Am I the only one to be very disturbed by the re-opening of the 'What is the exact wordings for "There is a single stupid question in the world … " in Stephen King's "Under the Dome"?' question? ... 'I'm curious to know if somebody knows the exact line'. In my opinion, this is far too narrowly scoped, not far removed from 'Can anyone remember the name of the dog in the 'Famous Five' series?' I can't see how this question fits at all into the ELU format. It's about literature, not language. Asking for ELU members to provide an accurate version of a passage from a readily-available book. Quite acceptable on other forums, as is the 'Timmy' request.

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    I hope that no one is very disturbed by the re-opening. Likely there are many who disagree with it.
    – deadrat
    Aug 21, 2016 at 8:16
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    I generally tend to read "between the lines" and see if a "simple" question is actually an opportunity to discuss related issues such as its usage in different contexts and origin. While from a strict perspective of the site rules application you are right, I don't see anything wrong, unhelpful or really out of scope in this question. Please take also into account its "non native" origin.
    – user66974
    Aug 21, 2016 at 8:17
  • @Josh61 that comment deserves to be put down as an answer. I am also another user who voted to reopen because the answers told me that the question is an English language one. The OP had no way of knowing what the idiomatic expression was. And it is interesting/curious to see how translators can overcomplicate and "muck" a typical English phrase.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 21, 2016 at 8:25
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    I don't approve of positive discrimination, Josh61. ELU is about the only English web-site I've come across which has a policy designed to maintain standards. The question would be valid elsewhere. While I also try to address the 'question behind the question', 'What is the actual wording?' would not be one I could reasonably do that with. Aug 21, 2016 at 15:01
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    Is the site actually lacking of good, meaningful questions? I feel like some questions here are entertained, simply because there is nothing better to do.
    – Matsmath
    Aug 21, 2016 at 15:24
  • What does an upvote mean here? Does it mean for the title, that phrase searches are good, or like the contents that phrase searches are not good here?
    – Mitch
    Aug 21, 2016 at 19:44
  • @Mitch: Isn't that annoying? That's why I like to answer my own questions on Meta (although Mari-Lou A has teased me about it).
    – herisson
    Aug 21, 2016 at 20:44
  • @sumelic Answering your own question certainly is in the direction of strange, but warranted in some situations.
    – Mitch
    Aug 21, 2016 at 23:36
  • I thank for Lawrence's effort for editing the discussion into Meta question. I visited the outlet, but I was deeply disappointed to find there was no record of initial proposition for closure of the question made by Edwin Ashworth on off-topic ground, my rebuttal, and ensuing discussion among a bunch of users left out. My question was eventually reopened. But it's like receiving the not-guilty judgement without having the record of claims and changing thinking process of neither testimonies nor a jury over the discussion. Aug 22, 2016 at 23:23
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    @Yoichi Dealing with the subtleties of the site scope is ugly but necessary, especially for mods. Aug 23, 2016 at 5:01
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    @YoichiOishi you realize that the person or persons who deleted the train of comments are your colleagues. Accusing a colleague who is doing their job, of behaving like a police officer of the gestapo is frankly extreme, and dare I say it, slanderous? A little perspective is in order here.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 23, 2016 at 10:47
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    I hadn't read the many comments added recently since I last logged on. I admire the composure of those who have been insulted in public. I in your same situation would have lost my rag (temper).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 23, 2016 at 10:53
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    Yes, but I haven't been elected by anyone. You have. Users have entrusted you with a certain responsibility because of your maturity and your invaluable contributions to the site. You have a duty to be "rise above" the situation, and stay calm. This is why I couldn't and wouldn't make a good mod. And my previous comment is referring to those users and colleagues who have been insulted on this page, but have kept calm.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 23, 2016 at 11:44
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    Mari-Lou A. Thank for your advice. I remember once I urged you to become a mod, and you said no thanks. You were right, and wise now. I'll try to cool my head. Honestly I was really, really angry, and may have acted a bit emotionally. GImme time to cool my head by reading Roman philosophers' books on the worldly wisdom. Aug 23, 2016 at 12:10
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    @YoichiOishi I deleted the comments on the question on the main site because I left specific instructions to direct further commentary to this post on Meta. Arguing on the main site is counterproductive and gives an negative impression to visitors. Meta is the most appropriate place for this discussion.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Aug 24, 2016 at 14:24

5 Answers 5


I approach close voting in the first instance as if I were on a jury and I were under instructions to apply the letter of the law (the site's close-vote criteria) to the case before me. It sounds straightforward enough—and the law in many cases is quite clear on how I should come out.

But the funny thing about jurors is that they are human and thus susceptible to considerations other than those comprehended purely by the letter of the law. In fact, one major reason we have juries and not merely judges is that jurors de-professionalize the process. It's as though at some level the legal system considers that jurors' irrational thinking may be a check on the possibility of by-the-book injustice. Sometimes, being a rebellious juror is a crucial part of being a good juror.

At English Language & Usage, this situation tends to arise (for me, anyway) in situations where the letter of the law demands condemnation of the accused but other facts and circumstances inspire a wish to grant clemency. In the little world of EL&U, this may sound all too grandiose, but I think that we shouldn't wholly exclude our irrational inclinations from playing a meaningful role in determining whether a question should be closed or left open, reopened or left closed.

Consequently, I can agree with Edwin Ashworth that the EL&U question under discussion here does not meet objective standards to qualify as an appropriate question at EL&U, and yet at the same time (or shortly thereafter) I might support leaving the question open or even reopening it.

These mixed feelings might make me a bad moderator at this site, but I don't think that they make a bad private citizen here. If EL&U's close criteria are someday perfected, the site's governors really ought to automate them and let the machines enforce justice. In the meantime, we humans should be true to our best judgment—at least until we demonstrate that our judgment is so biased or weak or counterproductive that we must be excluded from participation in the process altogether.

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    I think that people with this view should edit such a question to generate what they consider to be an acceptable one. People giving answers (rather than 'comments') to 'the question behind the question' are not following ELU guidelines. Aug 21, 2016 at 23:20
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    The most interesting thing I found when I just looked over the question under the microscope here was that no-one seems to have explicitly mentioned the contrastive cliche about there being no stupid questions only stupid answers Which the OP hadn't asked for anyway, so it's disingenuous to excuse the question on the basis that it leads to something broader. I really like Yoichi, and would much rather have just looked the other way. But I kinda feel obliged to closevote, albeit reluctantly. Aug 22, 2016 at 0:07
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    There is always a place for jury nullification. “For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” —G.K. Chesterton
    – tchrist Mod
    Aug 22, 2016 at 4:11
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    @EdwinAshworth - "People giving answers (rather than 'comments') to 'the question behind the question'" are following ELU guidelines according to their own sensibilities, not your own, obviously. There is not rule on ELU, as of now, that doesn't allow users to disagree and the fact that we can VTC as well as VTR means that we are "allowed" to hold different views on matters dealt with here.
    – user66974
    Aug 22, 2016 at 6:05
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    @tchrist: I love that quotation (which I've never seen before). Thanks for posting it in such an appropriate context.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 22, 2016 at 6:44

In a comment on the original question, Josh61 wrote the following:

I generally tend to read "between the lines" and see if a "simple" question is actually an opportunity to discuss related issues such as its usage in different contexts and origin. While from a strict perspective of the site rules application you are right, I don't see anything wrong, unhelpful or really out of scope in this question. Please take also into account its "non native" origin.

Comments cannot be searched, nor are they votable in the sense of having a score that derives from the sum of the Community’s upvotes reckoned against their downvotes. Comments cannot be downvoted, only upvoted, so it isn’t the same thing. And not being searchable makes them hard to find.


Full disclosure: I did not vote to close or reopen the question itself, but I did engage in a lengthy discussion on it in chat. The discussion started here and ended here.

As requested by a moderator, here is a summary of that discussion.

The topic was posted in chat in the usual manner, accompanied by the question:

Does anyone really think this kind of question belongs in our site mission?

Relevant quotes (verbatim from the transcript; possibly verbatim from the OP as well, but the original is no longer available for verification):

  • My question has nothiing to do with "criticism, discussion, and analysis of English." I'm simply asking what is the original English version of "There's no stupid question," which I found interesting because it's equivalent to Japanese proverb, "Asking a question is a momentary shame. Not asking a question is an eternal shame." I'm only following the wisdom of this proverb, which ironically seems to be against you guys priinciple.

  • Both Josh61 and Dreadrat whom I respect as the reputable user of EL&U kindly advised me where the quoted line is from, which differes from the source the Yomiuri's editor quoted, and read by 9 million plus Japanese readers. It was great finding, I believe, only available from knowledgeable EL&U colleagues.

The discussion can be grouped into 4 main views:

1. The question is prima facie off-topic, and seriously so.

a. There have been questions closed for less cause.

b. Translation questions are off-topic, per Help Center.

(The OP's track record of setting the bar for asking good ELU questions was noted.)

2. The question has a basis in etymology.

This was rejected on the basis of the OP's first quote above

3. Is the question closable as General Reference?

a. Based on Meta posts recalled, good questions should hold the interest of ELU's target audience (etymologists, etc).

b. General Reference refers to accepted repositories of information relevant to a particular SE community. For ELU, they include dictionaries and the like. Books that aren't covered by this are, by definition, not general references.

c. Based on Jeff Atwood's accepted answer to the post that requested Gen Ref as a close reason, it's not merely 'general reference' that makes something off-topic. It's trivial general reference that makes a post off-topic SE-wide.

d. (Point 3d has been deleted - the point raised in chat was inaccurate; it is also not critical to this summary.)

e. Based on those principles, it was inferred that straight 'look it up' quote searches are off-topic because they aren't of interest to the target audience. But if the look-up is somehow integral to a topic that is of interest, then requesting the look-up is accepted as corroboration and research fulfillment.

4. The question is based on translating an idiom.

a. Idiomatic translations are well accepted at ELU.

b. Reconstructed sequence of events, which the second quote above seems to support:

  • someone made a statement in English;

  • the English statement was translated to Japanese and reported in a Japanese newspaper;

  • the OP considered the Japanese version similar to a Japanese proverb, for which the OP half-remembered an English version, as well as its possible source; and

  • the OP asked about the English translation, providing as much information as he could, including the half-remembered English version and the possible source.

c. Both answers to the OP's question addressed other aspects of the translation, one of which was etymology. It appears that the look-up was integral to the question, but there was some doubt that it would satisfy the OP if someone had suggested a lookup not close to the Japanese idiom.

d. Based on the reconstructed sequence of events, the heart of the question is a request for an English equivalent to a Japanese proverb. This is on-topic at ELU.

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    Thanks for this summary. To me, the most surprising outline point is 3(d): "Research refers primarily to checking the ELU database for prior Q&A on the topic." Taken literally, wouldn't this reduce the "closed for lack of research" to something like "closed because the poster failed to find obvious duplicate questions in the ELU database"? I'm no big fan of the "lack of prior research" close reason; but the 3(d) interpretation seems to make it a near duplicate of the "closed as a duplicate" reason, in which case we might as well replace it with the old "closed as general reference" reason.
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 22, 2016 at 16:45
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    @SvenYargs You're welcome. Your point is well-made, and I stand corrected. "Research" is broadly defined at SE and ELU, and simply requires the OP to show what they've found themselves. Looking at the launch of the lack of research reason for voting to close, it is apparent that it's the successor to gen ref, with a broader scope. For this summary, point 3(d) is not critical and can be ignored. In relation to the question at hand, it is also evident that research has been shown by the OP; it wouldn't have been a valid close-reason.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 22, 2016 at 17:06
  • @SvenYargs I have deleted point 3d and replaced it with a stub. I'd delete it altogether, but that would leave your comment referencing the wrong point. Thank you pointing out the inaccuracy.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 22, 2016 at 17:12
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    What all this shows is that the question is pretty vague too. I took it as strictly a what's-the-quote question, not an etymology or idiom request question. If either of those were desired it could be much more clearly asked. Aug 23, 2016 at 5:06
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    @YoichiOishi These kind of comments are completely unacceptable coming from anyone, but especially from a mod. Aug 23, 2016 at 6:42
  • @curiousdanni. If you've read the above my comment, then it's done. I just wanted to tell you each people has each idea, interpretation, and theory. It's wrong to snub other's question, opinion, and idea under the name of "off-topic." If it is understood by you, I don't mind to retract the above comment. Don't push on your principle to others. Be flexible, broad-minded, not nit-picky, keep the door of EL&U wide open to questions even if it seems "off-topic" and "stupid," that is what I would like to remind you as "a mod" if you think I am. Aug 23, 2016 at 7:06
  • Continued. There are many users from different corners of the world. You may be one of them and us. Don't be exclusive and xenophobic in defending your point. With that said, I'm willing to cancel the previous remarks. . Aug 23, 2016 at 7:08
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    @YoichiOishi I never called your question stupid, so please don't insinuate that I did. All I said was that it doesn't fit into the on-topic definition of this site. Aug 23, 2016 at 7:10
  • That claim was settle down by reopening of the question. Don't keep singing the same song. This is the end of our discussion. I enjoyed our discourse, and talked with FumbleFingers, Josh61, tchrist, Mari-Lou, Deadrat, all my old friend after a long while, and received a lot of good advice from them. However, I no longer have time to play with this subject, which was settled down by Reopen votes. I won't visit this corner again. Take care. Aug 23, 2016 at 7:16

This is a site for people to ask questions of each other, where experts volunteer to increase the accessibility of world knowledge in a free and open way. This site is not a service site, whether that's proofreading, dictionary lookup, or language learning. Now sometimes there's a thin line between them, but that's the general principle. (And there aren't very many truly world-class experts here (I'm not!) but we're all kind of experts in our own way.)

Would it be right to go up to a university lecturer in English, or in Literature, or even in the narrow field of Stephen King Studies to ask that question? Would it be right to ask Stephen King himself? I don't think so. You'd go to a library and borrow the book! Or you'd search on Google Books or something like that. Questions like that absolutely do not belong here.

No matter how much of an expert of English you are, unless you had a copy of the books to check you could not answer it at all. No amount of prior experience, no amount of formal study, no amount of practice would help. Only having the books and looking through them. That's how to know that the question is off topic.

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    I think you'll feel better once you realize that ELU isn't the high table in the senior common room of an institution populated by experts who are increasing "the accessibility of world knowledge". I doubt there's a single truly world-class expert here, nor are all us of experts in some kind of way. Armed with that realization, perhaps you'd regard as interesting some the questions you now wish to discard. Perhaps you might be moved to answer a number of them. How is that censoriousness working out for you, anyway?
    – deadrat
    Aug 21, 2016 at 9:18
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    @deadrat Why do you feel the constant need to rebuke me for not answering questions enough? How is that at all relevant? Aug 21, 2016 at 9:43
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    @deadrat I regard as interesting a good many questions which I wouldn't try to shoehorn into ELU. Some questions fit better with the ELL requirements, some with sites devoted to literature, some with sites devoted to history, French .... Being a good question or one you really want an answer to aren't the sole determining factors for a question being reasonable to ask on ELU. Aug 21, 2016 at 14:02
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    @curiousdannii I have never rebuked you for anything except your over-zealousness and rudeness. I merely expressed the hopeful possibility that if you abandoned some of your zeal in policing others you would have the time to contribute to the site in a more substantive way.
    – deadrat
    Aug 21, 2016 at 17:49
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    @EdwinAshworth I agree with the theory. It's just that we part ways on the practice. And if I'm going to be honest, I'll have to own the fact that my top considerations for deciding to answer a question are whether the question is "good", whether I really want an answer to it, and whether I really want to give an answer to it. (literature, history, French Heh. And the ellipsis was a nice touch.)
    – deadrat
    Aug 21, 2016 at 18:06

@curiosdannil. "Would it be right to ask Stephen King himself? You'd go to a library and borrow the book! Or you'd search on Google Books or something like that. Questions like that absolutely do not belong here."

I return this naive statement straight back to your mouth. I tried Google, but I failed to locate the source as I honestly stated in my question. But I got exact answers that I wished to have within an hour or so from two respectful users, from this site.

Why should I go to library? Why should I search for and go to visit an English professor to ask this question, when there are go-to guys and reliable go-to resources? What's wrong with utilizing, capitalizing on the large pool of expertise, knowledge and learnings English language at our arm's reach?

We call people who don'k know how to use tools / assets / resources in their hands 宝の持ち腐れ in Japanese, meaning a silly guy who rots and spoils treasures in their hands left unused.

This isn't service site, of course not Amazon. But this is the site to exchange stock of knowledge.

I offers all knowledge I have unstintingly to non-native Japanese language speakers (mostly Americans) in SE Japanese Language site. There's no "off-topic" hazard. No one there brandishes insular "off-topic" flag.

By the way, I'm not asking a question about Chinese, Russian, Greek, Hindu, nor Pakistani. It's English language and its usage that I've been asking. Do you know it?

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    Your question really was not one about the English language. It was a question about a book written in English. No matter how much of an expert of English you are, unless you had a copy of the books to check you could not answer it at all. No amount of prior experience, no amount of formal study, no amount of practice would help. Only having the books and looking through them. Aug 23, 2016 at 5:10

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