Having read Josh61’s considerations about “Thanks for not laughing at my question”, I stopped to ponder. There are days, and I think you all agree, when only 10 to 20% of the questions we get deserve an answer. Most of them are off-topic, be it because they are unclear, poorly formulated, very elementary for EL&U, or they simply have no answer (“Is there a word for seeing your neighbor in town and not being able to talk to him?” as someone here posted as a pertinent example of a lousy question).

Couldn’t the mods or “the powers that be” do something about this? Shouldn’t the “Don’t ask about…” instruction be more emphatic, clearer and, perhaps in bold type? A clearer reference to ELL as the appropriate site for beginners would also help but I don't see it there. Also, I believe some “first-timers” never even take the time to read the instructions. Wouldn’t it, then, be the case that we had these instructions repeated on the “ask your question” page? Something like “WE DON’T ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT…”

While I realize that it is frustrating for newcomers looking for an answer to have their questions closed, it is also frustrating for those of us who care about this site to see that the latest ten or fifteen questions shouldn’t be here at all and all we have to do is close-vote or direct the new user to ELL. All this when most of us were expecting to find questions of a better caliber. I'm not sure everyone agrees but I believe it's much better for EL&U to receive five good questions a day than fifty questions which nobody cares to answer.

Is there anything we can do? If we don't, we will have to work much harder to deal with the review queue.

  • 3
    This is a community; the mods aren't responsible for everyone who comes along and posts a bad question. Downvote, close, delete, repeat. Some variation of this post is probably in meta from it's private beta days. :-) In a week, it will have been one year since my similar post about single word requests. I can empathize, though. Commented May 2, 2015 at 0:10
  • @medica I understand this is a community and that we are supposed to take care of it according to written or even "non-written but agreed upon" rules. I don't mean the mods are responsible for bad questions or answers but I believe they are the only ones, and perhaps "the powers that be", who might change instructions or add something on the welcome page. We can't do anything about that.
    – Centaurus
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 0:18
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    Moderators can change the top three sections of the Tour -- the site description, the example question and the dos/don'ts. The "How to Ask" box presented for a new Question is CM-only, and has only recently been adjusted to mention research and ELL. One issue is that proofreading questions are easy to answer. Perhaps we should just delete them and their answers?
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 0:24
  • 3
    I still think the best defence against poor questions would be to point "English.SE" to ELL, and have a new URL for ELU. "There must be a Stack about English, right?"
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 0:26
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    Hmm... In that case, might I suggest a that you formulate a concrete proposal that can be posted in Meta, discussed, and voted upon? Otherwise, this is a bit like shaking your fist at the tide coming in. Commented May 2, 2015 at 0:28
  • @AndrewLeach - downvote and delete their answers? Is that Kosher? Commented May 2, 2015 at 0:30
  • 1
    @medica Deletion of blatantly off-topic questions was merely a Musing. An absence of "is this correct?" questions on the front page, and proofreading in general, might be beneficial.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 0:34
  • 1
    @medica meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/4696/18696
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 0:36
  • @AndrewLeach - I upvoted that a year ago. Can you remind me why it wasn't done? :-/ But you have given me hope. Commented May 2, 2015 at 0:59
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/4696/18696 sounds like a good idea. I'm sure quite a few basic questions we've been closing would be asked at ELL.
    – Centaurus
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 1:11
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    Newbie to Earth Control here... Centaurus made me laugh with his word for seeing a neighbour in town and not being able to talk to him, because I have been mulling over reductio-ad-absurdum questions powered by local colour: "Is there a single word for killing two mosquitoes against my wall map of the country while listening to Bach?" No, it has to be two mosquitoes, not one, it has to be on the wall map, and it has to be Bach! Or, what is the single word for when a mouse running one way collides with an African giant cockroach running the other way? Spiders need not apply.
    – David Pugh
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 9:13
  • 3
    @DavidPugh When I stop laughing I will write something.........
    – Centaurus
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 17:01
  • Maybe we should request that the site be deleted ;) Commented May 3, 2015 at 9:30
  • 1
    Make the site invisible to Google, only make it visible to members of Stack Exchange.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 13:20
  • 3
    Well, FWIW I found the site by Googling. I had forgotten the name of the highest "hikeable" mountain in the Alps, which once I knew. I googled to that effect and came to SE Travel as top hit, where a post reminded me that it is the Barrhorn (I didn't need to ask a Question). The same thread asked about Zermatt stuff that I could easily answer (from recent personal experience, I don't look up stuff that people can look up for themselves). I was rewarded with rep, and got hooked. Then I came to ELL as being one of the few things I am good for.
    – David Pugh
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 15:49

3 Answers 3


I once made a suggestion, and posted it on meta. It garnered a few upvotes but nothing changed. So I'll propose that same suggestion again. (Does that make any sense?)

Declutter EL&U's "Newest" Page

Rereading it, I sound mightily pissed off. Or perhaps today I am because recently I have seen newcomers who post questions that could have been answered, or have been improved upon if they had looked up the definitions in a DICTIONARY.

  1. https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/244768/what-is-demeanor-and-how-is-it-measured

    Please define "demeanor" and discuss how it is measured.

  2. What does "plough" mean in this context (“they would plough you”)?

The following excerpt has been taken from The Time Machine by H.G.Wells:

‘One might get one’s Greek from the very lips of Homer and Plato,’ the Very Young Man thought. ‘In which case they would certainly plough you for the Little-go. The German scholars have improved Greek so much.’

What does 'plough' mean here?

  1. What is the meaning of "tank" in this sentence?

I think that to tank means to become strong, huge in height and weight. But I can't place the same meaning in this context:

When the economy tanks as it did in the recent recession, How does the economy become stronger in a recession ?

Amazingly, that last question earned three upvotes. This is nothing short of crazy voting.

Questions 1 and 3 are currently on hold.


Question 2 has received a very good answer, which makes me very pleased for the OP, but that doesn't mean it is a ‘good question’. If the OP had shared his research, and explained why he was confused that would have made the question more interesting for users.

  • 1
    I +1'd the original and I'm +1'ing this re-proposal. We gotta do something. Maybe I should add my dumb comment on the demeanor question to our nascent Repository of Polite Responses? ;)
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 6:50
  • 2
    @DanBron I was going to suggest the same thing!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 6:59
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    @DanBron want to make a repository of snarky responses? just for fun?
    – Erich
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 12:34
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    @erich No way: I prefer my snark original.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 12:39
  • @DanBron no, for posterity.
    – Erich
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 12:47
  • @erich Oh! That could be fun!
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 12:50

One approach to reducing the flow of subpar questions from non-native speakers of English might be for the 'Powers that Be' to use IP data to analyse the national origins of the traffic flowing to ELU (and ELL, for that matter), and then to post links to FAQs that correspond to the main language(s) spoken in those countries. One of the primary aims of these FAQs would be to clarify what type of question is best suited to which forum.

My reasoning is that the eye of a native speaker of, say, Russian, will tend to be caught by a link written in Russian (which would only have to express the concept "FAQs in Russian"), and its owner would then be reasonably likely to read that FAQ before deciding where (or even if) to post his or her question.

Of course, there are far too many living languages in existence for it to be practical to cater for them all in this manner. But my unverified educated guess is that FAQs written in Arabic, Bengali, German, Hindi, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian and Spanish would find readers among a good proportion of non-native speakers of English who visit the ELL and ELU sites. (Some tweaks would no doubt have to be made to that list to reflect the actual demographic characteristics of site visitors.)

I'd imagine that compiling relevant FAQs in a dozen or so other languages that describe at least the most important posting criteria should be doable.

  • It's a good idea, but how can the "Powers that Be" receive it as a suggestion? Ah, just "en passant", you forgot to mention the French language. :)
    – Centaurus
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 16:58
  • 1
    @Centaurus - I was going by Wikipedia's ranking of languages by the number of speakers, which indicates there are at least half a dozen other languages ahead of French that aren't included among my suggestions. But it is of course possible that it should be included if IP analysis indicates a significantly greater proportion of visitors to the site from French-speaking countries than the Wikipedia ranking of # of speakers suggests. As for attracting the notice of the 'Powers that Be', the next step might be for the moderators to make a formal proposal, followed up by crowd-sourced translations
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 20:49
  • It's really about "learner" vs. "usage" imho. It may be hard to grasp for a native speaker, but "learner" must be one of the most non-idiomatic word I have ever encountered in my native language (apprenant); it's a technical word that means nothing elsewhere. Many will think it means early beginner/student; so if they don't assess themselves as either they go to ELU because they want to "use" the language. Imho, if ELU had "advanced" in it, many newcomers would think twice before asking a Q. Also, people who answer ELL level Qs on EL&U; I suggest a close/hold status removes gained rep. Thanks.
    – user98955
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 16:16
  • @Amphiteóth someone made a similar suggestion! Has anyone thought about changing the name of this site?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 19:51
  • 1
    and this one too Renaming ELU to EnglishOverflow The question produced some interesting answers.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 19:54
  • @Mari-LouA Thank you, I see. The solution Andrew L. put forward (default routing) takes care of it all without having to figure out the "why" of this. But I do believe the naming scheme has an impact. I actually asked two Qs on the word "learner"; it's quite interesting. Thanks.
    – user98955
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 22:30

Of course, the owners are of a different opinion! :D We might prefer five questions a day, but they would sure as hell prefer 50! It's the Internet, so, whatever floats your traffic! :)

Plus, no one would like to see frowning red lines saying, "We don't do this, we won't accept that, etc."

Most people have short attention spans and are just looking for a quick answer in a relevantly-titled forum. A lot of the traffic flow is owed to these individuals. Make it too hard for them, and they'll leave for another website. Suggest something to entice, rather than deter, and the supermods will more likely listen.

  • 1
    'A lot of the traffic flow is owed to these individuals'. But should individuals not bothering to obey or read the rules be allowed on the roads? Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 16:39
  • Mods are just community members with extra responsibilities, not owners of any kind. They have the same interest in traffic as regular members. As for the owners, they built this place to reduce trash content, so that the valuable content wouldn’t be buried and it would remain a valuable destination for readers. They want more reader traffic, but not by getting more poor content. Reader traffic is an order of magnitude more than poster traffic. As contrary as it seems at first, more poor content would only hurt overall traffic.
    – Robin
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 17:25
  • Why on earth would anyone downvote this?! It's just the reality on the ground! I've stated what is rather than what should be!
    – Apollonian
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 18:20

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