Reason I deleted this question:

I didn't want to help the question attract other reopen votes as it was closed right after I posted this question. I was also disappointed at the initial comments as I believe the question doesn't belong on ELU.

Reason I undeleted this question:

@Josh61 persuaded me to undelete this question. @DanBron promised to answer this question and I should respect their opinions. I think it is on-topic on Meta ELU.

My original question:

I don't understand how this question, Is having sex a hobby? could survive on EL&U for three days without being put on hold.

The word ‘hobby’ is well-defined in any dictionary and there are about 1,240,000 related links on the internet if you Google Is having sex a hobby?

What kind of answer can this community provide to the OP? Can an answer be definitive with any reference?

I think the question should be closed as "primarily-opinion-based" as there could be no definitive answer and at least two users agreed with my initial close-vote. @Mitch commented:

The nuances of the words 'hobby' and 'sex' are known. judgement as to their overlap are cultural or philosophical speculation. This question belongs on philosophy.stackexchange.com.

What are your thoughts? Is this question in line with our guidelines?

Related questions:

Yahoo Answers: Can sex be considered a hobby?????, Is SEX A Sport?

Quora: Why is sex not a hobby?, Can sex be a hobby?

  • 1
    Personally I feel it to be on-topic for a site dedicated to exploring and documenting English and usage, populated by (sui generis, at least in my case) English experts and enthusiasts. It's the kind of question Language Log might explore, or William Safire (whatever one thinks of him, he was prominent and dominant in the discourse of English usage for decades), or David Foster Wallace and his SNOOTiness. It is of course impossible to find a question which hasn't been addressed somewhere else on the web, but the idea behind SE is to collect all th interesting ones in an accessible place – Dan Bron Jun 25 '16 at 14:01
  • That said, the title was intentionally provocative, a well-established tradition among SE veterans, which often results in more attention and upvotes for one's question, but sometimes, as in this case, backfires. The question would probably have been less controversial if it had been entitled Is eating a hobby? Anyway, if I get more time today, I'll try to write up a more detailed answer. But don't hold your breath. – Dan Bron Jun 25 '16 at 14:01
  • I did actually include a reference to the Yahoo.answer but you must have missed it when you edited the post. P.S I deleted my obsolete comments which are no longer relevant. – Mari-Lou A Jun 25 '16 at 14:26
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    Maybe it was bias on my part, but I don't care for these questions in general. They're prurient with a thin veil of pseudo intellectualism. My redirect to philosophy is not wrong but I could make a legal case in the other direction that it is on topic to explore the nuances of the words. But I'm still sick of 'dude' questions. – Mitch Jun 25 '16 at 14:30
  • @DanBron No offence, but I asked the mods to delete your puns from under my answer, funny as they were, I thought they distracted attention from the core of the question. (And the OP seemed a little miffed too) – Mari-Lou A Jun 25 '16 at 14:31
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    @DanBron If I ask "Is sex a sport?", would it be on-topic? How about "Is sex an exercise?" or "Is sex a leisure?" – user140086 Jun 25 '16 at 14:32
  • @Mari-LouA Comments, like the lives of men, are writ in water. This, too, shall pass. (Anyway, the point of a pun is to make it; that's the fun part! After that, it's just stamp collecting.) – Dan Bron Jun 25 '16 at 14:33
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    I agree that there is a degree of POB in the question, nonetheless I find it interesting and the debate productive. Exploring a language and understanding the different and multiple shades of its usages is what we are here for. I VTR. – user66974 Jun 25 '16 at 14:34
  • @Rathony Those are less interesting exercises, because the words are less tenuous, less amorphous, more concrete, than hobby. Except sport, that has potential. Not as much potential as hobby, but there is something to it. By the way, eating can be a sport (I try to get to the hotdog eating contest down in Coney Island every summer, if I can.) – Dan Bron Jun 25 '16 at 14:35
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    @Mari you're taking all the pun out of commenting – Mitch Jun 25 '16 at 14:37
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    @Josh61 ELU is not a discussion forum. How is it exploring a language when people are discussing whether sex is a hobby or not. Do you think it serves the purpose of ELU? How can an answer be definitive when you can't cite any source or refernce for your opinion? – user140086 Jun 25 '16 at 14:39
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    @Rathony - Probably your view on how a language should work Is too rigid. Probably your view on how the rules of this site should be applied is too rigid. The debate about the term hobby related to sex is a legitimate one and it can improve and widen the understanding of what apparently may sound as a paradox. Or should we work just as a dictionary? – user66974 Jun 25 '16 at 14:48
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    @Josh61 This is not a forum for debate or discussion. A dictionary gives you just a basic definition and how you take it is just your own personal decision, not a question that is suitable for a Q&A site. That's my point. It's your personal opinion and those opinions are all debated and written on the internet. – user140086 Jun 25 '16 at 14:52
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    If I'm being honest, I will not have the time to construct an answer worthy of the question. But I applaud you for undeleting it, despite the fact that it risks a consequence you find distasteful. I think the question should be reopened, but I will not lose sleep if it remains closed. – Dan Bron Jun 26 '16 at 0:45

I would tend to agree that this question is primarily opinion-based, as currently written.

The actual question is:

What constitutes correct usage of the word 'hobby'?

Does any pastime (watching TV, having sex...) qualify to be called a hobby or are there one or more criteria such as:

  • Shouldn't be too universal
  • Shouldn't be a passive activity
  • Should be a productive or developmental activity

The question cites dictionary definitions, so it's clear the poster is familiar with the basic meaning of "hobby." The poster is also aware that "it is not commonplace to refer to having sex as a hobby." The question doesn't ask for an explanation of what the word means in some existing context; instead, it asks for a description of what constitutes "correct" usage. There is no definition of what the poster means by "correct."

Earlier on, the poster describes two opposing sides as though this is a debate, rather than a question of fact:

Viewpoint 1

Some people believe that the word hobby can be used for any regularly practiced leisure activity, such as watching TV, or listening to music.

Viewpoint 2

On the other hand, others believe use of the word is not appropriate for passive activities such as watching TV. If watching TV were a hobby, one could argue that watching the wall could also be technically a hobby.

The idea that there is, or should be, a "technical" definition of what a hobby is, with logically consistent criteria that can be used to deduce whether an activity is a hobby or not independently of how we normally refer to it, seems to require some authority beyond usage that regulates the meaning of words. But there is no such authority for English in general, so it's not clear what kind of answer the original poster is looking for.

There are many possible ways one could formulate a technical, logical definition of "hobby" if it only has to describe "correct" usage and not actual usage.


I do not believe this question should be considered primarily opinion based for the reasons presently stated here. Please do not misunderstand, there are reasons why I think the closure might be appropriate regardless, particularly the potential contentiousness of the subject in conjunction and the relatively finite number of answers may attract low quality answers that just answer without doing anything else. I can not fully predict what sort of answer other people would actually give to this question, so I maintain that I am presently indifferent to whether this question stays closed or becomes reopened. However, with my current understanding of the policies, I dislike the sort of precedent this meta-question presently sets as it is phrased and answered might set and would like to explain why:

What the questioner did was perform the bare minimum requisite steps to prevent the question from being closed as General Reference Based and Unclear What you Are Asking close reasons or perhaps even less. General Reference requires us to show the research in a question such as this and when it regards word meanings it minimally requires citing a dictionary definition as par community guidelines:

If your question is simple and can probably be easily answered by looking it up, then you may find common online internet resources to be of some help. View our list of community recommended resources to find some that may be of help to you.

  • Try a dictionary if you want to know what a word or phrase means, how it evolved, or how it is pronounced.
  • Try a thesaurus if you want to know words or phrases that have a similar meaning to one you already know.

Of course, if your question isn't adequately answered by these resources, feel free to ask here on English Language and Usage Stack Exchange. Be sure to mention the research you've done and what you're still hoping to learn!

I am of course assuming try a dictionary means try any one dictionary, rather than a plurality of them or it should at least read as "… some dictionaries …" and I do not recall seeing a question where more than one dictionary entry was cited. Wiktionary ranks highly among our recommended resources too, not only at the what good reference works area vailable in English at the help center link but also on the highly upvoted meta-question What Good Reference Works are Available in English, so as a matter of policy I think it should be considered a sufficient resource for demonstrated research. This is especially so since we don't seem to have any sort of credibility requirement.

Once that is done, you need to clarify what type of answer you need by identify what difficulty you have comprehending that definition so we know how to answer. In this case, the user has observed conflicting usage and wants to know if the word has further nuances than what is found in the referenced definition which may disqualify carnal activity. This requires us to identify those additional nuances and apply the found criteria, if any, to the activities in question. This is something a dictionary can not do, so I do not believe they can definitively answer the question. Establishing such a relation is the reason General Reference is usually a single link rather than a series of links.

Performing this preliminary step does not give a question complete impunity from being closed as General Reference, but I do not believe that the resources provided are General Reference. We have a motto to that effect for Google, so I do not feel as if I should have to explain why here. If Google does not easily lead you to a resource that would be General Ref., it seems irrelevant. I would argue that websites like Yahoo answers and Quora are not either, since they are specifically designed to provide linguistic information, do not fully and definitively answer the question even if they are considered as such and are user participation websites just like Stack Exchange. I reference How to ask good Meaning Questions and Are some Questions too Simple? regarding matters of what general reference constitutes.

Speaking of "How to Ask Good Meaning Questions", I also do not believe this question is too localized. I think "What are your hobbies?" is one of the first things many monogamous people ask prospective mates, and that the results of giving an answer like "Sex!", well … I'll any people who did that infer how they came to be with spaghetti in their hair, and wine on their clothes or on a mysterious bedside without one of their kidneys.

Mentioning differing people's viewpoints does not strike me as being considered untopical for a very specific reason: I flagged a question as Primarily Opinion Based using that rationale, and the flag was outright declined. However, I won't admit against the possibility that the question is protected by some sort of Grandfather Clause I do not know, as I did not realize how old it was at the time I flagged it. The question was Difference between Leash and Lead? for reference.

I suppose you are wondering now, why I am referencing close reasons which are different from the one the question actually has. One reason is because I do not realize the relevance of mentioning other online resources for a closure that is not actually General Reference, so I surmised Ranthony was curious about that. The other and much more important one is because it presents us with a specific sort of dilemma, often called a Morton's Fork. We have two options which lead to the same undesirable result for questioners:

If simply for doing the bare minimum necessary to evade General Reference closure, the question suddenly becomes qualified for the Primarily Opinion Based close reason and closed regardless because it is considered that the questioner should be able to infer his answer and further data we provide would be too subjective for us to answer, even if that is not the case. The problem this provides us is that I fail to see how explaining the nuances and definitions of words can be considered topical for this website. Given that our most popular question tag is Meaning and that is its stated purpose, I doubt that is the case. It is also problematic because if the same result may be achieved irrespective of effort, it would not be worth the effort to write thoughtful questions over lazy ones.

I even have reasons to believe that the Primarily Opinion Based close reason is more lenient than it is made out to be here. First, the Primarily Opinion Based close reason is qualified with the word Primarily for a reason, which is that "Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience …". Moreover, our help center does expressly state that there is some leniency for subjective content matter.

Some subjective questions are allowed, but “subjective” does not mean “anything goes”. All subjective questions are expected to be constructive. What does that mean? Constructive subjective questions:

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”
  • tend to have long, not short, answers
  • have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
  • invite sharing experiences over opinions
  • insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references
  • are more than just mindless social fun

As such, I would suggest that while it would be preferable to try, we do not need to provide definitive answers but rather merely convincing ones. That is to say in other words that the answers should only need to be persuasive and based upon evidence, rather than an answer that is final, presumably because its perfection precludes the need for anybody else to even try.

Just because the answer is not elucidated by the provided dictionary definition given, does not mean there are not other types of corroborative evidence we can provide. The Primarily Opinion Based Close reason specifically mentions several other types we may use, which are expertise and facts, by which I presume verifiable facts are specifically meant. Moreover, just because one reference is provided, does not mean we can't choose to proffer a potentially better one, especially if we believe we can convincingly explain why it is better.

Illustrative quotations demonstrating good usage, trustworthy references detailing what particular hobbies are for comparative evidence, which would be useful for gauging the amount of effort required of a hobby and maybe even corpus evidence or idiomatic dictionaries demonstrating popular usage of suggestive phrases all strike me as being potentially sufficient ways of verifying facts for this question. I will refrain from demonstrating how, since it would require essentially constructing an answer to the closed question, which I believe is an inappropriate circumvention of due process, would add further length to this post and is probably unnecessary here on meta.

This is of a very different nature than the only other two questions I (successfully) flagged as Primarily Opinion Based. Those are Can you list each word whether it's a very position, positive,very negative, negative or neutral connotation? (deleted) and How Do I Ask Somebody to Join Me for a Meal in a Wacky Way(closed). I forget exactly why I did that but the gist of my curent opinion is that these questions ask for much more instance specific and possibly even predictive data, which is much harder to reliably corraborate with prior usage than this one is.

"The word ‘hobby’ is well-defined in any dictionary …" — Ranthony

I suppose I understand why you might think that. Most definitions for hobby on the Free Dictionary by Farlex seem to be slight variations on Noah Webster's, which was probably the first dictionary given that the word is only attested as far back as 1816 according to Merriam-Webster. This demonstrates a strong consensus and Noah Webster's definition is eloquent, concise, nuanced and evidently time tested definition. However, I must disagree regardless and the only way I think it can become evident is to show it:

  1. Any favorite object; that which a person pursues with zeal or delight.

The American Dictionary of the English Language

Moreover, there are other definitions which I would classify as being different. Both Wiktionary and the Cambridge Advanced learner's Dictionary and Thesaurus have a potentially less strict one:

  1. An activity that one enjoys doing in one's spare time.

An excerpt from the Wiktionary definition of Hobby, under the (CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Whereas the O.E.D's. definition is potentially stricter.

"A favorite occupation or topic, pursued merely for the amusement or intererest that it affords, and which is compared to the riding of a toy horse (sense 3); an individual pursuit to which a person is devoted (in the speaker's opinion) out of proportion to its real importance. Formerly Hobby-horse (sense 6)" — From the Hobby entry on page 316-317 of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principals, volume 5, H-K page, first published in 1901 by Oxford University Press

And the 1913 Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary provides additional details:

  1. A subject or plan upon which one is constantly setting off; a favorite and ever-recurring theme of discourse, thought, or effort; that which occupies one's attention unduly, or to the weariness of others; a ruling passion.

Because these definitions differ significantly, I doubt they can all simultaneously be considered equally well-defined under any theory of linguistics and hence no one entry definitively answers defines the word "hobby" in the manner so meant by this website.

What kind of answer can this community provide to the OP? — Ranthony

Given what I've said above, there are four main categories of legitimate answer I suppose can be legitimate, alongside variations which blend between them:

  • Yes, it can be a hobby, because it can meet the broad general requisites of a lenient definition for these reasons. The lenient definition suffices because of how the word is used in these contexts.

  • No, it can't be a hobby, because it can never meet one or more requisites of what a hobby is narrowly considered for those reasons. I can explain why this narrower definition is better because of how the word is used in those contexts.

  • No, it can't be considered a hobby even if it meets the general requisites, because I can explain why this is a special exception to the general rules any definition provides.

  • Maybe it can be considered a hobby but only under special circumstances that allow it and I'll explain what these circumstances are.

However, I doubt it's really what answers we can give in this case, so much as a matter of what types of answers which will likely to be given which should be considered in this case due to this line of text in the Primarily Opinion Based Close reason:

… but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions …

We do not want to attract too many very low quality answers which provide little to no insight and clog the voting system, require deletion by staff or detract attention away from better answers and more productive questions. The questions I think we should be asking are "Would this question do that?" and "Why would it do that if it does?" when determining whether this question is topical or not.

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