Occasionally, questions that seem very simple or straightforward disguise some depth of insight into English language. These are the gold dust of this site and of inquiries into language in general. However, it's not always easy to frame such questions clearly.

One such question can be found here: Is the sentence "How is name?" localised to game-specific forums?

Now, it is quite understandable that one might not quite get the issue with this question. It is quite fine-grained and so kernel of it might easily pass you by if you weren't reading it closely. This shouldn't in any way stop you giving your opinion about the question. In fact, if you have something constructive to say, you positively should do so.

However - posters, and readers wanting to read other people's posts, should also be able to ask questions about why posts have been closed or migrated. The fact that such questions might not be so simple as they at first seem, is one of the reasons why. Posters should not be subject to aggressively negative responses here merely because they are asking the question. More importantly, we should refrain from being overly judgmental or abusive to the people asking such questions. This is firstly because doing so is against the principles of this site, but secondly because it may show up our own flagrant ignorance.

Abuse such as this:

Your profile doesn't say whether you're a native speaker. But if you're not, you should be able to understand that the question is a better fit to ELL. And if you are, I don't know - perhaps your mother never asked "How was school today?" when you got back, or perhaps you really are a bit of an idiot.

... should be unacceptable here purely on the basis that it is offensive.

Unfortunately, this commenter's attitude is discernible in a depressingly large number of comments and answers on this SE site.

This particular comment by this particular Stack Exchange poster makes one wonder, what is the correct response to:

  • How is this poster?

closed as off-topic by Kit Z. Fox Jul 28 '14 at 18:55

  • This question does not appear to be about English Language & Usage Stack Exchange or the software that powers the Stack Exchange network within the scope defined in the help center.
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    "However, you cannot say: How is your school? ... to mean What is your school like?" Yes you can! I'd emphasise the your, but you definitely can ask that. Similarly, if you were on the phone to someone in Paris you could definitely ask them "How is Paris". – curiousdannii Jul 28 '14 at 11:06
  • @curiousdannii That's the point exactly, really. It means What's your experience of Paris like, What's your experience of your school like. It's not really asking about the objective attributes of the school. The answer to How's your school? is It's really lovely, thanks, not It's an extremely large boys only secondary modern with a low A-level grade average set over four acres .... That's the answer to What's that school like? This is a really common learner error: How was the industrial revolution?. Tell me about your home town. How is it? etc. – Araucaria Jul 28 '14 at 11:29
  • If you want an objective answer then you need to indicate that. Both "How's your school?" and "What is your school like?" can be used to ask both objectively and subjectively. I can use "How's your school?" objectively like this: "My school is a very large school with both girls and boys. How's yours?" – curiousdannii Jul 28 '14 at 11:34
  • Hmm seems a bit marginal to me. Imo, it's only acceptable even to that degree because a) the question's already on the table and b) you have personal experience of it. It's like a personal experience exchange. If you've never visited Cambdridge University for example, I can't really ask you: How's Cambridge University?. Whereas What's Cambridge University like? on the other hand is fine. – Araucaria Jul 28 '14 at 11:41
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is a complaint about another user without any specific desired goal other than to point out something that OP should have flagged. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 28 '14 at 18:55
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    @KitFox Well, I don't agree really. It was a discussion about not being mean and offensive to posters regardless of the perceived quality of the question. An observation intended to reduce the general curmudgeonliness on this SE site. It was a complaint about a comment (- not a user), which hadn't been removed after the flagging process. Its removal was the main goal of the question. Anyway, am pleased that the original comment finally has been removed. – Araucaria Jul 28 '14 at 20:24
  • You know that flag-handling is never instantaneous, right? The comment was reviewed and edited in due course, and wasn't in fact removed. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 28 '14 at 21:21
  • @KitFox The offending sentence has been removed. – Araucaria Jul 29 '14 at 5:38
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    I'm not sure how you can defend your stance. The only question you have asked is "How is this poster?" referring to the user, certainly not the comment. You give no guidance or suggestion about how to reduce curmudgeonliness and solicit no discussion other than to invite others to express their opinions about a particular user who wrote a particular thing you objected to but were not patient enough to wait for moderators to respond to. You may have been more roundabout than that user, but you have accomplished the same thing. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 29 '14 at 12:02
  • @KitFox "More importantly, we should refrain from being overly judgmental or abusive to the people asking such questions". Erm, this might be construed as a suggestion about how to reduce curmugeonliness. – Araucaria Jul 29 '14 at 12:25
  • It might be construed that way, but it isn't. It's a tautology. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 29 '14 at 12:43
  • @KitFox While I feel that I could defend myself admirably against your charge here, it would just be petty to wrangle about how to read my post. Imo, the post has served it's purpose if it puts any users off being too aggressive to other posters. Maybe it has and maybe it hasn't.... – Araucaria Aug 7 '14 at 13:52
  • @KitFox In any case, it's doing any good festering here any more. I have no problem with the user at all - just don't like seeing other users being bashed for no reason. Have to say before I delete, however, that I found your and Andrew's responses pretty depressing. Yes, I know A's got upvoted- the comment stating it'd been flagged was removed. – Araucaria Aug 7 '14 at 14:02
  • Andrew's answer wasn't flagged. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 7 '14 at 14:03
  • My comment saying that the idiot sentence had been flagged was removed, so A's answer looked like a very sensible piece of guidance to flag, before resorting to Meta. Anyhow, no longer important. – Araucaria Aug 7 '14 at 14:08

Occasionally, long-standing members of this community may get frustrated with the assumptions made by askers in formulating their questions. These frustrations may leak into comments.

As you say, this is undesirable, and it’s already been dealt with in a question on flagging. If you feel that a comment is not constructive, or undesirable in some other way, flag it.

If that comment had appeared on the question in question, the moderators would almost certainly have deleted the comment and migrated the question. If it were elsewhere, or even if the question were not to be migrated, the flag brings the comment to the attention of moderators, who can either remove it entirely or edit it.

I’m uncertain about the examples you bring forward to support your case. It is certainly possible to say “How is your school?” to mean “What is your school like?” or “Do you like your school?” It’s colloquial, and the exact meaning is dependent on context. It’s exactly the same as “How was school?”, merely brought into the present — as can be seen from that question’s current answer. Any question which makes wrong assumptions like this is highly likely to be migrated to ELL.

  • Regarding the linguistic point How is your school? means How is school going for you? It doesn't mean What is your school like? The answer to the question is It's going well thanks not It's a very large, impersonal secondary modern with about 5,000 pupils and a very low A-level grade average. Don't you agree? – Araucaria Jul 28 '14 at 6:43
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    No; while I see your point, I don't entirely agree, because (as I have already said) the meaning of a colloquial question is entirely dependent on context. But I look forward to reading your answer to the question. – Andrew Leach Jul 28 '14 at 6:50
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    And you must not bring personalities into this question. Address the issue only. – Andrew Leach Jul 28 '14 at 6:51
  • Your answer here, sadly, sounds like an apology for the abuse in question. The comment was indeed flagged but remained in situ on the page until my very last comment (which was btw in no way personal). I find it a bit disappointing that this post here had to exist in order to get the issue dealt with. I note that the comment wasn't removed but edited. Btw, the comment may look as if it has two upvotes, it doesn't. The first was a fumbled attempt to flag it. – Araucaria Jul 28 '14 at 7:17
  • I'm sorry if this answer sounds like it justifies the abuse. That wasn't the intention at all: indeed, such an undesirable comment should not appear, and should be flagged. However, we are all human and none of us perfect, and occasionally our human weakness can become evident. That's what flags are for. – Andrew Leach Jul 28 '14 at 7:29

It was my comment, so I suppose I'd better say something about it. I must admit it never occurred to me anyone would find it "offensive". I was just whimsically echoing OP's own words ("Or am I just a massive idiot?") - but I distinctly recall thinking at the time that OP was being too hard on himself, which is why I toned it down to a bit of an idiot.

I will admit I was (very slightly) irritated by the fact that the OP's profile didn't specify whether he was a native speaker, because that seems extremely important in the context of the question. One comment that hasn't been deleted (or significantly edited like mine) currently reads...

I don't understand how someone with your command of English can ask such an inane question

...and the only existing answer on the migrated question starts with...

I am surprised that you, a native speaker of English, find this use of How is/was X? odd or novel

I'm not going to flag those as offensive (if it bothers the OP, let him do so). But let's face it, at least my comment invited the OP to say "But I'm not a native speaker", in which case I'd simply have repeated my suggestion that the question be moved to ELL (with no implication that the OP was to be ridiculed for not being familiar with the usage in question). I don't see any way OP could refute the implicit ridicule in the above comment (and, to a lesser extent, the answer).

That answer above implies I must have missed the fact that the OP in question is actually a native speaker. Without wishing to be disparaging, I also am surprised that any native speaker wouldn't recognise a "syntactic continuum" along the lines of...

"How was school today?" (What did you think of school today?)
"How is your hamburger?" (Are you happy with your hamburger?)
"How is your wife's hamburger?" (Are you and/or your wife happy with her hamburger?)

Nevertheless, I would not refer to such a person as "an idiot" except in the specific circumstances where I was facetiously echoing that person's own words. (Okay - I should have added a smiley! :)

  • I'm deleting this post, cos the comment was removed, so that was the whole point in the first place. Sorry , but there's just quite a lot of nasty comments - as you pointed out - floating round here. That was just the particular one that got the treatment because the mods ignored the flag ... I have no axe to grind with you personally. – Araucaria Aug 7 '14 at 15:07
  • @Araucaria: I've no axe to grind with you either. It seems a bit strange for me to apologise to you for having posted something which you felt was offensive to someone else, but I do genuinely regret having caused you to feel uncomfortable. The user in question hasn't been on ELU since before you posted this meta question, so we've no feedback on whether he felt unjustly treated. But I would just mention that I posted a comment on OP's ELL question saying "To be fair to OP [blah blah]", on an answer that started with "I'm surprised that you, a native speaker of English [blah blah]" – FumbleFingers Aug 7 '14 at 16:12
  • Fair enough, that's true. – Araucaria Aug 7 '14 at 17:26
  • Have flagged this question to be deleted. Just waited because I wanted you to get my comment before everything disappeared. – Araucaria Aug 7 '14 at 17:29
  • @Araucaria: S'ok. I can even see deleted comments, and Kitfox has only closed it anyway. Anyway, from my point of view - thank you for your thoughtfulness, and I don't think me and thee have a problem. – FumbleFingers Aug 7 '14 at 20:05

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