I think one way to massively improve this site would be to start a new Stack Exchange site called something like English Phrase Finder or Word finder or something like that where single word requests, word choices and phrase requests could be answered along with crossword puzzle solutions and the rest. I'm sure it would be a very successful site, perhaps more so than EL&U, and would grow very rapidly. EL&U could then have a migration route for these types of question, and the quality of this site would also improve significantly.

We could also help that site out by migrating thousands of questions from here to over there to propagate it and give it a helping hand with its start up.

What is your opinion? Do we want to do this and if so, how should we set about doing it?

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    All new suggestions start out at Area 51. This proposal would certainly have a good definition and we can demonstrate a number of questions which would fit; and such questions could be made off-topic on ELU. It could work.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 12:01
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    It could be called Word Recommendations to go along with Software Recommendations and Hardware Recommendations? Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 12:34
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    How could that "save" EL&U?
    – user66974
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 12:38
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    @Josh61 SWR tend to be poorly worded, old users have to remind OPs to provide context, and a sentence showing how the word would be used. A lot of members on EL&U hate SWRs, it has to be said, and feel that the site is more akin to a crossword puzzle than a language one. Moreover, SWR are sometimes fun brain teasers, but more often than not just a waste of space and time. You could call the new site ScrabEL (English Language)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:25
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    ELL hasn't been such a great success, as I'm sure the original users who suggested its creation hoped for, I think a new site similar to the one you suggested will have even less success. You need regular users to keep a site alive, and I don't see why newcomers/users would hang around once their question has been answered.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:28
  • @Mari-LouA - I am clearly not one of those who hate SWR, For me it is just fun.
    – user66974
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:30
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    @Josh61 I think that SWRs are fun. It's just they drown out all the linguistics stuff! In would probably visit that site myself, but it would be nice to encourage more of the real linguisticy stuff. Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:32
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    @Mari-LouA I think ELL is doing ok. It's still growing. Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:32
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    @Josh61 yes, I agree but not everyone likes fun on EL&U. And you have to admit some SWR are plain bad, but the thing is that anyone can answer. You don't have to be an expert to suggest an answer, and you don't need expert knowledge to recognize a good question or upvote a good answer (see the HOT network). Everyone can join in. Take SWR away from EL&U and you might be looking at a semi-deserted EL&U, these are my initial impressions. I would need more time to think this through.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:33
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    ELL is functional, but whenever I look at the number of views their questions attract, my heart sinks a little. The figures are quite depressing.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:37
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    But, I've said that before, if new users often bring lower quality questions, why aren't experienced users more active on the question side?
    – user66974
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 13:38
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    Do the users who want to upgrade ELU want a site that resembles the Linguistics site (LSE)? LSE is a fine site for students of linguistics, but it is a site to which people who are not serious students of linguistics have almost nothing to contribute.
    – ab2
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 16:33
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    @Mitch I don't necessarily agree with you. I felt some experienced users would feel a bit ashamed to ask a question, but I ask questions even though I know the answer. Posting a question doesn't necessarily mean you don't know the answer. You can post your own answer, right? It is all about leading by example.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 18:25
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    @Rathony Sure, but that's not natural. If done deliberately it looks really weird, even if well intentioned. And then it still takes a decidedly concerted effort.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 18:27
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    @Mari-LouA: I think you're very wrong in saying "ELL hasn't been such a great success". Sure, some of us might have hoped ELL would drain off more of the stuff we don't want on ELU (which it obviously hasn't) but in my opinion the site works very well for its target user base. There's no good reason to assess the value of other sites in terms of how much they "benefit" existing sites. Though in principle I think it would be better for ELU if we could migrate all SWR questions to a different site (just not ELL, please! :) Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 20:55

5 Answers 5


I support Araucaria's suggestion, albeit with some degree of uneasiness. To me the most important aspect of English Language & Usage as a resource is that it provides searchable, archived answers to language and usage questions that visitors other than the original poster may find valuable.

Single-word requests, phrase requests, and idiom requests all involve a questioner's posting a definition and asking for the term that best conveys that meaning, or providing a sentence with a blank in it and asking for an appropriate word or phrase to complete the sentence. For the poster, the answers are undoubtedly useful, and for answerers the questions resemble name-that-word vocabulary quizzes or trivia challenges—they're fun and not especially research-intensive.

But the value of these questions and answers to future site visitors is severely limited by the fact that they amount to a collection of reverse-dictionary entries. Their accessibility to future visitors depends on the visitors' happening to search for the same word or phrase that the original questioner supplied in describing the definition of the wanted word or phrase.

To me, the central question is this: If each such question is primarily of interest to one questioner and (temporarily) to a bunch of prospective answerers, doesn't it make sense to ask and answer them in a place that is explicitly dedicated to that particular type of entertainment?

Like most other EL&U participants, I try to answer single-word requests from time to time. I recognize their popularity and intellectual appeal, and I recognize their practical use as a gateway to acquiring reputation points relatively easily. Indeed, the strongest argument I can think of for retaining SWRs, PRs, and IRs on this site is that the relative ease with which new users can parlay them into reputation points may provide an important and continual infusion of new blood (in the form of people with newly acquired privileges) on the site.

But from the perspective of practical value to EL&U in its role as a reference tool, the cumulative effect of these requests may be quite harmful. If you are using EL&U's internal site search to hunt for a discussion of how a certain word is used or where it came from, it is counterproductive to have to wade through a bunch of chance occurrences of the search term that arose in the context of SWR suggestions. Questions with little or no intuitive lookup value gum up search results and clog the archives with what amount to false positives.

I don't see this issue as involving the salvation or destruction of EL&U, but I do think that if we want to improve the long-tern usefulness of the site as an archival resource for questions that have significant staying power, we ought to consider whether spinning off "name that word" and "fill in the blank" questions to a Stack Exchange site that specializes in such questions might be beneficial.


I'm in favor of it on principle, but I'm not actually convinced that this would "save" ELU. As Mari-Lou pointed out in a comment, it may very well kill it.

Take SWR away from EL&U and you might be looking at a semi-deserted EL&U.

If the learner questions go to ELL and the SWR questions go to Word Recommendations... what's left???

Maybe that's not such a bad thing, on balance, but I doubt it would help with the kinds of mediocre questions that are a thorn in ELU's side. They might be all that remain.

  • But the learner questions will never all go to ELL. People will always ask bad ones here, and we would only migrate good ones. Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 23:59
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    @curiousdannii - So is your argument then that we would only be left with bad questions? I'm not sure how that's any better than being left with none :)
    – Lynn
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 0:34
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    @Lynn Difficult questions aka interesting questions don't go to Linguistics. Questions about specific languages are off topic at Linguistics. EL&U is already meant to be a site for linguists / etymologists / serious English language enthusiasts. Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 1:03
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    @Lynn I'm just saying that if word suggestions leave this place won't become a ghost town. Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 1:09
  • @Araucaria - Fair enough, I didn't realize that. Nonetheless the fact remains that we just don't get many of those sorts of questions anyway.
    – Lynn
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 11:54

tl;dr - No, I disagree with splitting ELU into enmeshed but functionally separate communities. An alternative is proposed that requires two small programming tweaks.

Fundamentally, English Language and Usage covers everything that should be in scope for ELL and the proposed EPF/EWF. Items need to be explicitly and somewhat artificially listed as out of scope to narrow ELU. Even then, I'd expect significant on-going work to educate ELU users and migrate errant questions simply because ELU sounds like it's a good place to ask questions about the English language and its usage.

If the intent is simply to partition ELU, do it via tags instead of splitting off a new site. This would have the side-effect of making the OP's proposal just a special case of a more general and flexible filter.

I don't know how the tagging system is implemented on ELU specifically or SE generally, but most of the effect you're looking for could be supported with these two programming tweaks:

  1. enable ELUm's mandatory-tag system on ELU. ELU Meta's mandatory tags are discussion, support, feature-request, and bug. Here are some suggestions for the main ELU site: request words for word / phrase / idiom requests, please explain for clarification and etymology, grammar, ..., and general as a catch-all for the rest. The category names are up to the community - the point is to set up a small number of well-defined categories that each covers a fairly broad area of interest. Question posters must select at least one mandatory tag, but may include multiple tags (mandatory or otherwise) if so desired; and

  2. two search boxes on the tags page: one for tags to include, and the other for tags to exclude. A question would match if it has no excluded tags and at least one included tag.

The idea is to enforce the tagging of the most common categories when each question is asked. Members of the community can then pick their own partitions of interest and filter out the rest.

I understand that in SE, communities are the primary partitions. But I'd venture to suggest that the real test of whether a community should be split (or conversely, whether multiple communities should be coalesced) is whether reputation points ought to cross over among those communities. For example, having high-rep in Code Golf doesn't really mean much in ELx communities, but having high-rep in ELU ought to count for something in ELL even though for technical reasons it doesn't.

Furthermore, there is an expectation for OPs to do their research - this is supported by the automated search facility that is activated when a question is being composed. The automatic search facility does not return results from other communities, so breaking a community artificially into separate communities may reduce the effectiveness of this facility in some cases.

Where there is essentially only one community as is the case with ELU / ELL / EPF / EWF, tag-supported filtering allows the community to remain intact while individuals focus on eclectic combinations of sub-categories that may change from person to person and from time to time.

  • We already do use tags! Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 0:47
  • @curiousdannii Not in the way I'm suggesting - there are no mandatory tags in ELU to partition / categorise the conceptual space.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 1:20
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    Meta tags such as the ones you suggest are expressly discouraged on the SE network.
    – Lynn
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 4:56
  • @Lynn I'm not proposing meta tags in that sense. I'm proposing a set of mandatory tags in the fashion used in, say, EL&U-Meta, this meta-site to EL&U, as a broad 'in-band' partitioning of topics. For example, the request-words tag I suggested stands on its own and can be the only tag for a question (from your link, the basic test for screening out meta tags is whether a tag can stand on its own). That tag not subjective, and variants are currently used widely in EL&U - e.g. idiom-requests. This is very different from, say, the beginner meta tag that's frowned upon.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 6:29
  • @Lynn ... Just elaborating: the single-word-requests tag is currently the second most frequently used tag at ELU according to the numbers on the tag page. Together with the other x-requests tags, this family of tags is so popular that it creates the tension between the OP's proposal to shift them into their own community and your own (and others') perspective that this would decimate ELU.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 6:44

I have little to say toward the proposal of splitting ELU, and this answer targets the title of the question, rather than the proposal in the body. (It seems to me that while some classify ELU as "big", referring perhaps to the number of users and the daily number of questions, it would look much smaller if the number of regular users were considered as a measure. This is perhaps the main problem in dealing with questions that are deemed below par or "off topic". Mere size of the site is not the problem I gather; at other sites, too, following particular tags, rather than perusing the full stream of questions, is a necessity; the latter is impossible because of the sheer volume.)

Let me point out that ELU is currently listed under CULTURE/RECREATION -- alongside other philology sites such as German, French or Japanese, and also Bicycles, Travel, History, etc. Linguistics, on the other hand, is listed under SCIENCE. The other philology sites may be viewed as siblings to this one, but still, they may define themselves differently, and the may embrace different kinds of questions. Notably, they perhaps get fewer questions overall, including fewer homework/proofreading/thesaurus ones, fewer peeves, etc.

As long as ELU defines itself as a site for linguists, etymologists, and serious language enthusiasts, aims for visibility as such, and mourns the lingustics stuff that is drowned by SWRs, it may be worthwhile reconsidering being classified as CULTURE/RECREATION.

As a disclaimer, I add that this is just an observation (and not a proposal).

If we want to promote lingustics stuff here (again, I'm not taking stance), it might be worthwhile restating what differentiates ELU from Linguistics.


I don't think creating one new site for SWRs is a good solution to the problem. The problems I see based on my experience here are not questions related with SWRs IMHO.

First of all, many active/high-rep users are more active in commenting on questions and answers than asking and answering them. I don't think it is the right way to improve EL&U's quality. They need to post their answers (not just commenting) and regularly post exemplary and on-topic questions, too.

Second, as Josh61 mentioned in his comment, SWRs do have fun part. Without SWRs and after new users find out that SWRs will no longer be accepted as on-topic, traffic of EL&U will dramatically decrease I am afraid.

Third, creating a new site will add more confusion to new users than creating any solution to the current quality problem. IF SWRs should (absolutely) be removed from EL&U, it would be better to migrate them to ELL adjusting ELL's function. It might help beginners/intermediaries to learn more about English.

Lastly, there is limited room for good/high-quality questions related with grammar, etymology, etc. with 64,000 questions accumulated over the past years. Many of them could be closed as duplicates.

Personally, I don't see much difference between ELL and EL&U. Some basic questions are asked in EL&U without being closed or migrated to ELL and some questions that could be good questions in EL&U are asked in ELL. It would be interesting to know how many new users (who have been recommended to go to ELL and whose questions have been migrated to ELL) actually bother to post a new question or their second question in ELL. I doubt there are many. Creating the new site and asking new users to go there will not be an ideal solution.

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    Asking questions you already know the answer to, especially if you post the answer yourself, often ends up being weird performance art, as someone better with words once said on Health.SE. If high-rep users have questions they don't know the answer to, they often find it when trying to provide background for their question, then they feel kind of awkward posting. Also, bolding something isn't the same as giving a convincing argument. You're allowed to like SWR; we're allowed to disagree. Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 1:08

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