I tried to ask this question on the main site and it was quickly closed. Let me be the first to say that I am sure it deserved to be closed. Most of you know more about the site and its culture than I do, so I trust your judgement. I am here because I want to understand why it was closed and why other similar questions remain open. I also want to explore why the differences were not apparent to me as a new user.

Consider these two questions.

The following points were presented to me in defense of closing.

General Reference holds that pigeon is the correct spelling.

Multiple correct spellings may exist for a given word. This fails to address the validity of the alternate spelling pidgeon.

"Validity" of alternate spellings is subjective, primarily opinion-based, and off-topic.

Does this not apply to the aforementioned question about imbedded as a correct alternate spelling? The site's Help Center does not discriminate between "primary" and "alternate" spelling questions. It clearly lists spelling questions as On Topic.

I suggest that, after a consensus is reached by the community here, one or more of the following resources be updated by someone more familiar with the site. It is important that new users have the ability to quickly understand what is or is not on-topic, and the best way to do that is with your On Topic FAQ and the wikis for tags (which are essentially "topics").

  • On Topic in the Help Center
    • Clearly some words are General Reference. Other words are highly subjective, primarily opinion-based, and off-topic. Where do you draw the line? Has it not occurred to anyone that this could be a down vote reason instead of a close vote reason? Your On Topic FAQ lists spelling questions. If specific spelling questions are off-topic, then the FAQ needs a revision.
  • The tag
    • This seems like the most likely spot. Stack exchanges commonly include examples of good questions and poor questions in the tag wiki. This seems like a perfect opportunity to discriminate between primary spelling questions and alternate spelling questions, if the latter is indeed off-topic.
  • The tag

In short, what key differences between the alternate spelling of pigeon and the alternate spelling of embedded led one to be closed while the other remained open, and how can that best be conveyed to new users entering the site for the first time?

  • "Multiple correct spellings may exist for a given word" ? I'm pretty sure spelling is pretty standardized. What alternatives are there? Do you have a lot of examples where there are alternatives? Before you say color/colour, those are both correct in their given context. – Mitch May 13 '14 at 21:18
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    @Mitch what about heighth and height? The spelling dilemma, all right; alright; and allright. Noone and no one; a lot; alot; and allot A lot of people would point out the obvious mistakes, but then someone called Shakespeare is mentioned, passages are quoted containing the now nonstandard form, and everyone agrees that the "mistake" has never been a mistake. I bet you anything, all the spellings I provided are in the OED and a few of them have noble antique roots. – Mari-Lou A May 13 '14 at 21:36
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    @Mitch I don't know how to describe the unit of speech I am referring to. Imbedding is a word. Embedding is a word. They are both alternate spellings of something. Feel free to replace every instance of "word" in my post with whatever you call that something. Forgive me for using word to describe whatever that something is. I am not a linguist. – Rainbolt May 13 '14 at 21:36
  • Rusher, we are both using 'word' in the same way. I am concerned that you think that there are a lot of multiple correct spellings. Also, this is not linguistics here, this is spelling. Journalists and school teachers control it and there are very few allowed alternate spellings in writing. – Mitch May 14 '14 at 0:33
  • @Mari-LouA: Mistake? I'm not sure what your point is since you point out that there are actually mistakes. I also bet those spellings, which are considered mistakes, are in the OED. They're still mistakes now. – Mitch May 14 '14 at 1:00
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    @Mitch why are you "concerned"? There are plenty of examples of alternate spellings that are not like color/colour (i.e. I see both variants commonly in American English): disk/disc, donut/doughnut, omelette/omelet, yoghurt/yogurt, fillet/filet, aesthetic/esthetic, ax/axe. – alcas May 14 '14 at 3:02
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    The difference between American (= Noah Webster's "standardised") spelling and English (evolved) spelling is surely not at issue here. However English has both judgment and judgement. – Andrew Leach May 14 '14 at 6:25

One very important piece of information is that the question you link to is from 2012. ELU's guidance on appropriate questions does undergo changes. Even though the General Reference close reason was introduced in 2011, our actual application of what constitutes a GR question has grown much more strict over the past few years.

If the older question was asked today it is extremely likely it would be closed as GR:

  • The very first comment just links to a dictionary
  • The accepted answer simply quotes a dictionary
  • The alternative answer flatly says, "This is general reference, provided you have access to a good dictionary."
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    I should have noticed the date! Thank you for putting the question back into context for me. Now, I have a question about the latter half of your answer. It looks like the question was judged in terms of the answers and comments it received. That seems backwards to me. If we want to improve the On Topic FAQ to show that something has changed since 2012, then I would suggest a mechanism that can be checked before posting, rather than after answers have been received. (cont) – Rainbolt May 15 '14 at 13:21
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    You could even link to a FAQ question on meta that declares simple spelling questions to be General Reference and off-topic. More complex questions, such as changes in spelling, origin of spellings, comparisons of the spelling of two similar words, etc., are on-topic. Don't you agree that "Spelling" alone begs poor questions like mine? – Rainbolt May 15 '14 at 13:22

As one of the people who voted to close the question, I'd like to explain my reasons. I thought you did a good job with your question in that you did some research and presented it. For that, I do commend you. However, that doesn't mean the question is a really good fit for this site.

The way you asked it, it is a General Reference question. Any dictionary you consult will give you the correct spelling. Some will also give your spelling as archaic. So the answer is easily found in readily available references. We don't really have much to add to that based on the way you asked your question.

If you want to argue that it should be the preferred spelling (so it doesn't look strange to you), that's really a matter of opinion (Primarily Opinion Based - another valid reason to close a question) and debating it will solve nothing, as no one here can control how people use language. But if you wanted to know why it lost the d - not that it shouldn't have - that's a question someone might be willing to answer, and less likely to be closed.

These were my reasons. I don't read more into questions than what is presented. To try to change the way words should be spelled is a fruitless exercise.

Maybe someone else will give you a better answer.

Thanks for your observations and suggestions. Maybe it will help someone else in your position.

  • I can't accept this answer because it completely sidestepped the embedded vs imbedded question. What differentiates my question from that one? What qualities caused my question to be closed while it remains open? I think it's fair to ask for an explanation when treatment appears to be unfair. – Rainbolt May 14 '14 at 19:03
  • @Rusher - I didn't vote on the imbed/embed question; I'm not sure I would have left it open if I saw it in the close queue. I'm not an aggressive closer, but your question was just phrased too narrowly. Part of the problem was your question: is it a word? The answer is, not anymore, and any dictionary will tell you. I don't read every question, nor do I always review the close queue. At least I can tell you why I close-voted yours (and a number of others) yesterday. – anongoodnurse May 14 '14 at 19:53
  • Is imbed a word? The answer is, yes, and any dictionary will tell you. People saw something in that question that they didn't see in mine. I want to know what that something is. – Rainbolt May 14 '14 at 20:15
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    @Rusher: Playing Devil's advocate here, you might wish to note that often as not the optional 'd' does appear in widgeon. Perhaps if your question had asked why pigeons and wigeons are given noticeably different orthographic treatment it would have fared better. – FumbleFingers May 14 '14 at 21:18
  • @medica I don't understand. I said that the treatment of the two questions appeared to be unfair, but I never claimed that it was. Your comment about programmers is irrelevant. A programmer that views an uninteresting question down votes it. Close votes generally have a much narrower scope, and while the reasons are not necessarily perfect, claiming "The world is unfair." is just an extremely exaggerated cop-out. – Rainbolt May 14 '14 at 21:21
  • @Rusher - I have only been here for about six months. I'm glad Mr.Hen was able to answer your question. Note that it does not contradict anything I had as a reason for close voting. I hope new users read this thread; I think it's helpful. Thanks. – anongoodnurse May 15 '14 at 1:13

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