This is a question about interpreting the definition of an appropriate SE question, specifically, whether any question that can be answered only by a list of suggestions is inappropriate (and why). This discussion started between me and a moderator of English SE, KitFox, here.

I'll quote some of the points for you: I was asked to "...avoid asking subjective questions where every answer is equally valid," which is clearly consistent with the FAQ, and I was told that "...this boils down to a list question, which is off-topic here. Questions asking for lists of something generally produce many answers that overlap. They don't invite a single, concise, definitive answer that can be accepted by the asker because many answers contain correct portions, or all answers could be considered correct. Additionally, list-type question tend to rely on opinions and often end up with a lot of non-constructive discussion attached."

I see a number of issues with these statements, and I would like to discuss them, so I could understand SE better.

Firstly, I replied that list-type questions do not rely on opinions by design, and do not necessarily cause a lot of non-constructive discussion. It is just not true. If I asked, "How can I copy text in Windows OS?", and the answer would be, "A) By right click and Copy; B) By Ctrl+C", this list would not have any opinions, and it would not cause more non-constructive discussion than any other question. Calling this question "subjective where every answer is equally valid" is not true either -- there is a limited amount of correct answers, and instead of asking which answer is the best, I just ask to list them all (or as many as you know). This is a primitive example of a list-type question that, in my opinion, can be answered and should be answered on SE.

Now, the question I asked in the thread I linked at the top is exactly like this. I asked "How can I do A in a way that would satisfy conditions W, X, Y, and Z?". The answer would be a list, but just as with our previous example, it does not have to be a list of opinions. There is a limitted number of correct answers to this question, so why is it wrong to list them?

Secondly, I replied to the comment regarding "many answers that overlap" by asking why is it important to have one winner, one single best answer, and what is wrong with having multiple good answers? Moreover, even if we do indeed prefer having only one good answer, the fact that no one on SE seems to be willing to provide every valid answer in one concise post is not exactly the problem of the question, is it? The question cannot be changed to make it simpler for people to answer, it is a list-question in essence, so it's natural that some people overlook potential solutions and other people fill these gaps with their answers.

Finally, please consider that the post you've just read contains over 600 words, and if my question was answered just by a list of suggestions separated by commas, an answer of the size of this post could fit over 600 solutions, which is clearly much more than anyone here is capable of providing, clearly much more than I need, and clearly more than the number of all existing solutions, considering the limitations of the question. So narrowed-down list-type questions do not produce answers any longer than other questions, and the FAQ defines an excessively broad question by saying that, "If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much," which is clearly not the case, because I can't imagine an entire book that answers the question in question.

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  • D'oh, I've just spent an hour writing it. Thanks, I'll have a look at that thread.
    – Herman
    Mar 2, 2014 at 2:45
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    Re “I can't imagine an entire book that answers my question”: i.stack.imgur.com/wuuxx.png
    – icktoofay
    Mar 2, 2014 at 2:45
  • @icktoofay, my question meaning the question I linked at the top, not this question.
    – Herman
    Mar 2, 2014 at 2:45
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    I was honestly hesitant to cast the duplicate vote, because I think this is a very good Meta question and could probably be answered on its own, but ultimately I think that your topic is covered there. See also Why are shopping list questions bad? -- although it's talking about "shopping" questions, a lot of it applies.
    – jscs
    Mar 2, 2014 at 2:47
  • @JoshCaswell, do you think I should change the title to something like "why this is on hold?" It's probably a more accurate title, and we could avoid making it a duplicate in this way ;) The reason to change the title is that I don't think I've seen an answer for my specific argument in what I've read so far. The question then would be if this type of on-hold questions appropriate here, and if not, where am I supposed to ask them?
    – Herman
    Mar 2, 2014 at 3:03
  • If you were to make this specifically about your English.SE question, then I think it would need to be moved to English's Meta.
    – jscs
    Mar 2, 2014 at 3:10

3 Answers 3


You are implying two questions with this meta post:

  • Why did my question get closed?
  • Why are list questions off-topic?

The reason your question was closed is because it was Too Broad. Kit's note about it boiling down to a list question wasn't really suggesting that you were actually looking for a list of things but more that answerers of the question were going to have trouble answering the question without devolving into a list of relevant examples.

But the real reason your question was Too Broad is because it matches the description contained in Too Broad:

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

If you have any particular confusion about why it qualified for that we can continue the discussion but it seems as if we all got distracted by the second question.

The fundamental reason list type questions are off-topic is because the question/answer format of SE works best for certain types of questions. List type questions just don't fit well.

There are exceptions, naturally, but it isn't easy to compile a list across multiple posts for a few reasons:

  • Multiple posters will have similar ideas and a lot of content will be duplicated over the answers
  • A list that is 80% accurate but 20% inaccurate is hard to upvote because it isn't entirely correct. A comment thread on the subject can help but differing opinions exist and so it will always be harder to vote on things
  • Discussion around a particular item of a list is not helped by the deliberately low key comment system SE uses
  • Someone with a future practical problem isn't likely to get a practical answer from a list type question that "covers" the problem
  • How do you choose which answer to mark as accepted?

Most of your points in support of list questions would likely work to excuse a particular list question but my opinion more or less boils down to the following: List questions should almost always be closed due to the above reasons and it is up to the asker to solve these problems; not the answerers.

The fundamental point is that SE is a great fit for certain types of questions. It is not a great fit for certain other types. And that is okay.


Moreover, even if we do indeed prefer having only one good answer, the fact that no one on SE seems to be willing to provide every valid answer in one concise post is not exactly the problem of the question, is it?

It would be take an extremely long post to include all the possible variations that could be applicable. I mean, surely by now you have got the gist?

Your question was: How can I express strong emotions without using Biblical or profane language?

Do you really need a canonical answer which includes, for example

  • Seriously?
  • Are you serious?
  • You cannot be serious! (McEnroe used to say this)
  • You can't possibly be serious!
  • Seriously? You're joking, right?
  • You can't be saying this in all seriousness.
  • I don't believe you are serious.
  • That sounds too unbelievable to be true.

Now, I've limited myself to expressing disbelief. I believe each suggestion is an acceptable answer. I also believe these suggestions overlap. Do you really need another eight or ten versions expressing the same meaning? Aren't the first three enough? AND I included a link, to emphasize the validity of that expression.

Some of the posted answers to your post are either contrived, unnatural, stilted, or very dated. Do you want to see more of those? And yet, they would be valid answers, because there aren't ten possible answers to your question, but possibly hundreds.

You claimed,

There is a limited number of correct answers to this question, so why is it wrong to list them?



Although I thought it probably was Off Topic, I didn't actually closevote the original question. I did post a comment indicating that I thought the basic premise was probably flawed, but I figured there might be a chance someone could provide a generic answer identifying a class of "swearing" that doesn't reference either religion or excretory/sexual activity/organs.

I've thought about it some more, and decided there is in fact no such class. It's worth noting OP's example of an idiom I'm looking for is "Dear me!" - an expression that has been queried on ELU, with all answers agreeing the origins lie in "blasphemy".

Once we rule out "swearing" (all of which relies on those standard taboo elements), we're just left with "How do I express strong emotion without swearing?". And much as I liked icktoofay's link, you could fill many books and still not come close to a definitive answer to that question.

Having said all that, so far as I know, George Orwell, for example, didn't swear in either his books or his private life. But he certainly felt strongly about many things, and was more than capable of expressing himself. Politics and the English Language can get pretty scathing, so that's a good start.

Anyway, I'll put my cards on the table and say that if OP's question is reopened (and currently it has three of the five required reopen votes), I will closevote.

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