliged to tolerate questions analogous to "What is two plus two?", serious practical questions at every level of proficiency should be welcome here.
So if ELU is to be a place where the common rabble are welcome, then whither the serious linguist? Well, gosh, people, Linguistics SE is ready when you are. When I look at the English tag over there, I see exactly the kind of advanced questions that people here pine for. The Promised Land already exists, and it's right in front of you. If I were in charge of the DNS zone file, I'd even create english.linguistics.stackexchange.com as a shortcut to the tag, along the lines of facebook.stackoverflow.com. If that won't work for some reason, there are other options. MSE has its own "big brother" site, MathOverflow, for professional mathematicians. I don't recommend asking basic arithmetic questions there. If you want a site for "serious English language enthusiasts," go to Area 51 and propose one.
Whatever else happens, for this community to continue seeing itself as akin to MathOverflow while the rest of the world views it as analogous to Math SE is unsustainable, misleading, inefficient, shortsighted, and rude.