Despite the apparent consensus (or lack of dissension) on the “Find in dictionary” topic here, I still regularly see questions on EL&U that I don't think are appropriate for the site, because they could simply be answered by someone checking an online dictionary. I'll give some recent examples:

Where should we draw the line in order to avoid this forum to become an aggregator of other online resources? We could have a standard template for closing questions where it's clear that the author hasn't done any amount of personal research at all (research being “Google it” or “look it in any online dictionary”)? Moreover, what's the community's opinion on the three questions above?


6 Answers 6




specifically some new close reason proposals:

not sufficiently interesting: this question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference site with no additional explanation necessary.

or the kinder, gentler edit:

general reference: this question is too basic; the answer is indexed in any number of general internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information.

  • 6
    I quite like the general reference reason for closing. I strongly support that.
    – F'x
    Commented Jan 30, 2011 at 10:10
  • 8
    That begs the actual question of where we draw the line. Every question is trivial if you know the answer to it, or where to look. To take an undeniably awesome answer by an undeniably respected user as an example, this could be written by anyone who can type americancorpus.org in his browser's address bar. So what? And on a more general note, I always thought that we want to be the ultimate resource; we want to be that first Google result. Has that changed? When? Why?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 30, 2011 at 13:31
  • @RegDwight: let's just say, if the question can be answered satisfactorily by quoting a few words from a dictionary (which is somewhat true of all 3 questions I quoted), then I fear the site will turn into imtoolazytoopenadictionarysoitypedthewordhere.com
    – F'x
    Commented Jan 30, 2011 at 16:31
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    I hadn't considered the "General Reference" close reason for this site, but it sounds like a good idea. It would be useful for "What does <word> mean?" but I would be cautious about applying it to "What does this <idiomatic expression> mean?" I find those useful because the author's question can be answered in the context of the specific problem they are having... which is way more useful than trying to look it up on Google. Commented Jan 30, 2011 at 17:29
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    I remember the first time the devil in me tried to answer a question on SO with a link using "Let Me Google That For You" ... the better angels of the site mechanics wouldn't let me use the LMGTFY URL, and after thinking about it I decided that was a good thing.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 2:52
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    @Robusto: my point exactly. LMGTFY links are generally considered bad manners, and the consensus on MSO seems to be that they must be flagged aggressively and deleted with extreme prejudice. But I fail to see how the "this question is too basic" is different in spirit from an LMGTFY link. To me, it's not only just as offensive to the OP, but also much less helpful. The LMGTFY link basically says, "are you st00pid or what, go look at the Google results, here's a link for your convenience"; the "too basic" close reason basically says, "are you st00pid or what, go look somewhere else, period".
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 8:55
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    @regdwight There Is Such a Thing as a Stupid Question. And the "general reference" one is pretty harmless. Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 9:09

Out of the three questions you list, I actually regard two as unanswered as of right now.

  • The currently accepted answer on the tickety-boo question is incomplete. It presents one possible theory as a fact. And yes, there is a comment saying "A quick Google search turned up this", but if you actually follow that link, it says "we can’t be sure what its origin is. It could combine ABC with DEF or it could come from XYZ".
  • The accepted answer (mine) on the à la mode question is incomplete as well. It only answers one half of the question rather poorly (by linking to three places, which all say slightly different things), and doesn't address the second half of the question at all. It even openly states just that: "I remember reading about the history of this expression just a month ago or so, but for the life of me I don't seem to be able to find the link right now, so I can only answer one half of your question."

If you can find that link, please post it. I will be extremely happy to upvote you. If you really think that both these questions "could simply be answered by someone checking an online dictionary", and that "the answer is indexed in any number of general internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information", then please do not hesitate to point to those general Internet resources, as I am struggling to find one.

Now, this all is not to say that I don't appreciate your general sentiment at all. And as to the rear-admiral question, sure, I will give you that one. I will not pretend that it took me more than 13 minutes of browsing Wikipedia to compose that answer, it simply didn't. But as to the other two examples, I'm really not sure why you picked those.

  • I give you that the “à la mode” question was wrongly included in the list. Regarding “tickety-boo”, many dictionaries point to the same Hindi etymology, so I think it's a trivial answer. If the question had been, “I know the standard etymology for tickety-boo but I'm not convinced, are there alternative proposals?”, for example, that would make it perfectly suitable to me. As is, I think it's rather poor.
    – F'x
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 19:46
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    I see. Yeah, that makes sense. Anyhow, I suppose we'll have to wait until the "general reference" close reason actually gets implemented and see how it works out in practice.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Feb 1, 2011 at 8:41

This is a difficult question indeed. On the one hand, "what does word x mean?" questions can be (and are often) answered by a quick copy-paste from a dictionary. Those questions annoy me and I usually skip them. On the other hand, if we want this to become the #1 Google hit on any language question, we should be looking at the answers rather than the question.

A good answer can be given to a stupid question, because it can provide information that pertains to the word in question but is not required to answer it.

As RegDwight has shown, all kinds of extra information can be given, such as historical graphs, etymology, and regional differences, which can turn the answer into a mixture of essay and encyclopedia article. I think we want this.

In addition, it is possible that the OP read the dictionary article, but wanted some more information, a more elaborate definition, some information on usage, etc. Even if he did not state this wish, it may very well be that he was really looking for something like that.

Lastly, what about questions that can be answered by a simple Wikipedia quote? I have done so several times. Perhaps some people are helped by the interpretations of someone more experienced than they in a certain field.

Even so, I'm not totally against closing such questions if that is what most of us want—as long as we are a bit careful. And what if the question in question has received an elaborate, excellent answer? Should we then not let it be, even though it was stupid in the first place?


Speaking as the perperator of one of the above questions, I would like to say that I did perform a search for the term involved, but found nothing that answered the question. This may be a reflection of my search technique, but doesn't appear to me to invalidate the question.

Perhaps we could work on a set of references which questioners could be referred to before posting on the main site, if such questions are thought to be unnecessarily burdensome.


There is now a new experimental close reason, as previously discussed:

general reference

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

Give that a try; we're evaluating the results. Also refer to the blog post on the topic with its handy chart:



I disagree that Origin of the meaning of "à la mode" is a question that would not fit EL&U. A dictionary would report the origin of the word, but it is not probable that it will describe why that word has a specific meaning in Modern English.

I would agree that a question like Is "fit" an adjective or a noun? where the OP only wants to know if fit is an adjective could be answered by looking at the dictionary. If the OP wants to know if effectively the word is used as adjective nowadays, then the question would fit on EL&U. As a matter of fact I asked a question about describing the as adjective, and the answer I have got don't say the same thing I found on the dictionary, which in fact reports the and a to be adjectives.

The question reported in this thread seems similar to Should we accept questions that are too easy? A question is easy or not depending from who reads the question; clearly, a question about the pronunciation of a word seems easy for who speaks English as first language, in the same way it's easy for me to say which is the Italian article used with eco, gatto, dita, and gnocco. Who is not a native speaker (I am sure most of the questions are asked by users who don't speak English as first language) can be confused from what he read, or he doesn't give the correct interpretation to what he read and needs a second opinion.

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