As a hypothetical example, should we close Why are "put" and "but" different in their pronunciation? as a duplicate of Why is "chore" pronounced differently from the "chore" in "choreography"?
I think that would be ridiculous, but I have seen votes to close questions as "duplicates" for similar reasons. To me, this seems like a hostile way to treat perfectly good questions.
This is also not how duplicates are supposed to work. See the following Meta SE posts:
- "Close as duplicate" - what if only the answer is a duplicate?
- What constitutes a duplicate question? In particular, is a question a duplicate if the answer is contained in another question?
Duplicates are matching questions, and they have to match in the specifics, not just the general type of question. And in fact, the answers generally aren't duplicated either. Users are right to expect answers that are more in depth and specific than "etymology, great vowel shift, English spelling is so random."
If the community decides we really don't want to welcome this kind of question (which has not been established yet), it should be made clear in the Help Center that they are off-topic. Then it would be valid to vote to close these questions as "off-topic." But calling them "duplicates" is just false.
This is a general question. Although it was prompted by specific close-votes that I feel are a problem, it is not just about these votes or the users who cast them. But for those who want the actual examples, here they are:
- Why is the word watch pronounced differently from words like patch, latch, match, catch, and batch? It was suggested that this is a duplicate of Why is "chore" pronounced differently from the "chore" in "choreography"? These are obviously not the same question. The top answer to the "duplicate" starts out "Because of etymology." Etymology is totally irrelevant to the diffent pronunciations of the vowels in "watch" and "latch." Both words derive from the same source language (Old English), and they had the same sequence of sounds in that language ("watch" comes from wæcce/wæccende, and "latch" comes from læccan/læccean.)
Why do "bomb" and "tomb" have different pronunciations? It was suggested that this is duplicate of Why are "put" and "but" different in their pronunciation? Both of these questions are about how vowel pronunciations have evolved over time. The similarity ends there. The top answer to the second question starts with the following introductory paragraphs:
English is over a thousand years old, and has been through so many changes in the meantime that even very competent speakers struggle with English as it was written a few hundred years ago, and that of a few hundred more is so different as to essentially be a different language entirely.
This has left us with a great many inconsistencies, and the fact that English borrows from different languages, at different times, with different degrees of Anglicisation, leaves us with many more (though not in this case).
Some of the reasons for particular cases are hard or impossible to track, and some are open to reasonable conjecture, while others we can make more reliable statements about.
Evidently, some people have the impression that this would make a satisfactory answer all by itself to all questions of this type. But if you look at the post, that's not even a fifth of the way into it. The rest of it is an in-depth explanation of the specific etymological histories of put and but and the sound changes that applied to these words. And none of that is applicable to the words "bomb" and "tomb."
Edit (27 April 2016)
I just found an older, highly upvoted question that has comments related to this topic: "Why is ‘i’ in milk pronounced differently from ‘i’ in find?" I thought I'd copy nohat's comment, which I think perfectly expresses my feelings:
I know you guys don't like these questions, but I love them and the interesting, subtle facts we can learn from the fabulous answers we get, as Janus's here. Sure, many people don't intuit the primacy of spoken language, but to dismiss these questions because the askers have a misunderstanding is short-sighted. To say that they all have the same answer is empirically false, and, with all due respect, there is a complex relationship between English spelling and pronunciation. Pronouncements implying that they are utterly orthogonal are manifestly wanting.