The issue comes up in the case of The meaning of the American idiom "pot calling the kettle black" which has just been placed on hold as being off-topic because the body of the question focuses on a series of survey-type questions.

Three things are noteworthy about this question. First, it is the only question on EL&U that specifically asks (in the title, anyway) about the meaning of the idiomatic phrase "the pot calling the kettle black." The closest thing to a similar question that I could find is "Pot calling the kettle black" ... but what if the kettle isn't black (figuratively speaking)?—but in that case the question is specifically about how to describe a situation where a (black) pot is calling a (not black) kettle black.

Second, the now-on-hold question was asked on September 15, 2013, which means that it has been a question in good standing (and has been attracting answers) on EL&U for more than 14 months.

Third, all five of the nondeleted answers to the question address only the question "What is the meaning of the American idiom 'pot calling the kettle black'?" That is, the answers address what appears to be a legitimate question about meaning posed in the title of the question, and ignore the (arguably off-topic) quasi-survey questions in the body of the question.

My questions are (1) Is it legitimate for an editor in this case to delete the entire series of survey-style questions in the body of the OP's question, and replace it with a restatement of the question posed in the title? (2) Or should we wait and see whether the OP will undertake some sort of major edit of the body of the question in hopes of restoring it to good standing—and if the OP fails to do so, should we consider this question dead and start over with a question that asks very nearly the same thing in the title but also (in the body of the question) avoids any attempt to poll readers, and perhaps shows some level of initial research into the answer?

On a more general level, I would like to know how much editing is too much in situations like this one, and also how much interest there is in preserving worthwhile answers to poorly framed questions like the OP's by rewriting the body of a question, as opposed to simply bagging the flawed question and starting over.

UPDATE (January 6, 2015):

Here is what I as thinking of putting in place of the OP's original question text, while preserving the wording that the OP used in the original question title:

We commonly hear the idiom "That's like the pot calling the kettle black" when, for example, a politician in one party criticizes a politician in an opposing party for some dubious action or behavior or comment. But how are we to understand this idiom?

Is the crucial implicit idea here that the pot is just as black as the kettle is? If so, what is the nature of the "blackness" that both of them possess? And what's wrong with a black pot calling a black kettle black, anyway? Also, does the idiom have a racial element? And when did the idiom arise in English?

In my view, the answers posted beneath the now-close question address the questions asked in my revision, and ignore the laundry list of questionnaire-like queries asked in the body of the original question. Consequently, it seems possible to preserve the various answers already given, instead of starting over with a new question that asks about the same things that the old answers answer.

But is that worth doing? I think Jon Hanna's view that everyone might be better off to walk away from the closed question and start over with a new one ought to be taken seriously. The issue, to me, is whether we want to make an effort to preserve the old answers or not.

At this point I'm not at all sure how users of this site feel in general about performing major surgery on a bad question to preserve interesting answers versus starting afresh. I also still don't know whether the old answers will eventually vaporize if the old question remains closed, or live on in some visible limbo where closed questions and answers wander the twilit landscape eternally.

  • The deletion of questions 2-4 might, along with the rewording of No 1 and 5, make the question on topic. But you'd still need five users to reopen the question. The OP was last "seen" November 16 so it's possible that he could come back to edit his post, but I personally wouldn't place any bets. Before editing, you'd need to know the exact motivation for putting the question on hold in the first place.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 9, 2014 at 6:24
  • 1
    At this point I'd say go for it. No one's said anything against editing that question. When the user returns he can always rollback to the previous version.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 11, 2014 at 8:27
  • Since I posted this question only two days ago, and since I would also like to receive some more-general advice about how much editing is too much, I intend to wait a full week before attempting a total rebuilding of the body of the OP's pot/kettle question. In any event, I think that the core question about the meaning of the phrase is worth asking—and may not yield as obvious an answer as one might expect.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 12, 2014 at 7:06
  • I've left a comment on the OP's question directing him to Meta.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 13, 2014 at 6:26
  • So... when are you going to edit this question? Or shall I do the honnours? :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2015 at 7:08
  • Jon Hanna's answer got me thinking that perhaps it might be better to start over, after all. The annoying thing to me about the closure in the first place was that I had sought out a well-established question dedicated to the pot/kettle aphorism where I could post my thoughts about that aphorism—and when I found one that was almost exactly six months old and seemed to be in good standing, I thought it fit the bill. Grrr. On the other hand, my question here hasn't elicited much support for the idea of radically revising the ba question as opposed to starting over—so now I'm stuck in neutral.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 7, 2015 at 7:36
  • I dunno 9 upvotes seems to me a positive response and Jon's answer received 4 downvotes, and only 3 upvotes. Up to you... I guess. But on the other hand, what have you got to lose?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2015 at 7:40
  • @Mari-LouA: I've updated my posting here to indicate the wording that I would use to supplant the OP's original wording. Perhaps seeing my proposed changes to the original wording will make it easier for site users to evaluate the alternatives.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 7, 2015 at 8:39
  • I like your revision but it is asking a new question. There was no mention of racial overtones in the OP's post, although the idiom does kinda scream about it. My edit is less radical, if users approve of your modifications I'm all for it :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2015 at 8:44

2 Answers 2


Sorry, I edited the OP's post thinking Sven Yargs would answer a new question on EL&U. If Sven disagrees with my edits, I invite him to modify the post as he sees fit. I have tried to retain the essence of the OP's question as much as possible, in the attempt to make it on topic, and respect the answers that have already been posted.

I believe the reason for its closure has been nullified: it no longer resembles an online survey, the question includes different aspects but they are all connected to the English language, it now clearly asks about usage. As a result, I see no reason why it should remain closed.

If users or mods disagree, can they please explain why.

  • You've done a nice job of preserving the pieces of the OP's question that are savable. My proposed approach was much more along the lines of raze the old question and rebuild on its ruins. I am happy to go forward with your modifications, however.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 7, 2015 at 8:48
  • @SvenYargs I think, if the question is not reopened after this THIRD attempt, you should go ahead post a new question, wait a day (if no one votes to close it as a duplicate), and then post your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 30, 2017 at 9:02

That question (or well, that it wasn't a question is part of the problem) is a total mess, and closed.

If you've an idea for how part of it could be turned into a good question, then since such a question would be considerably different to the original, why not just ask a new question?

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