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When I recently first visited the English Language and Usage chat room, I arrived with many erroneous expectations. I presumed that the EL&U chat room would center on English language discussion, and that experienced users would be welcoming towards curious new users with similar interests. In reality, I immediately encountered arbitrary, unintuitive norms that many of the users presumed I should deduce by myself. If it were not for the intervention of @Cerberus, @JasperLoy, and other courteous users, I would have continued my desperate attempt to converse with the "bot" @Jarvis and otherwise try to assimilate into this perplexing new environment.

My initial experience was far from ideal, and while I did receive sufficient assistance from some kind users, I fear that other prospective chat users may not receive the introduction to EL&U chat culture that is necessary to truly participate in chat. I understand how useful and fun this feature can be, and it would be a shame if new users felt alienated by the strange new environment and subsequently declined to participate in chat.


Extrapolating from my jarring experience, I feel there are some easy ways that the experience for new users could be significantly improved without adversely affecting the customs of established users.

My first suggestion would be to display a room-specific "wiki page" to first-time visitors that describes what topics are commonly discussed, which topics are appropriate for discussion (including whether profanity or discussion of sex are permitted), whether new users are welcome to just join in on the conversation, and important feature information not included in the Chat FAQ (such as the presence of bots and the commands required to use them). Such a feature has been proposed on Stack Exchange Meta, but has not received sufficient attention (thank you to @hichris123 for showing me the proposal). If I had seen such a page before I had entered the chat room, my experience would have been significantly smoother. In fact, the first time I visited the EL&U chatroom, I was actually trying to find the FAQ/feature documentation and read the transcript. A wiki page detailing this information would ensure that the new users are aware of the general culture of the room, and that they are willing or even eager to participate in such an environment.

Because the first, ideal suggestion has not been implemented yet, my second-best suggestion would be to use the "room topic" field, which is the description underneath the room name, for its intended purpose: describing the room name. The Chat FAQ gives the following information on room topics:

All chat occurs in a room; each room has a defined topic. When talking in a room, it's polite to stay roughly on topic for the room, as defined by the room owners.

Clearly, the room topic should be just that, a description of the general topic, as the appropriateness of the chat lines is contingent on this field. However, EL&U users who visit the "flagship" chat room for the first time can feel perplexed and excluded when greeted with a bizarre "topic" that looks nothing like the one described in the Chat FAQ. When I first visited, the "topic" seemed more like a shibboleth than an actual description of the room's frequent topics. It was quite disconcerting. For instance, here was the one when I joined:

The Incomprehensible Room. It slaws your typizg, too.

And here is the current "room topic":

I am in a party. The wine is depleted. Then some Son of God manufacture even more win. Yay.

Clearly, these are intended to be humorous. However, if the amusement of a select few established chat users comes at the expense of causing bafflement for new chat users, then such a "room topic" is inappropriate, especially when it contrasts with the expected "room topic" concept shown in the Chat FAQ. Although the EL&U chat room is privately owned, it should still conform to some guidelines. The Stack Exchange chat rooms are used by the general public, and new users naturally want to visit a popular room on their preferred topic when they first visit chat. If all the major rooms (especially one called EL&U, which new users will logically assume is the primary chat room for EL&U users) seem exclusive, it will discourage new users from using this valuable feature. Although the room is the owner's room to do with as he/she pleases, his/her choices affect the quality of chat for other users, especially new ones. Personally, I think a room topic along the lines of the following would be of great help to new users:

The chat room for English Language enthusiasts and @Jarvis the bot (visitors welcome too)

Obviously, not all the documentation can be crammed into the room topic. But there is still plenty of important information that can be added to the topic, information that some old chat users might take for granted.

Finally, I think that a basic code of conduct should be enforced, with egregious violations being consistently flagged. For instance, some older users have used the term pineapple as a secret joke to refer to the mistakes made by English language learners. An even smaller set of users have taken this use to inappropriate levels, ridiculing confused English language learners who are merely searching for the right place to ask their question. This attitude of exclusivity is detrimental to the site, and can easily ostracize new users who feel that they are being secretly ridiculed by the same experienced users that should be helping them. I feel that this should not be acceptable behavior. Even though pineapple in this sense can be used innocuously or even endearingly, that does not make the offensive instances of pineapple (which are the only instances with which I take umbrage) any less inappropriate. Moreover, the Chat FAQ has this to say on the matter of proper conduct:

Do have fun, but please keep it professional and always be respectful of your fellow community members.

and

We expect community members to treat each other with respect ... even when they don't deserve it.

However, I feel that even this basic code of conduct is often blatantly transgressed. As @Shog9 mentioned here in the election chat room, there is a reluctance to flag even the most obviously offensive posts. Because the penalties for offensive chat lines are quite lenient to begin with, I feel that chat users should not be criticized for flagging genuinely offensive posts, in accordance with the quite liberal Chat FAQ guidelines. To be clear, I am not advocating censorship, just civility.

If anyone has further insights on how to improve the chat experience for newbies, please share an answer.

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    You misunderstand the pineapple joke. Here it is: Non-Native Speaker -> NNS -> ananas -> pineapple. So pineapple is a joking shorthand for non-native speaker. The word is not disparaging and doesn't refer to mistakes. Some of the chat regulars, including Reg and Cerb are pineapples. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 21 '14 at 4:31
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    @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 According to your etymology, pineapple seems to have an innocuous origin. However, while some users may use it lightheartedly, phenry mentioned earlier in the election chatroom some instances of pineapple in the transcript that he interpreted as offensive. I think that the term might have been used derogatorily in some contexts by particular users. – Theodore Broda Jun 21 '14 at 4:48
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    Well, it can be used in a derogatory manner, just like "non-native speaker" could be used in a derogatory manner. Which I've also seen, on occasion. Sometimes people are rude. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 21 '14 at 4:50
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    @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 You have a point. Perhaps I shouldn't have singled out that word as offensive. It depends on the context. – Theodore Broda Jun 21 '14 at 5:08
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    Have you seen the other chat rooms? Have you spent any time here (let's say at least a month)? Nowhere else can you see anything like the language nerd chat. So there's politics and religion and god knows what else... it'll be half in Quenya/English/Russian puns. And you can always ask in the middle of that if a wee bairn is the same in New Zealand as in Tasmania (please please please someone ask that in chat). All cultures are different; stay a while to appreciate. – Mitch Jun 21 '14 at 17:17
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    I'd like to note that I changed KitSox's name to Jarvis to reduce confusion. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 22 '14 at 13:29
  • I assume you're going to complain about the chat room descriptions for The Frying Pan, Mathematica, The Bridge, Maid Cafe, The DMZ, etc. I hope you don't because that would be silly. You figured it out, right? This is a non-issue. – Mitch Jun 22 '14 at 23:47
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    @mitch Above, I provided an over 1,000 word argument, with numerous concrete examples and points from my personal experience, detailing how this is a very real issue to new users. Also note that my suggestions about the chat room descriptions (which seems to coincide with the points in the official Chat FAQ, see above) were only my secondary solution. If you are curious as to my opinions of other chat room descriptions, read this for an example. – Theodore Broda Jun 23 '14 at 3:43
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    @Mitch Moreover, the fact that there are five lengthy answers, each with a distinct perspective, seems to indicate that this discussion is "real". There have also been other proposed solutions to this issue (see KitFox's post). It seems that my criteria for what constitutes a "real" issue are quite different from yours. – Theodore Broda Jun 23 '14 at 3:51
  • @TheodoreBroda: Any term can be used derogatorily. If I were to say you were "new to the site" it might be a compliment or a slam—or neither. Moreover, I don't really understand the point of your post, unless it is meant to be a writing exercise. You seemed to fit in just fine, and you're smart enough to have figured things out in short order. Wherever you go there will be newbies and veterans, and a period of adjustment will inevitably ensue. That is what we call life. – Robusto Jun 24 '14 at 13:23
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    @Robusto: I think Theodore's point is that the learning curve for EL&U chat is needlessly steep, dauntingly so to many. I tried it when I first joined, but didn't stay -- there was too much mystery meat navigation, and waaay too many in-jokes. Y'all really do need a better help function for it, whatever form it takes. – JPmiaou Jun 25 '14 at 0:02
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    @KitFox If you need a bot, the thing that makes it the least confusing is for it to actually have the word "bot" in its name. – trlkly Jun 29 '14 at 16:36
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    @Robusto Other people clearly understand the purpose of this question. If you don't, try asking. Please don't belittle someone's concern because you don't understand it. Don't imply they write just to read their own work or don't understand life itself. – trlkly Jun 29 '14 at 16:43
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The room topic of the ELU chat room has traditionally been something along the lines of "The Incomprehensible Room" or "The off-topic room". Sometimes it changes to something more obscure, like the "some son of god" one. I think the room's title is sufficiently self-explanatory that the topic isn't really needed, and I feel it would be a shame to lose that one bit of community fun.

Regarding your suggestions:

  1. I think a chat-explanation page could be useful. No argument there, really. There isn't enough documentation about the chat features and there's nowhere to document the room norms and memes, like the pineapple pun.
  2. KitSox (now Jarvis) is not an official feature of the room. It's just a chatbot run by KitFox. The bot has some useful features and some playful ones. It doesn't respond when you ping it, it only responds to !! commands. I've never seen anyone try to talk to the bot for more than one or two messages before being set straight by the regulars.
    • Do we need the bot? No. If it violates some policy, or is deemed to be a problem, I'm sure Kit will nuke it and nobody will mind.
    • Does the bot cause any harm? I don't think so, barring the fact that most of the bot interactions are not on-ELU-topic. Note that there are similar bots in some of the other rooms. The Javascript room, for example. They are even wilder with it than we are.
  3. The "then some Son of God manufacture more win" topic: This topic, in particular, I think bears special consideration. It is 100% correct that it is a quote from a pineapple question. It is also correct that it is a humourous sentence, though, unintentionally so. It is a simple fact that when you are learning to speak a new language, you will occasionally utter something unintentionally hilarious. I myself had this problem with Chinese, when I asked a Chinese person to get me a pair of pants from the kitchen (I meant chopsticks). That was hilarious. People laughed. But the important thing was that they weren't mocking me, personally. The user in question had their question edited for grammar and the original text is now hidden in the edit history of the site. But it is an amusing sentence.
    • Should that sort of thing be forbidden? I can see why it might be. However I don't feel that that user was mistreated in this situation.
    • Does that topic make the chat room less welcoming? I'm not sure that it does.

My Chat first impressions

When I joined the site, there was no chat. I got to know some of the regular users during the beta through their answers and their comments. We had some lively comments back in the day, with full-blown arguments, etc. Just like now, actually. I remember one of the first users to ragequit the site. I wonder if he would have quit if we'd had chat.

Eventually, there was chat but I didn't bother going. Then I finally went and it was full of people whose names I'd seen all over the site: answers, edits, comments, etc. It was a bit intimidating, because these were the mods, the top users, etc. And even then, at the time, I was a page-1 user, rep-wise. But I was still intimidated.

And they were chatting. Reg and Rob were telling jokes only they understood. Kosmonaut and Reg and others were having linguistics discussions that stretched beyond my armchair-linguist understanding. Etc. It was a lively place.

I wasn't there to ask a question. I was there to chat, and get to know the users, so I had to lurk a bit and read the transcript a bit before I felt comfortable speaking up. But in this regard it is no different than any other group. Like when you start a new job, your new coworkers still have conversations about stuff that happened before you were here. They have inside jokes. Shorthand ways of communicating. This is normal.

I feel the same way whenever I go into any of the active chats on the site. There are regular users and they know each other and don't know me. They ignore me until I address them. And if they're just chatting about nothing in particular, I'll usually have nothing to say because why would I?

If I have a specific question that's on-topic, I will usually just ask it, and they will respond appropriately. Most of them are polite. Same with us. Lots of visitors come to our chat and ask for help, either English help or SE help. Some of them become regulars. Some become help vampires. But they almost always get a polite response at first.

The purpose of chat

What is the purpose of our chat room, anyway? When SE first introduced the chat rooms, it was specifically so that users could do the thing they wanted to do: chat. talk. shoot the breeze. goof off, a bit. Get to know their comrades. The purpose of the site is to answer questions about English. The purpose of the Meta is to answrer questions about the site. The purpose of the chat is.... the users. Some chat rooms don't even allow questions. They have the site for that.

What is our chat really for?

It was suggested in the election chat (messages now moved to main chat room) that we could have two rooms: one for helping users, and one for chitchat. To that I have to say that I, and some of the other regulars, find it extremely tiring trying to maintain two chats at once. We will simply be in one room and ignoring the others. I tried being in the ELL chat but it was just too much hassle. So if we have a work room and a play room, I will either be working or playing. And you can guess which it will be. We might have the most welcoming, professional work chat in the whole SE network, but it will also be dead.

  • I agree with your point on the purpose of chat. I also enjoy getting to interact with the other users, and learning a bit more about their personalities and lives away from the strict Q&A format. And because the site is for questions and meta is for the site, using chat for personal, inter-user discussion is a logical conclusion. – Theodore Broda Jun 21 '14 at 5:17
  • +1 - I agree with everything you've said, with one exception: the discussion in not all in the ELU chatroom. What were migrated were irrelevant comments about colors, legos, early memories of chat, and a few other chat lines that were not election related. The vast majority of them are still in Election Chat. – anongoodnurse Jun 21 '14 at 6:03
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    @medica Well, my message regarding splitting the chat room into two rooms must have been irrelevant then, because it was one of the moved ones. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 22 '14 at 4:14
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Anyone who enters a new space with preconceived notions will be surprised and perhaps disappointed. While I think your suggestion is fine, I don't think it will do much to curb new user shock, because, as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, "It's always something". For you, it was the bot, and the tagline. Personally, the first time I said "hello" to KitSox and was corrected, I was amused by my naïveté. I was also amused by the tagline. I had assumed it was the utterance of someone quite drunk. I was distressed, however, to find that it was actually a question which had been posed by a user of EL&U. What would that user have thought if he had wandered into chat? I presume he has not done so, thankfully.

But none of these introductions will change the true nature of chat, because it won't change chat's core and the proprietary air of the users, which is demonstrated in this recent meta post and in the Election Chat Room last night. The attitude is, "How dare you dictate what can go on in my home?" I'm not saying I can't sympathize, because I do. I do believe chat should be a place where people can vent their frustrations about the nth terrible single word request. Or the nth rude comment posted at having been down voted. Or whatever, with a few major exceptions. I have seen totally green users, non-native and native speakers alike, not only accepted but welcomed into chat. Patience in answering questions. Good suggestions for resources. Advice for how to improve in a particular area. Advice on how to use chat. Advice on everything asked for. I am very hesitant to disturb these sustaining waters.

What I would like to see addressed is the attitude that nothing is immune from derision. One mentions one's faith in a deity at significant peril. You might wonder why anyone in chat would talk about religion, but it happens, and the result hasn't been pretty in my experience. Also, express any conservatism in matters sexual? Say, you don't like a certain offensive word in a title, and after editing it, you wander into chat? Be prepared to enter a room wherein you're being roundly ridiculed by a select few. Speak in your defense only at your peril.

Not everyone is like this in chat; they are by a majority admirable, kind, patient, intimidatingly intelligent people, including the person criticized last night for the funny lines under the room's name.

Should chat be a place free from seriously abusive behavior? Absolutely. Should it be a place where angels fear to tread? No. Can it be more welcoming? I think it is welcoming. If you believe it should be different, hang out in chat and make it different.

To me, this is not a hill to die on.

  • Since you brought up the censored-word-in-the-title, I think it's fair to point out that most people were arguing that by censoring the word you were turning an archaic respectful word into a modern swear word. But was the fall-out of that due to any problem in chat? I think not. There was an edit war, and a heated debate in chat, where no opinions changed afterwards, and a super-mod had to step in to sort things out. It wouldn't have mattered if the chat room had been any different: more welcoming, better topics, fewer bots, whatever. That was a legit argument about a few users' behaviour. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 22 '14 at 3:14
  • You would ask me to divulge far more than I'm willing to here. I have no problems with bots or other things in chat. Mostly I would leave it alone. I have said, and I do maintain, that there are some people in chat who don't behave well, especially about religious and sexual matters. Otherwise we would not have seen the most recent meta post about "puerile flagging". – anongoodnurse Jun 22 '14 at 3:53
  • My point was merely that the title-censoring conflict would have occurred with or without chat. That conflict spilled over into chat and was not informed by any particular chat-room culture. People with strong opinions (on both sides) were involved and they ended up in chat and clashed. The clash was on-topic. That chat was functioning properly. People were feeling strong feelings, but that was inevitable, I think. I just don't think that particular scenario is a good example for you to use, that's all. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 22 '14 at 4:10
  • I think you are putting words in my mouth. I haven't anywhere said chat is bad. I've said the attitudes of some in chat are bad. "'Mocking a deity' might make a few over-sensitive people unhappy but frankly, who gives a shit?" This is what I'm talking about. This had nothing to do with me. Why are you so insistent that chat is a perfect place in an imperfect world? If I felt so strongly that chat was a bad place, I would have written an answer that so stipulated. If you want to discuss this further, though, I'd be happy to meet you in a room to do so. – anongoodnurse Jun 22 '14 at 4:18
  • You're misunderstanding me. But as you said, "this is not a hill to die on." – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 23 '14 at 4:06
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Though I've been with ELU for a while now, I've only tried out chat a handful of times. (So take my thoughts with a grain of salt.) When I first got the rep, I looked into the general chat room. Chit-chat with a group (and I'd even say chit-chat in general) can be undirected, spontaneous, and lively -- and that's about what I remember this chat being. The topic was not something I found interesting at the time, so I left.

Sometimes a panel shows up on the homepage about which users are in chat now, but at times it seems to be filled with users I don't know very well. Some I've seen active on older posts, so I bet they're active in silent (e.g., voting) or behind-the-scenes ways; others I've never really interacted with (aside from reading their posts), but I'm not very active. And of the users I have interacted with, I've rarely seen the ones I'm most interested in hearing from on that panel when it shows, so I never stopped by chat even though I have been visiting ELU on a daily basis.

I've been opening chat more since the moderator elections, but I'm still undecided on whether I'll continue once it closes. The SE Q&A set-up, where I sit down and think about something for a while and weigh in when I think I've found something to say, works better for my current, public persona than chat. (I say current because it was different when I was younger, and I don't know which is "me going through a phase.") :)

I think this raises an important question: Before we invest in changing chat, how interested are newer users in joining chat? But I think there's a more important question to be dealt with: Are there ways to raise new user awareness of what chat is, so they can make an informed decision?

I think the answer is "Yes" and have been thinking of ways to do it. One I think might benefit the community as a whole is: Before putting some questions on-hold, can we bring the asker into chat to talk it out? This page says it's 20 rep to chat, which means a user who starts with 1 rep (regardless of initial downvote tally) could be be allowed into chat if 3 (to give some wiggle room) chat users upvoted him. These votes may be undone later at the community's discretion, though it's best to warn the asker beforehand about this.

I think, in addition to introducing new users to chat, this approach has the potential of eliminating some of the confusion around flags. When a question is put on-hold, I can understand how an asker might view it as unfriendly: Whether duplicate, GR, NARQ, etc., the asker may feel like he is being told what the answer to his question is without being asked if it is the answer he's looking for. And so he comes to the site with a question and feels like he's leaving empty-handed.

If I understand chat correctly, I can have a real, free (less restrained by character counts, for example) conversation with others to potentially arrive at a consensus, compromise, or understanding. I've seen it used this way for long comment threads on ELU, but not for close-votes. If it has been used in this way, I think it's a great idea to popularize it.

I think it's ok for the work room to stay the same as the play room, to use Mr. Shiny and New's words. Another reason I would add to his is that now the asker has been introduced to chat and its members via his question, he may stay in a bit for the chatting and thus have a benchmark with which to make his decision about whether or not to use chat recreationally.

A potential downside to this suggestion would be when the asker is not available to chat. In that case, the question may be put on hold to avoid answerers from investing time into it if it turns out after chatting not to be an ELU question, but with a comment noting the hold is not permanent and asking to chat with the user.

Chat could become very busy under this approach, so it may best be reserved for:

  1. Polite questions/askers
  2. Questions where the asker is bewildered by the site's reaction
  3. The chat users' discretion

Because this would be introducing new users to chat, I think it best to use confusing terms like pineapple sparingly. But after spending some time in chat and getting to know its residents, the asker may find themselves taking these in the innocuous, light-hearted sense they are meant.

3

I think you have made some great suggestions.

In the javascript room, all new users are greeted by the bot with a message that contains a link to their chat rules page. I believe that our bot could do the same thing, since she's forked from their bot.

We don't have a chat rules page, but we could write a blog article or series of articles about our chat room and the specific quirks of our chat culture, including common abbreviations, bot basics, inside jokes, and how not to irritate.

Come to chat! We'll talk it out.

  • I like your idea for a blog article; I think that the blog would be a good location to finally write down some of the unwritten rules, and it would be easy to link to if new users had basic questions about how chat works. – Theodore Broda Jun 22 '14 at 15:44
  • That bot greeting is also a good idea, and serves the additional purpose of introducing new users to the presence of bots. These are precisely the kinds of constructive ideas/solutions that I was hoping would be introduced. Thanks! – Theodore Broda Jun 22 '14 at 15:46
  • If our bot has been renamed Jarvis, is it still a "she"? – Marthaª Jun 24 '14 at 17:44
  • @Marthaª Yes, she's still a she. Because I said so. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 24 '14 at 18:05
  • @KitZ.Fox Did this ever get implemented? I didn't come across a post on the subject during the recent blog migration to Meta. Is Jarvis still active? – Lawrence Jul 28 '17 at 15:38
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    @Lawrence We made a series of Meta posts about chat etiquette (the link is in the room description) instead of using the blog. Jarvis was retired a couple years ago. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 28 '17 at 15:57
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There are a lot of traditions associated with the ELU main chatroom that have evolved over the years. Most of these are all in good fun, but this is the main room that represents our site in the chat system, and it can beneficial to have someone report on these traditions with fresh eyes, as you've done here. As Daniel Snyder is being reminded right now, aspects of a culture that appear innocuous to those within it can come across very differently to outsiders.

The "I am in a party..." tagline is problematic for two reasons, in my opinion. First, as you've noted, it's pretty self-indulgent to use the space that's supposed to explain the room to visitors for private in-jokes. Some of the other main rooms for other SE sites have humorous taglines too, but at least most of them have some obvious connection to the subject matter of the parent site. Secondly, the phrasing bears the hallmarks of a non-fluent speaker of English (specifically, the preposition confusion with "in a party"), and when there is no context supplied—i.e., the way 99.9 percent of visitors are going to encounter it—it just looks like we've decided to ridicule some poor foreign person for some reason. To be clear, I don't think any of this was intended, and I'm certain that no one involved with it is trying to be either exclusionary or a bully. But that just goes to show why it's a good thing to have an outsider's perspective.

I didn't know about the use of "pineapple" as a label for non-native speakers of English until today. Going through old chat transcripts for uses of the term, I was struck by how much it reads like an ethnic slur. Seriously, I kind of feel like I need to take a shower after reading that. I really think that this practice needs to stop immediately.

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    I think you are reading too much into the word pineapple. It's a pun. a multi-lingual pun, in fact. It can be used nicely or abused rudely, just like any other word. My experience with the term is that it is used in a neutral way. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 21 '14 at 5:24
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    Yes, I get the pun. I'm telling you how I, a person unfamiliar with the term until today, perceived its connotations when reading it in use. – phenry Jun 21 '14 at 5:30
  • Are we back to ridiculing non-fluent speakers again with this, now? Sheesh. – phenry Jul 9 '14 at 14:54

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