May I suggest the following name changes:

I think English Language Learners (ELL) should change its name to English Language & Usage (ELU) and ELU should become EnglishOverflow, just like MathOverflow is for professional mathematicians, what do you think of this logical unification of the two subjects?

One reason being the abbreviation: ELL is too similar to ELU.

For those not familiar with mathoverflow.

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    I'd be willing to consider changing EL&U to plain "English", if you made a strong case for it. But I'd reject out of hand any proposal to rename ELL to EL&U. For one thing, ELL is much more descriptive (and precise) than EL&U for the purpose of that site; but much more importantly applying an existing label (EL&U) to a new site will be completely confusing, not only to users, but to search engines. In other words: it breaks backwards compatibility.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 18:42
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    It needn't break backward compatibility because search engines are updated frequently and applying the changes at different times would allow them to update. It would also be possible for SE to differentiate based on question numbers. It could certainly be managed.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 19:16
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    Or perhaps @DanBron instead of changing EL&U to plain "English" how about "English Literary Education"? Thus, providing a source for English language learners to get more literary information.
    – user 85795
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 21:47
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    @Ice, can you elaborate on the background of the suggestion, and your motivations? That might help us understand what you're driving at. At first blush, "English Literary Education" seems too narrow to me; very few of the questions on the site are about works of literature (though I'd be happy to see more). You also mentioned "English language learners"; I think everything aimed at learners (people studying English as a second language, as opposed to people studying English [proper]) should be maintained on ELL. EL&U, whatever it's called, should remain focused on fluent speakers.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 21:54
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    @DanBron I think ELU should renamed to EnglishOverflow, and ELL renamed to English. This would please our Japanese friend, I think.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 22:36
  • But I'd have to update my bookmarks! Oh wait, they all point to chat.stackexchange.com. Nevermind. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 1:52
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    UGH I feel like going for a honking big batch of necromancer badges and pull up all the links to this horse-that-shall-never-die topic. Where are the SE Unicorns when you need them? meta.stackexchange.com/questions/37328/… Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 22:47

4 Answers 4


Here’s a tl,dr summary of my position that I’ve raised up out of a comment to one of the CM team:

All I know is that our current naming setup leads to confusion, frustration, and bad feelings. People don’t get answers; they get mad and leave. English alone of language sites—but like Math or CompSci—is so huge that its several communities don’t fit comfortably under one tent. Unlike all other SE lang sites, the current EN-site naming scheme is a deceptive garden path that misleads struggling learners to exactly where they’ll be least well-served. This is the problem I would see fixed. The “how” doesn’t matter to me: anything that improves the newcomer experience gets my vote.

Original Post

To the OP: Your argument is a strong one. Thank you for putting into words. Consider this recent question by mockie:

Because the domain name of english.stackexchange.com uses an ambiguous word in its first element, I think you should prominently place some sort of “announcement” that anyone coming to ELU can always clearly see.

I say this because most beginners first coming here, including me, always think that ELU must be the best SE site to ask simple questions about basic English, but it is not.

This confusion is because of its domain name of english, and also because we don’t even realize that there is a completely separate ELL website specifically geared for beginners’ questions that come up when first learning English.

When you see a list that includes both english.stackexchange.com and ell.stackexchange.com, it is only natural to make this mistake, so beginners end up asking ELL questions on ELU where they don’t fit well.

He also explains in a comment that:

japanese.stacexchange.com is for everyone but english.stackexchange.com is only for advance users. It's confusing! Btw I didn't say "It's easy to do" like you said.

We have the same mistake made, and consequent complaint levied, by people coming from other language sites, including for example the Italian one. None of the other language sites split this way. That’s because they do not need to.

But we do. And we are not alone. Other sites have done this, too. There have historically been other sites that have needed to as well. Watch what happened to them.

Mathy Sites

  • Mathematics: Q&A for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields

  • MathOverflow Q&A for professional mathematicians

  • Mathematics Educators: Q&A for those involved in the field of teaching mathematics

Now that’s not too bad a breakdown. Notice in particular how the more focussed and professional site is not the one with the simplest name. I do not know those respective sites’ histories, but I am guessing that it was recognized that the most simply named one would be the biggest draw of non-professional learners, and so sites with less obvious names were calved off for the more focussed communities.

But it gets more muddled elsewhere, especially in this befuddlingly overlapping set:

Programming and the Science of Computing

  • Unix & Linux: Q&A for users of Linux, FreeBSD and other Un*x-like operating systems.

  • Programmers: Q&A for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development

  • Stack Overflow: Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

  • Super User: Q&A for computer enthusiasts and power users

    Which is of course the worst name ever: this is NOT FOR SUPERUSERS!!! For that, you have to go to the site that looks like it’s about hardware issues, not superusers, even though it is:

  • Server Fault: Q&A for professional system and network administrators

  • Computer Science: Q&A for students, researchers and practitioners of computer science

  • Computational Science: Q&A for scientists using computers to solve scientific problems

  • Theoretical Computer Science: Q&A for theoretical computer scientists and researchers in related fields

Frankly, I don’t understand why some things land in one or other of those sites above instead of some other of them. It’s gotten so one has to look in at least three places above for an answer. But perhaps this is just me being confused, and it is clear to those communities than it is to me. I certainly hope so.

Hwæt, Ænglisc?

Just look at the messy situation that we currently have in English, and compare it with the two sets of sites just described above:

You’re right that this is completely backwards. The site for any old simple math question that gets asked again and again and again does not go to MathOverflow: people would get upset. Which, doubtless, is what kept happening until it was fixed.

This is the problem we are having. Less frequented language sites like, oh, the Pasiegu SE site for example, do not have this problem. Not even the much more popular Prussian SE site has it. And there is good reason for that: they aren’t like the Math SE site or the Sysadmin SE site. That’s because English really is different. Unlike something like Russian or the Erland programming language, people are not beating down the doors with a killer flood of questions from all possible focuses and backgrounds the way that happens with English and Programming and Math in general.

EVERYBODY wants those last set, and therefore the only way to not have an increasingly “failing” set of sites is to react accordingly, just like the others have done. We need to do this for the simple inexorable truth that English is different: We need to recognize that, accept it, and embrace it — and then account for it.

We are not doing a good job of that right now, and it makes for a lot of unhappy experience. It makes for a bad experience for everyone. The difference is one of volume and focus.

Until this gets fixed, Stack Exchange will continue to miss the boat on something that it could be doing better, something that it should be doing better. It is not serving a community — several of them, in fact — as well as it easily could, and should. The current set up is one that’s fundamentally broken and misleading.

Which sounds terrible, but it is easy to fix.

first make site every one go to for english one who has name like other simple place like the math place and call that one english because it is word people think mean that thing.

Then make the professional site something whose name comes not quite so trippingly off the tongue, the one for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

The fix is simple, and you have stated it: we should rename the current professional ELU site EnglishOverflow as you have proposed, and rename the site currently named ELL English.

There is no downside to this. None. Everybody wins.

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    Your belief that most people think "English" means "basic level English" needs some support, to say the least. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 9:23
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    I badly want to upvote the proposal to change ELU's name, but I'm not convinced that EnglishOverflow is the best solution.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 9:37
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    This is obviously a real polarising issue! Apart from my own (upvotes), both the question and your answer currently have 5 upvotes balanced by 5 downvotes. I never thought of co-opting the simple topic | topic-overflow distinction before, but it certainly seems an obvious approach once it's put forward. Of course, we can't possibly do it unless/until ELL graduates out of beta, and thereafter we'd expect this site to become the less-used one of the pair. But that's how it should be, so I'm thoroughly behind the proposed name change as soon as it becomes appropriate. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 12:30
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    I rarely say RLU or JLU or SLU for our Russian, Japanese, or Spanish sites. Those are all the sites to discuss their respective languages and I just refer to them by the name of the language. I would say that for the same reason, I'd sooner identify "English" as representing "The main language site" than I would associate it to the learning site.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 15:29
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    @GraceNote All I know is that our current naming setup leads to confusion, frustration, and bad feelings. People don’t get answers; they get mad and leave. English alone of language sites—but like Math or CompSci—is so huge that its several communities don’t fit comfortably under one tent. Unlike all other SE lang sites, the current EN-site naming scheme is a deceptive garden path that misleads struggling learners to exactly where they’ll be least well-served. This is the problem I would see fixed. The “how” doesn’t matter to me: anything that improves the newcomer experience gets my vote.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 16:45
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    @TimLymington If the never-ending stream of incredibly simple English questions that ELU gets daily (which are always from NNS repeatedly struggling with the very same English fundamentals) does not count as strong evidence that they think that a site named ‘English’ is for learners, then I am forced to rely on those few newcomers who have explicitly voiced this position, the way our Japanese visitor and our Italian one did. Because raw statistical evidence is much stronger than personalized anecdotal evidence can ever be, I would hope that you would take the former into greater consideration.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 17:00
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    @tchrist: Certainly there is a flow of confused querents who should be elsewhere; that may support the idea that the name should be changed, but does not support any particular replacement. The idea that 'any change is better than what we have now' would only be tenable if the majority of questions were off-topic, which is not the case. That's what 'most' in my comment meant. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 11:44
  • @GraceNote Of course not! You took away our U's . . . :-) RL and JL and SL don't seem like names. I say Japanese.SE for short now.
    – user28567
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 23:28
  • @snailboat That’s short? :(
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 1:01
  • I agree with everything you said here except the proposed name EnglishOverflow. Really, though, whether to rename the site(s), and what to rename them to, ought to be separate discussions.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 10:41
  • @Flimsy I’ve definitely cooled to the notion of calling anything FooOverflow, I promise you that.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 10:44

I'm Grace Note, a Community Manager at Stack Exchange.

I don't disagree with the idea that maybe a name change can be fancy, especially with the confusion between this site and ELL. It's a healthy discussion to have. I'm not going to stop y'all from having some discussions about name changes, but I want to be clear up front not to get your hopes up about actually having the name changed easily - you're going to have to work real hard to convince us. But let's put this aside, because that's not the main reason I've come here to post - we can look into the changes once we've got a good idea for a name.

So putting aside the necessity of a name change, can we seriously pick something besides "English Overflow"? Seriously - sticking the word "Overflow" at the end honestly rolls pretty stupid as a name in 90% or more of situations. Let's look at some stuff.

  • Stack Overflow gets its name because it is based off of a construct in the programming world. Basically this gets away with it because it's a cool in-joke.

  • Math Overflow gets its name from the SE 1.0 days, because it was an off-shoot of Stack Overflow. A lot of sites did that back then. They keep that name to this day because the name "Math Overflow" is about as recognized in the maths community as Stack Overflow is in the programming community. This site has far outlived its name as merely a reference to SO - it's grown to its own symbol of identity.

  • SharePoint Overflow was an SE 1.0 site that we worked to fold into a SharePoint proposal in SE 2.0 that now exists as its own full fledged graduated site. I want to point out something - it just says SharePoint right now. The need for "Overflow" is unnecessary for them - they're already part of our network as identified by the footer, the top bar, and the URL. The reference is no longer necessary and because the word adds nothing to the meaning, they can drop it without any problem.

  • Theoretical Computer Science is our research-level Computer Science site. There's also a separate Computer Science site. This was the first time we actually produced our own divide within the network - Math Overflow had always existed as a separate site while Mathematics was our only network site for many years. TCS even came first, existing and even graduating long before we finally got the basic CS site out. They have a similar relation as Maths and MO, but they don't need the word Overflow to get it done.

English Overflow... it's kinda tacky and mediocre as a name. There's no reference to be made, no history that this name derives from. It has all the same reasons as SharePoint to stay out of it. Slapping Overflow at the end, it is nearly as bad as our old habit of adding "Answers" at the end of names. WordPress Answers, Travel Answers... it's agony in a bucket and there's a reason we, as well as the afflicted communities from our past transgressions, strive to end that pattern.

So please... whether we plan to shoot for a simple name difference here (like how IT Security changed to Information Security) or we shoot for an elaborate name (which is almost entirely out of the cards), please don't think "Overflow" is a good idea to help shape the distinction in names here.

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    One word that doesn’t get used much these days is philology; its comparative rarity might come in handy if the site “for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts” were renamed English Philology, and the one for the billions and billions trying to learn the rudiments of basic English were renamed to just plain English the way billions seem to think it is already. However, if you think this would otherwise confuse people, you could also have a longer name for the less professionally targeted site as well.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 20:34
  • Grace, I couldn't agree more. I agree on all points, especially on "tacky" and "mediocre". @tchrist, English Philology is 100x better than this horrendous "English Overflow", let alone without the space: I cannot even write the latter in quotation marks without damaging my eternal soul. But frankly I don't see how a name change makes much of a difference at all, it's only a name. And it is a huge hassle. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 20:50
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    I apologize for the damage incurred to your eternal soul.
    – user 85795
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 21:28
  • @tchrist, I would prefer a site focused on helping people learn English include that idea (learn), somehow, in the name. I wasn't around when "ELL" was selected, and it scans a bit clunky to me, but given that (a) the overwhelming majority of people who would come to a site focused on learning English, or have specific, basic questions on usage, are non-native speakers, and (b) it's a well-established term already, I'd choose ESL, if we were going to change ELL at all.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 11:23
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    At last, a breath of sanity ... and now for something completely different and not insane, though it would be down voted to down below if I posted it as an answer: just solve the problem by merging the two sites and calling it, duh, "English". Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 15:28
  • @GraceNote: Thank you. It's illuminating to see some etymology so close to the source, frankly delivered. I don't care how the names work out; I'm a Nominalist. But the SE model is just not working for ELU and ELL; and Linguistics, while no longer beta, is certainly not ready for prime time. And they keep getting the same kind of crap questions, because the presuppositions are all wrong. They work with fields with definite answers available, but they're terrible for a situation like English usage, which is subject to random variations in teacher-training and prejudice, with no central point. Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 1:21

I'm not convinced renaming EL&U to Englishoverflow or English Overflow is the answer to stem the current flow of poorly formulated and simple questions that are flooding the site. I'm not convinced that by changing its name to the above the site won't encounter and create for itself other headaches in the future.

It is my fervent belief that the site must not discourage non-native speakers whose command of the language is solid from visiting, they help regenerate the community by providing, so to speak, new blood, and typically, non-native speakers will ask thought-provoking questions which your average native speaker might know the answer to but be at a loss to explain. An exception must be made with simple basic English questions; in those cases they should be migrated to ELL and their fate decided there.

Nevertheless, I suspect the community will push towards renaming itself (a change is as good as a rest), whether it will be the easy fix which tchrist posits in his answer remains to be seen. Therefore, I would like to suggest the following name changes as alternatives to Englishoverflow. I have not gone in great detail as to why any of these names should be adopted but limited myself to giving the gist behind my choice.

English Academia; highbrow sounding which might have its drawbacks and detractors, however, the term academia has origins in Greek, Latin, and French.

English Avant-garde; I like the juxtaposition of the Old English adjective Englisc with the more modern French term, it also alludes to the rich complexity and history of the language.

English Proficient; this might actually encourage visitors to believe that "EP" is a site dedicated to improving one's level of English; however the name is short and to the point without sounding pretentious or highbrow unlike academia and, perhaps, to a lesser extent philology.

  • +1 on potential benefit to the site from non-native speakers!! As for the site names, I like Academia and Proficient.
    – user66974
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 20:07

I think renaming ELU is a decision to go under serious consideration. A good choice may clear matters up considerably. But a poor choice will certainly cause more confusion. I worry that a name change to either site is not enough. I think part of what's causing our problem is the result of our own choices.

I think we should have split the other way. Looking at Language Stack Exchanges, the only one that does not explicitly say it's for students is German, which has the banner:

German Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of German wanting to discuss the finer points of the language and translation...

All others ( Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Russian, French ) introduce themselves with a banner that says:

Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Language language...

explicitly saying they are student-friendly but encouraging challenging/researched questions with finer points.

I do not frequent these other sites. I imagine they get their share of learners' questions, though. If the time comes for them to split, I hope they make the advanced site the offshoot.

My understanding is that at one time ELU used to be in Beta, a stage when the Area51 faq says "the actual, live site [is] set up on a 'probationary' basis to see if people use it." During this time the faq also says "[the] earliest questions set the tone and topic of the site for a long time."

During this phase I bet the founders were excited by every question asked. I looked at questions from the early days: Sorting ELU questions by "Newest" and going to the last few pages, I see questions that are interesting and educational but which might have received low vote scores or closevotes if asked today.

Take this question, What is the etymology of "replenish"? asked 10 Aug 2010. Today, I think it would have been closed as General Reference and have fewer than 7 votes. I don't know when over the past four years those 7 votes were cast or if Google would have displayed Etymonline's answer in its top results. But even so, a considerable portion of the answers given are dictionary citations of the word in question. Another example might be this question asked three days earlier on the plural of octopus. An example of an English learner's question during ELU's early days might be "Correct usage of ‘on’, ‘at’ and ‘in’ from a foreigner’s point of view" asked 13 Aug 2010; as of now it has 6 upvotes and 3 favorites.

Don't get me wrong: Questions like these are illuminating. Before reading the posts and sources, I would have answered octopi to the octopus one. But did these more basic questions help get ELU on its feet? Has most of our rep on this site come from questions like these? (Looking at the sources of my own rep, I don't see anything that I could safely say came from a linguist, etymologist, or serious language enthusiast.)

We made a logical choice. A lot of ELL questions are asked. There's plenty of interest; ELL will not likely get deleted from under-use. But those questions were and are being asked on ELU. Why did we not branch out a new Advanced English (AE) site instead? Why did we not leave the more basic questions for the more popular and already-established english.stackexchange site, the one that learners naturally come to by making analogies with other 'language'.stackexchange sites, as tchrist notes about the Italian and Japanese SE users in his post?

Through ELU, regulars knew other regulars to have recruited to this potential AE site. Would there still have not been enough interest to guarantee its leaving beta? Then maybe the demographic of linguists, etymologists, or serious language enthusiasts was too narrow for their own SE at the time. (But judging by the activity of just linguists on Linguists Beta, I don't think that's the case.) But if it weren't enough, and if these basic questions were what helped give us a place to ask advanced questions, then maybe the price of having this platform is to deal tolerantly with the basic questions that helped get us here.

AE, from the get-go, could have more clearly used votes to say what is and is not appropriate for a site for the target demographic: linguists, etymologists, and serious language enthusiasts. Questions that didn't meet the Advanced English site could have been migrated to the general English (ELU or english.stackexchange) site. But because AE would have been a niche site instead of english.stackexchange, I think inappropriately placed questions would have been less of a problem.

I would propose making this AE now, but I fear it spreads us too thin. If ELL is for English learners and AE is for advanced topics, what is the point of ELU? It seems all that's left for ELU would be question types like single-word-requests, which don't seem to consistently fall under exclusively ELL or AE.

I would rather see a rule that all 'language'.stackexchange sites allow students or non-native speakers of 'language'. And this is for the site's own good: The easiest site to get to should expect the most new user traffic. Unfortunately, a rule like this may mean phasing out ELL.

These suggestions aside, I don't see solutions that will fix the problem any more cleanly. I see a banner that directs traffic (for example) helping some but being overlooked by others -- how many of each probably depends on the banner. But it may be that there are clever things I'm not seeing, or I have misjudged other solutions.

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    ELL should definitely get the "english" subdomain. I said so in April.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 21:39
  • I +1'd that then but needed reminding. It's a fantastic idea! It solves many issues. But some considerations a beta AE may have addressed/avoided: Will the subdomain swap guarantee that ELL gets ranked above ELU in an (english and/or SE) <english query> Google search? Do older, more basic ELU questions lead new users to ask ELU ones of similar levels? Is there a good name change for ELL/ELU that will place the more basic site first alphabetically? ("AE" wouldn't have, but maybe another name would.) Can ELL be given the bigger icon?
    – user39720
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 23:32

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