This is an explicit proposal to merge and but before I actually submit the merge suggestion I want to garner support and/or feedback.

What are the tags?

Currently, is our #3 Top Tag and is #20. The about page for each tag notes that the distinction between the tags is whether you are looking for a single word or whether you would find a phrase or multi-word response acceptable.

was created as a response to Use "single-word-request" for phrases?, but it now seems relevant to ask whether having these two separate tags is providing anything especially useful.

How are they used?

Roughly 40% of all also include and 8% of also have .

The actual use of tends to be one of the following forms:

  1. Is there a word that matches this meaning?
  2. Is there a word that means the same as this other word, but with this slight difference?

commonly follows these forms:

  1. Is there a phrase that matches this meaning?
  2. Is there a phrase that means the same as this other phrase, but with this slight difference?
  3. Is there an English equivalent to the this non-English phrase?

Why should they be merged?

The purpose of each tag is nearly identical and the only distinction is an arbitrary restriction set by the asker. These kinds of restrictions context specific but, in my opinion, the same request in a slightly different context is not enough to "split" the question into two different posts or tags.

Explicitly, I think these two questions tend to invoke the same responses:

Is there a word that means X?

Is there a phrase that means X?

In essence, the real question is:

How do I say X?

If the asker adds a restriction of size, does that actually help us? If there isn't a single word but a two word phrase fits the intended meaning it should be considered an acceptable answer within the scope of ELU. Any context that needs exactly one word is Too Narrow and most likely unhelpful for future visitors.

Why shouldn't they be merged?

The reason I wouldn't merge them is because there is a moderately useful distinction between meanings that can be covered by "phrases" and meanings that can be covered by "words". (This is also why we have .)

My counterpoint is that this distinction is really only useful once we know the answer to the question. The asker, by definition, does not know whether their meaning can be covered by a word or a phrase. If they did, they wouldn't be asking the question. Thus, as a way to categorize questions, I'm not sure their separation provides a great service.

What am I asking of you?

Post your thoughts, agreements, disagreements here for discussion. One area I am specifically interested in is the naming. Perhaps should be renamed to ?

  • 6
    That sounds reasonable. :) -- But, but, but what about all those first time posters who specifically ask for a SINGLE WORD that means the same thing as whatever-a-whole-sentence-of-a-whole-bunch-of-words means?
    – F.E.
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 19:44
  • 1
    @F.E. Guess they just don’t own a Scrabble dictionary. :)
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:08
  • I was kidding. Er, well, on the front page is a single-word request for the meaning of a 3-word phrase, so, I guess that one isn't too bad. But I've seen some bad ones, where the OP wants a single word for some ridiculous long phrase where obviously a sentence is needed. Anyway . . .
    – F.E.
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:14
  • 1
    If they are to be merged, what would the point of the resulting tag be? Would the tag not be fairly pointless? I mean, every lexical request is basically a request for either a single word or a phrase. Should the tags not just be removed, then? Commented May 7, 2014 at 22:17
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: single-word-requests existed before phrase-requests. Presumably, there was a point to the original tag before its spinoff was added?
    – MrHen
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 22:38
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet: I don't understand your question. If neither tag existed, what the heck would you tag a "is there a word that means X" question?
    – Marthaª
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 22:47
  • 1
    @MrHen: "Single word request" is a really old tag. I bet it goes back to the beta days. It's the kind of thing that should've been fixed up years ago. The point to the original tag was that somebody wanted to know a word for XYZ and didn't consider later questions that might come in looking for terms not caring if they consist of one or more words or somebody was looking for a term for XYZ and fell into the common trap of forgetting that there are words and phrases and terms and "word" is not always the best word (-: Commented May 10, 2014 at 7:37
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: The point of the resulting tag would be to separate the questions where people know a concept, thing, situation, etc but can't think of what to call it in English from every other kind of question english.SE gets. Your argument makes it sound like the site is dedicated to finding the right word only and no other English language questions! Commented May 10, 2014 at 7:39
  • 1
    Would a phrasing tag be too terse? I suppose it would invite questions about explicit phrase requests and what's-the-meaning-of-this-phrase ?
    – Patrick M
    Commented May 11, 2014 at 5:16
  • 1
    @PatrickM, "phrasing" to me means something to do with sentence construction, word order, plus maybe a little bit of word choice. It doesn't imply anything to do with "find Y to fit meaning X".
    – Marthaª
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 15:56
  • Can we merge single-word-requests and /dev/null?
    – Drew
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 1:41
  • I just want to say that from this post I learned that you can use single-word-requests and phrase-requests in the same question. I kind of assumed you weren't allowed to use both on the same question. For what it's worth, in the future, I'll probably end up using both whenever I use one. Commented Oct 13, 2022 at 21:19

4 Answers 4


I support merging to a new tag. Basically, the combined tag would be for all crowdsourced-reverse-dictionary type questions. By their very nature, askers of such questions cannot know ahead of time whether a single word exists to fit the desired meaning, otherwise they wouldn't be asking. If they would really, really, really prefer a single word, they can write that in the question.

(My highest-voted s-w-r answer is a phrase of two words to a question that was asking for one word. Despite the numeric mismatch, the phrase exactly matches the desired meaning, and in the years since I've posted that answer, nobody has come up with a single word that matches the meaning. In other words, askers might think they want a single word, but what they really want is the best way to express their meaning.)

I could theoretically see some utility to a separate tag for "is there an English expression/saying/aphorism that fits this meaning", but it would be almost impossible to get people to use it correctly. Thus, in practice those types of questions would be better tagged with a combination of and (or, if we choose to keep it, ).

  • "Word requests" is a poor choice for a new name, since a phrase is not a word. However "term request" is surely ugly. What about one of these: "word and phrase requests", "request a term", "request for a term", "request a word or phrase", "requesting terms", etc? Commented May 10, 2014 at 7:34
  • 1
    @hippietrail: I guess I can see your point, but I don't like any of those suggestions. How about "reverse-dictionary"? Would people know what the heck that means?
    – Marthaª
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 15:00
  • Well tags should have tag wikis and excerpts. They pop up when you're typing tags and when you hover over existing ones, among other places. They're even more important for tags whose names and meanings are not totally straightforward for whatever reason. Commented May 11, 2014 at 1:03
  • I quite like the idea of reverse-dictionary, actually.
    – TRiG
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 14:49
  • I agree with this but am not completely sold on word-requests or reverse-dictionary. For now, I think I will submit the synonym request and we can work out a better name later.
    – MrHen
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 16:28
  • @MrHen: I've been thinking we need to approach this from the other end, i.e. something like fit-this-meaning. Or something.
    – Marthaª
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 17:54
  • I don't suppose something as simple as meaning-request would work?
    – MrHen
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 18:27
  • @MrHen: you're a genius. :) Though there will be a bit of retraining involved, because to someone who's used to single-word-requests, meaning-requests sounds like "please look this up in the dictionary for me".
    – Marthaª
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 20:47
  • 4
    meaning-request, to me, feels like the opposite of s-w-r. Like @Marthaª said, it suggests looking for a definition, not for a word to match a definition. Commented May 13, 2014 at 8:20

I think the statistical analysis clearly supports not merging. There would be a higher reverse correlation of usage if they were being used interchangeably.

Why would I use ?

  • when I need or want one word

Why would I use ?

  • when I would like a 'sentence' or thought to convey something clearly

Why would I used ?

  • when I expect a word but anything (good) will do

Why would I used ?

  • when I understand that my thought will need a phrase but one word would be great
  • Can you read the section in my post labeled "Why should they be merged?" and address those points?
    – MrHen
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 12:54
  • I did. Why would I use also implies to me 'What should I answer'. If someone has something they want melted down into one word then it should be word-request. If it takes a phrase, then there is no (good) answer. Commented May 12, 2014 at 12:57
  • 1
    Why should that type of context differentiation depend on two different tags? The asker should be including that information in the post anyway so the extra tag is not actually providing much value. The question at hand isn't whether there are different types of meaning-requests; the question is whether these two tags are better than one, joined tag.
    – MrHen
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 14:17
  • 1
    @MrHen - Because tags are meant to group like topics. A word request is not a phrase request. The two tags help the reader remember what the author wants when it sometimes might not be perfectly clear. On SO I might have an issue and use Windows2008-Server and MySQL tags but never mention those two things in my question. Commented May 13, 2014 at 15:49
  • If you read the section labeled "Why should they be merged?", this is all addressed. There is no useful distinction between single-word-requests and phrase-requests and the asker has to provide additional context anyway. And if the asker really, really needs one form over the other it is probably an invalid question due to being an overly narrow context.
    – MrHen
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 15:56
  • 1
    I have two thoughts on this... #1 The user should get to pick what they want. A phrase is different from a word. How large can a phrase be? If I want a word and the "best answer" upvoted is 3 sentences, well I am screwed. #2 Why would so many highly ranked members make remarks on answers (including many of mine) that "The OP was looking for a word not a phrase" or vise versa. If the community felt they were the same I would see so many 10K+ people make comments like that. Commented May 13, 2014 at 16:04
  • (1) Any such restrictions need to be made clear in the post anyway, even if you use single-word-requests. (2) If the user wants something, okay. That has little to do with how the question is tagged.
    – MrHen
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 16:25
  • @MrHen - I create apps that are similar to SE for a living. What you are saying is that the tags are irrelevant to the user, then only moderators should tag questions and let the users write them. The user feels in more power if they can choose tag designations that fit their needs and will use the site more. Commented May 13, 2014 at 16:29
  • What I am saying is that these two tags are not providing a useful service. The users will still be in control of their tagging and questions but we don't need to tag the distinction between single word request and everything else.
    – MrHen
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 16:42
  • 1
    I favour merging the two tags under a new tag title -- "Request for word or expression". Then let the asker explicitly mention in the question whether they prefer a single word, a phrase or idiom, or simply anything that works. The extra effort needed to specify this should cut down on the unnecessary mental contortions needed on the part of question answerers who have agonized over how to boil things down to a single word when the asker doesn't actually care if the result is a single word or a phrase. I'm pretty sceptical about the professed need of so many askers for a single-word answer.
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 8:54

Linguistically most words are phrases (and any single word that's given as an answer will be), so the tag can simply be . The tag description can say that it is for both word and phrases.


As a first step, I have suggested the tag synonym. You can officially agree or disagree here: https://english.stackexchange.com/tags/single-word-requests/synonyms

If the synonym is accepted then we should have a vote on what to call the one tag as many would find "single-word-requests" a bit of a misnomer.

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