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It's time for everyone's favorite game show, Show Me the Reference! The following seven questions were each placed on hold as general reference within the past week:

For each question, name a reputable, freely available online resource that can be used to fully answer the question within approximately 5-10 minutes by someone who has never used the named resource before. Remember, naming a resource that does not appear on the canonical list of general references that is linked to from each of the above questions will incur a significant penalty in the lightning round!

  • 6
    The ones that particularly bother me are the ones that are actually duplicates, like five or so of those probably are. At most, a full half of these should be closed as "unclear what you're asking" rather than gen ref, since they've shown no effort nor described clearly why they think there is an issue. – Kit Z. Fox Nov 17 '14 at 18:37
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    Maybe the general reference close reason should be changed to "go ask on ELL". That's what it means to me. – curiousdannii Nov 17 '14 at 23:06
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    Either that or we need a dumb-questions-about-punctuation SE site. – curiousdannii Nov 17 '14 at 23:07
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    I am often confused by the close reason, but usually in agreement that it should be closed. ELL would be a good place for many of these. – Mitch Nov 17 '14 at 23:44
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    I kinda liked the last one. Voted to reopen. one more vote to go. – anongoodnurse Nov 18 '14 at 1:38
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    @medica Possibly, but if so, that last question will need a lot of work before it becomes a question good enough for reöpening, let alone for answering. As it stands, it is as poor a question as would be asking the tense used in “my asking whether you, madam doctor, will have stopped beating your dear wife before we shall have finished our therapy session for the day”. As with my example, that question has more than one serious problem, and I agree with Reg’s decision to place it on hold until such time as those can all be addressed, problems which noöne but our mod seems to’ve recognized. – tchrist Nov 18 '14 at 3:05
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    @tchrist - I agree it has problems. It caused me to pause, though, and that's what made it kinda interesting to me. :) – anongoodnurse Nov 18 '14 at 3:27
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    "General reference" is our "general close reason" for questions we "generally don't want to deal with". Once ELL is out of beta, we'll be able to migrate such questions there, and the complaint underlying this question will evaporate. Until then, Closed-as-GR will have to suffice. – Dan Bron Nov 18 '14 at 15:35
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    @DanBron - So GR doesn't mean what it says it means? As a website devoted to communication, shouldn't we strive to say what we mean? – phenry Nov 18 '14 at 15:41
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    @DanBron - Tongue-in-cheek to be sure, but there's a great deal of truth in what you say. GR is indeed misused as a catchall for questions that are deemed "too basic" or not interesting enough for the site, and that's a big part of the reason why people complain it's hard to know what's considered on-topic here. My goal here is to make people realize that we need to either revamp the close reasons or stop dishonestly using GR as a toilet. – phenry Nov 18 '14 at 16:01
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    @phenry, is your position then that we should rename "GR" to "Too Basic"? Or, more broadly, what is your recommendation? Certainly I would not welcome retaining or keeping the (vast) majority of questions which are currently closed as GR. But as I said, I expect this whole thing to be a non-problem once regular non-mod users can migrate questions to ELL. – Dan Bron Nov 18 '14 at 16:22
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    @DanBron - I believe we should only be using GR for things that can actually be easily looked up in a small and well-defined set of free online references. Our mission here is to increase the amount of useful information on the Internet, not to scold people for failing to engage our interest. (And you can forget about ever having ELL as a migration target; ELL has made it clear that they don't want ELU's castoffs.) – phenry Nov 18 '14 at 16:36
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    @phenry, in that case we differ. I don't think basic, uninteresting, questions of English have a place on EL&U. The primary struggle of a site like EL&U is keeping the signal:noise ratio high, and for me, and for the most part, the kind of people who hang out on EL&U, these types of questions are unambiguously noise. We can close them or migrate them, but I don't wish to keep them; they'll make it harder to find the good stuff, both in real-time and in the archives. And contra your description, ELL has made it clear it welcomes basic questions of English. That is its literal raison d'etre. – Dan Bron Nov 18 '14 at 16:40
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    @DanBron - So can I count on your support for my upcoming proposal to rename the GR option "Off-topic because this question is not very interesting"? – phenry Nov 18 '14 at 19:30
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    It seems like GR means something you can look up easily or something so basic, that every native speaker understands intuitively since childhood, that no one bothers to put it in a concrete reference. It would be like a web site that explains how to walk or chew. – Barmar Nov 27 '14 at 9:22
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The only one of these questions that I had anything to do with was Is it correct to use an apostrophe to indicate something that belongs to an object? I was very much in favor of keeping this question open when I first saw it (and answered it), and I voted to reopen it after editing the question to make it more EL&U-like. But after receiving the necessary votes for reopening, it was reclosed on different grounds—as a duplicate of Is using the possessive 's correct in "the car's antenna"?

This disappoints me. First, I put a fair amount of thought into improving the question (as the On Hold guidelines advise users to do) in order to overcome the fault that the users who voted to close found with the original wording. But once the question overcame that obstacle, a different criticism emerged and the question was blown away once again. That hardly seems sporting, does it?

Sporting or not, it brings up a second issue. The "car's antenna" question drew an excellent (but not documented) answer from Jon Hanna, and some okay (but not documented) answers from other contributors. In contrast, all four answers to the "Is it correct to use an apostrophe" question provide sources for the points they make—and in any case, they make some points and offer some evidence that aren't made or offered in the answers to the "car's antenna" question. Moreover, the question "Is it correct to use an apostrophe to indicate something that belongs to an object?" strikes me as being a more general question than "Is using the possessive 's correct in 'the car's antenna'?" and as being at least as search-friendly (although it would be even more so if we changed "apostrophe" to "apostrophe-s").

So which question-and-answer block has the greater utility? It seems to me that both have their pluses and minuses, and that you could make a case for either one. But I don't agree with the notion that the answers to "Is using the possessive 's correct in 'the car's antenna'?" have settled and disposed of the question for all time. If someone feels strongly that we should merge the answers for any two similar questions that have already attracted thoughtful answers before being identified as near-duplicates, then by all means merge them. But I don't see any sign that such a merger is likely to occur between the two blocks of questions and answers here. And in the meantime, what harm have we averted by closing the more recent Q&A block as a duplicate?


UPDATE: Chronology of the duplicate question

Just to be clear about how events unfolded in the short life of "Is it correct to use an apostrophe to indicate something that belongs to an object?" I offer a rough chronology of its major milestones.

November 11, 18:35: The question is posted.

November 11, 22:35: The fourth of four answers to the question is posted.

November 12[?]: The question is put on hold as general reference.

[some time between 11/12 and 11/17]: The question is revised to make it clearer and of broader interest.

November 17 [early]: phenry posts "Show Me the Reference!" on Meta.

November 17 [soon afterward]: The question is reopened.

November 17 [3 hours after phenry's Meta post goes up]: The question is closed as duplicate.

Now obviously it doesn't make a lot of sense to post an answer to a duplicate question; you really ought to post it to the original question. But in this particular case, the relevance of that truism is considerably easier to see now than it was at any time between November 11 and November 16.

I accept that every time I answer a question, I take a chance that the question might be a duplicate and that someone will eventually close the new question (and my answer with it) for that reason. It's the chance I take by choosing not to delay posting an answer until after I've waded through the EL&U archives in search of questions that either are duplicates of the new question or might be construed to be duplicates by someone with the power to close questions for that reason.

But it seems to me that there ought to be a better method of dealing with answers submitted to questions that are later closed as duplicates than simply saying "Sorry, but it's your fault for answering the wrong question. Next time, try answering the original one instead of the duplicate."

  • 1
    If a question has already been asked, then when the duplicate appears, it is closed as such no matter the quality of the original’s answers. If one believes the original’s answers should be better, there is where one should add the new, better answer, not on the duplicate. Otherwise it messes things up for unlogged-in guests, who are auto-redirected to the original and have no chance to see the now-orphaned answers. In some (but not too many) cases, a merge may be appropriate. – tchrist Nov 18 '14 at 7:23
  • A merge can occur at a moment's notice. We usually allow some time to pass, though. I am not sure what signs you are expecting to see that a merger is likely to occur. (Other than the duplicate notice, that is, which is essentially saying just that.) When the merge occurs, it can be in either direction, not necessarily new into old. Not that it really matters — when all the answers are on the same page, who cares what that page's URL is. As to question titles, that's a red herring because a) these can be edited, and b) they don't need to be edited, as they will point to the same page anyway. – RegDwigнt Nov 18 '14 at 12:47
  • By the way: what hardly seems sporting to me, it's that Jon Hanna's thorough answer is sitting at 8 after all these years, while the much shorter and nowhere as comprehensive top answer on the new question is already at 10 after just a couple hours. And that's another thing dupe-closing and merging is meant to prevent. At any rate, your effort is not wasted in any way, shape, or form. Quite the opposite: you are now all but guaranteed your answer will live on, and indeed get more traffic than before, as there'll be two different question wordings pointing to it rather than just one. – RegDwigнt Nov 18 '14 at 12:55
  • On the plus side, Jon Hanna's answer is now at 10. (The least I could do was upvote it after praising it here. It really is an excellent answer.) On the other hand, I think that the 10-point answer to the duplicate question you cite is more deserving (modest though it is) than the 21-point answer to the original question, which consists in its entirety of "Possessor doesn't need to be a living being. [Example:] The town's hall [Example:] The university's information center"; admittedly that answer has been around since 2010. Anyway, RegDwigнt♦, thank you for clarifying how the system works. – Sven Yargs Nov 18 '14 at 17:06
  • Update as of 2/5/16: Jon Hanna's answer is now at +22 and is the accepted answer of the original question; the dupe answer (criticized in a comment above) that was at +10 is now at +11 (as is my answer). The "duplicate" question is still marked as a duplicate, and there is still no sign that the answers from the two questions are at all likely to be merged. So what I identified as "hardly sporting" 15 months ago remains essentially as it was, but the countervailing "hardly sporting" issue raised by the moderator in the comments seems to have been remedied to (I hope) everyone's satisfaction. – Sven Yargs Feb 5 '16 at 8:41
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Results: Seven questions cited. Two were reopened immediately prompted by the OP's provocation. One, as soon as it was re-opened was immediately closed as being a duplicate, Is it correct to use an apostrophe to indicate something that belongs to an object? It appears that everyone agrees on this final decision.

The second and only question to be re-opened and stay open is Should there be a comma in “You again?”? However, the first answer that was posted before the question was put on hold, has remained in isolation.

Conclusion: November 27 1914 the community confirms its decision that all the questions cited, with the exception of the second example cited above, merited closure.

  • 4
    Nineteen fourteen? Look, if you have a time machine, you have to share. – Dan Bron Nov 27 '14 at 11:09
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    oops, :) Hehhehe But time moves so fast, you see! It seems like yesterday I was watching Blue Peter in black and white on the telly. – Mari-Lou A Nov 27 '14 at 11:12
  • You got it! Now I have to YouTube up Blue Peter – Dan Bron Nov 27 '14 at 11:14
  • @DanBron Classic episode of Blue Peter youtube.com/watch?v=N_Cj2TtFd_E – Mari-Lou A Nov 27 '14 at 11:19
  • Mari-Lou, that was hilarious! – Dan Bron Nov 27 '14 at 11:22
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    That "the community" endorses its own collective wrong decisions hardly surprises me, as it is the community's own confusion (or willful ignorance) about what constitutes GR that is my entire point to begin with. And I absolutely disagree that this question is a duplicate, but the software won't let a mortal user vote to reopen the same question twice. So by no means should you take the lack of further action on that question as any sort of endorsement of what was frankly a pretty underhanded move by the mod squad. – phenry Nov 27 '14 at 15:59
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    @phenry that's a fair point you raise, the impossibility to reopen the same question twice. I hadn't considered that factor. The same goes for when one retracts their close vote, let's say the OP edits the post after it has been re-opened, can a user vote to close it for a different reason? – Mari-Lou A Nov 27 '14 at 16:05
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    That "the community" endorses its own collective wrong decisions hardly surprises me, as it is the community's own confusion (or willful ignorance) about what constitutes GR" is a great line by the way. @phenry Is there a way to see how many members actually participate in these decisions, and the percentage of close votes per head? I'm thinking of one user who seems particularly ruthless (never turns up in meta though). – Mari-Lou A Nov 27 '14 at 16:09
  • @Mari-LouA - I don't know. It seems logical to me that a user with voting privileges should have the right to cast a second vote if the circumstances change so drastically. Unfortunately, I got a pretty poor reception when I raised the issue at MSE, so it looks like we're stuck with the system that's in place. – phenry Nov 27 '14 at 16:11
  • @Mari-LouA - We can see how some, but not all, votes are cast. See meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/5091/… for details. – phenry Nov 27 '14 at 16:13
  • @phenry Not so much that system, which I'm already familiar with. I'm talking about the total sum of users, and the percentage of GR; POB, Duplicate close-votes etc. It would be useful to know if, for example, there are only twenty users who regularly exercise their privileges. If it's the same users all the time then it's no wonder the number of GR close votes are a certain percentage. – Mari-Lou A Nov 27 '14 at 16:18
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Well, for the only one I voted to close on, Is it incorrect if the last word following a comma ends in a full stop and doesn't feature an “and” before the last word?:

I searched list comma "without conjunction" and in the description of the top result, from the Houston Independent School District,

ASYNDETON Commas used without conjunction to separate a series of words, thus emphasizing the parts equally: instead of X, Y, and Z... the writer uses X,Y,Z.... see polysyndeton

And that was good enough for me. If I didn't trust the Houston ISD or the College Board (it's from an AP English Literature terminology sheet), surely I could search for asyndeton and get loads of authoritative results from rhetoric- and literature-oriented sites as well as dictionaries.

I accept that not everyone spends as much time on Google as I do and has not honed their search-fu to the same degree. But we're talking about a fraction of a second here, not even 5 minutes of searching.

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    Any search that requires the use of advanced search operators is, by definition, advanced--and is therefore insufficient to establish a question as GR. (Moreover, even people who know the quote operator are likely to search for "without a conjunction" instead, which does not lead to that site.) And of course that site could disappear from the Internet at any time, which is one reason why Google is not general reference. – phenry Nov 17 '14 at 22:07
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    Google isn't the reference, the College Board is the reference, and even if you didn't turn up that link in a tenth of a second, I'm certain you could find a similar one within ten minutes. I can't speak to the other questions, but I stand by my closevote here. – choster Nov 17 '14 at 22:22
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    Actually, I just did about a dozen different queries that I thought might work and found nothing. And the link goes to a list of terms used in literary analysis, which provides no information about whether the use of a given literary device would be considered "correct" in more prosaic contexts. And it doesn't say it's from the College Board and there's no reason to believe that it is (individual schools often create their own AP study materials). And I've never even heard of asyndeton, which suggests to me as a reviewer to conclude that the question probably isn't GR. – phenry Nov 17 '14 at 22:35
  • @phenry If your point is that the close reason is problematic, I just wrote an answer agreeing on the Google question. – curiousdannii Nov 17 '14 at 23:23
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    Explain to me how a random pdf found on a random school district's website is a general reference source. Remember, to qualify, the source needs to be designed to answer that type of question, and it must be generally available/findable. – Marthaª Nov 18 '14 at 3:25
  • @Marthaª the "random pdf" mentions a "technical term", which in turn could be easily verified against one or multiple accepted general references. A google search is not just searching once... – Vogel612 Nov 19 '14 at 8:14
  • @Marthaª I have to accept a school's documentation as General Reference (or, if you prefer, a specific reference.) These are created by experts or, at least, established standards for a notable environment. If a .pdf is what the standard is for being taught, it's either correct or horribly wrong, but it is the standard by which the correct answer is judged for those who follow that standard. If a school is using this to instruct, it has the force of being correct enough to reference. (Yes, even if it's incorrect. But that's a different story.) – SrJoven Nov 21 '14 at 20:16
  • Even if Google is not general reference, I would expect a cursory check to have been performed for the request, because it's the first thing I'll do to answer. – SrJoven Nov 21 '14 at 20:19
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    @SrJoven: The "general" in GR means "commonly-available", as the full text of the close reason makes clear. A random pdf on a random school's random website is NOT commonly available. – Marthaª Nov 21 '14 at 22:29
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    @Marthaª In which case, is OED GR? No. But it would hold the answer. – SrJoven Nov 22 '14 at 0:08
  • @SrJoven, are you saying that you want to be able to close any question that can be answered by looking it up in the Oxford English Dictionary? (I hope I am misunderstanding your comment.) – JPmiaou Nov 22 '14 at 0:46
  • @JPmiaou No? Yes? Sure. I mean, it's a dictionary, right? And on the other hand, there are these things called Libraries and Librarians which have their own definitions of General Reference. There's this whole stack of physical entities called books in a section called "Reference" which, you know, if you walked up to these so-called "Librarians" would take great pains to tell you where to look in these "books". – SrJoven Nov 22 '14 at 3:04
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    @SrJoven, I guess you just have a very, very different idea about what this site is for and how it should work. I'm not sure it serves any purpose whatsoever in your view, and I don't know why you're here, but it's a free internet (for now)... – JPmiaou Nov 24 '14 at 3:47
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    @JPmiaou Consider what I posted to be the antithesis of the gist of this meta question. That is to say, the majority of questions are posted in showmetehcodez hit and run fashion, with little effort being shown to explain how even a simple web search could assist/isn't sufficient before asking experts. The OQ here says, "why should we expect that? The search results are likely wrong!" Which, fine. Tell us that you're confused by the results. I don't wish to argue the purpose of this site. Just another view different from this meta OQ. – SrJoven Nov 24 '14 at 14:00
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    "There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. ... You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after." -- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit – Matt Gutting Nov 26 '14 at 16:06

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