I was just reading this question:

Why is it "behead" and not "dehead"?

And it reminded me of a question I asked a while back:

Why does the word delight have positive connotations?

I'm not sure why my question was closed as off-topic, and the other one I've quoted is accepted. Can you please help me to understand this?

As a reference point, I come from Stack Overflow where on topic questions are warmly received when an answer is able to be found elsewhere. It's only when a question already has an answer to be found on Stack Overflow itself that the question is unacceptable for reasons of pre-existing answers.

I did use an online dictionary first, and it was quite insulting to be told "just look it up in a dictionary" because such a lookup didn't answer my question. If it was so obviously answerable I wouldn't have asked.

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    It was closed because the entire answer is at hand in the etymology provided by any good dictionary; the other question requires more detailed knowledge which a simple dictionary lookup will not provide. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 2:50
  • @StoneyB Why are you answering as a comment? Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 2:54
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    Because I don't have time to write a dissertation on the canons of closure. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 3:35
  • Oi, you're one of those people. I get it now. And I disagree with it more. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 3:45
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    This is not an answer as to why your question was put on hold and then closed, but a piece of advice. Take it or leave it :) If you really believe your question has merit, and you can include your research (just to prove to others that you have spent longer than one minute thinking about it) then edit your post. Posts which were unfairly closed have been reopened by public demand, and poorly presented questions have been improved/edited considerably and then reopened. If your heart is in it, then defend your post and "show" why it's a valid question!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 7:14

3 Answers 3


Here is another question to ponder: Since the prefix de- in English often conveys the same sense of negation as the prefix un- does, we might expect the verb deliberate to mean "enslave"; but instead it means "to think about or discuss ideas or issues carefully." Why?

If you generalized from your question about delight and my question about deliberate, you might get to a pretty interesting question about the role that de- plays in the Latin source words delicere and deliberare. Is de- functioning in those words the way freestanding de does in Spanish and French—that is, to convey the meaning "of"?

I would not have closed your question, but I can understand the inclination others may have had to put it in on hold in hopes of eliciting a clearer formulation of a broader question about the nature and source of de- in a nonnegating sense in some English words. The behead/dehead question that you cite is likewise largely a question about a somewhat out-of-the-ordinary sense of a prefix (be-), but in that case framed as a question about why the be- prefix was used instead of the de- prefix.

If you went back to your closed question and reworked it to indicate what you already know about the etymology of delight, and specified that you're interested in learning why the de- syllable in delight doesn't have a negating sense (perhaps by asking what the de- means in the following etymological note on delight from Merriam-Webster: "fr. L delectare, freq. of delicere to allure, fr. de- + lecere to allure"), I think you might well draw the five votes necessary to reopen the question.

There's no sugarcoating the fact that having a question closed or a question or answer downvoted on EL&U is very disappointing—especially for a newcomer. But the people who close or downvote aren't nearly as hostile as they may seem at such moments. Often a seemingly minor adjustment in your handling of the question or answer will eliminate the defect that others thought it had.

In your original question about delight, you come across as a good-humored guy interested (in an off-handed way) in a peculiarity you noticed in a common English word. That's a good start; and I think that if you added a bit more information about what you found out about the word on your own and what still puzzles you about the word, you'd have a perfectly acceptable question.

Above all, I urge you not to retreat into a defensive attitude toward your question and a pugnacious attitude toward other EL&U users' response to it. I've found that, as a group, the people who participate at EL&U are remarkably polite, open-minded, and enthusiastic. They love language and take questions about it seriously; and some of them are extremely well-informed.

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    I take offence at people telling me the answer is obvious to anyone who reads a dictionary when to me the answer was not obvious at all. It comes across as being told that I'm stupid - as the implication is that anyone with any sense would have the answer without needing to ask. I'm not going to feel bad about being defensive in that situation, though I agree that it's not ideal. I appreciate your perspective. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 22:10

Whenever a question I've voted to close pops up here, I feel the need to explain my vote. I hope it helps. I also hope it's not insulting.

With a small amount of research, you could have found that delight never had anything to do with light, so de-light isn't really applicable. Hence Closed.

Delight is a recent spelling of a much older word, delite, crossing over from delite to delight in the 16c. when other "-ight" words became prominent: light, flight, and others.

It comes from Latin, (intensive pref) + lectāre (to entice) so, delectare meant to entice a lot. We get words like Old French delectable, from Latin delectabilis "delightful"; also delectably, delicious, and others. If any of those carry a negative connotation, feel free to jump in (that's basically what your question asks).

All this could have been found in one of our top recommended sources, etymology online (or etymonline). The recommendation to look in etymonline come from this post: What are your favorite English language tools?.

If I can do this in about 1 minute, so can you! What if every body asked us a question on one of the millions of words which could easily be found in a decent source? We would be slaves if we had to answer them all, and I don't like being a slave to someone who can't even find a rudimentary explanation. If someone, however, makes an effort, I up vote their question and sometimes answer, but I don't close (unless it has another problem, which can be found in out site tour and help section).

Why couldn't I give all this as an answer? Takes too long. I'd rather answer better questions.

In my real life, people ask me question after question after question, and I am truly happy to answer, because the answers aren't readily available. I'm pretty much a professional question answerer. (Aren't most of us to one extent or another?)

This is fun, but it's not my real life. We have to prevent user burnout by screening the questions.

The number of words in the English language is: 1,025,109.8. This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014. That represents a lot of answers.

  • What's 0.8 of a word?
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 14:00
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    @KitFox - I wondered that too. Maybe they included wha? Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 15:19
  • "Delight is a recent spelling of a much older word, delite, crossing over from delite to delight in the 16c. when other "-ight" words became prominent: light, flight, and others." -- And when I look up "lite" on Online Etymology, it says it's an alternate spelling to "light" which would seem to invalidate your case here. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 16:52
  • Also, I find it hard to believe that the only meaning ascribed to words is that which is found through etymology. Our language is alive, and so referring to where it came from over many steps to find what "delectare" meant hundreds of years ago can only be a partial answer to my question. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 16:59
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    @MichaelGazonda - I'm not a great fan of debating in comments. Anyone can find much to object to. The answer is simply the reason I close voted. If it's not helpful to you, you can and should down vote it. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 17:19

I started writing this as a comment, following your comment on Sven's answer, but it got too big to be a comment.

I am using my time to respond, in order to help future readers who may wander by. This is my perspective as a user of modest rep on multiple SE sites.

Firstly, the close reason does not say the answer is obvious:

Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic.

(My emphasis)

I see two sides here. I have had your experience (not on EL&U). If I was really honest with myself, I could see that I had just blasted off a question without doing proper research. Like you I was a little bent out of shape about it. But if I saw your question on the review queue I would vote to close it also - because it is answerable with a little online research. One dictionary may not answer the question, but there are many dictionaries. At least one of them explains the de prefix. One could research that further. And produce a really strong question that showed that research and attracted strong answers.

And there is the key - showing your research and why it doesn't answer the question.

It certainly does take effort to write a good question. But you don't need an awesome question to avoid closure, just to show some effort.

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    One should also note that the different SE communities manage their own community themselves. Or not. It can take a while to acclimatize to how each community works. Many questions on SO fail the basic research test also.
    – user63230
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 1:04

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