We have currently three tags in our top 20 tags (by amount of questions) that are being arbitrarily and interchangeably used. Those are the highly frequented tags , & . Combined those tags mark a whopping 8,500+ questions. Some 1,300 are tagged with at least two of them.

Even if one looks just at the first page of search results for the tags it is obvious that a lot of questions are not regarding idioms, a lot of questions are not about linguistic phrases and lastly the tag is just all over the place.

Therefore, if one wants to see questions on either of those three topics one has to consider all three of the tags. Thus, making distinguishing between them in the first place completely obsolete.

What can we do about that?

1. Nothing

  • Plus: Done!

  • Minus: Searching for any of the tags remains futile

2. A massive and continuous re-tagging effort

What: Keep the tags as they are, re-tag and keep re-tagging

  • Plus: One can actually distinguish between the three categories.
  • Minus: There are 8,500 questions which would have to be looked at.
  • Minus: The three categories seem interchangeably to the usual questioner and likely have to be re-tagged when posted.
  • Minus: The effort is massive enough to warrant another minus.

3. The complete merge

What: Merge all tags into one, likely 'expressions'.

  • Plus: One tag which holds a clearly defined (big) group of questions.
  • Plus: None of the manual effort from the other solutions.
  • Plus: A new tag 'grammatical phrases' could give a fresh start for the intention of the old tag
  • Minus: One-time mod effort / database solution (idk)
  • Minus: All of the previous distinctions are lost (wrong and correct)

4. Merge two, keep one

What: Merging phrases and expressions to expressions; Keep idioms

  • Plus: Idioms stay separate from more literal expressions
  • Plus: One tag for all colloquial phrases and non-literal expressions
  • Plus: No more confusion between colloquial phrases and other expressions
  • Plus: Space for a new tag regarding 'grammatical phrases'
  • Minus: One-time mod effort / database solution (idk)
  • Minus: Continuous effort to keep idioms and expressions apart (which isn't always black and white)
  • 2
    Language is not a science. Searching for the tags is not futile, and so no minus for your first option. Even in scientific taxonomy, classifications overlap and are blurry, especially viewed as a function of time. I think all three tags are useful and descriptive, and the potential loss of information (not mentioned as a minus for "Merge two") occasioned by any of your solutions for the nonexistent problem (the supposed futility of a search for the tags) doesn't justify any putative benefit. The supposed "Minuses" concerning continuous effort in tagging and re-tagging are a feature, not a bug.
    – JEL
    Sep 3, 2016 at 20:31
  • 1
    @JEL My issue is not that those categories overlap. We can use several tag on the same question after all. However, most of the questions in question have currently just an arbitrary amount and selection of those three tags.
    – Helmar
    Sep 3, 2016 at 21:38
  • 1
    I suggest that the solution of the "arbitrary amount and selection" problem, insofar as it is a problem, is more engagement from active participants. For example, the 'idiom' tag is intended (as shown by its definition) to be used with reference to a very narrow, specialized sense of 'idiom'. That's good, and it's spelled out in the tag definition but, as applied by more or less expert questioners and retained by similar reviewers, the tag definition breaks down in a sea of indifference. In short, the problem is indifference, not the tag itself.
    – JEL
    Sep 3, 2016 at 21:49
  • @JEL that is of course the root of all tag evil. As long as even mods ignore the tags when they are editing questions this won't improve.
    – Helmar
    Sep 3, 2016 at 21:54
  • @JEL almost two-thirds of posts go by 2k+ users by editing or edit review. (Query)
    – Helmar
    Sep 3, 2016 at 22:12
  • There are now: idioms expressions figures-of-speech idiom-meaning phrase-meaning — with the tag wiki of phrases now prescribing it for grammatical and linguistics use only. Apr 9, 2018 at 1:18

1 Answer 1


My reading of the three tags is that phrases is an exceedingly general category and therefore a "miscellaneous" bucket for questions that don't fall into a more specific category; expressions covers more or less set phrases that may be idiomatic, colloquial, or proverbial; and idioms covers set phrases that have meanings not inferrable from the sum of the component words' meanings.

My strong preference would be to retain all three tags because I think that each of the three serves a distinct purpose.

  • 1
    So we need decent tag info entries to show the distinction. And well done for volunteering to sort out the 8500 questions!
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Sep 3, 2016 at 19:41
  • 2
    How does a vote for "Do nothing" become a vote for "Sort out the 8500 questions"?
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 3, 2016 at 19:44
  • Oh. Well, I suppose it becomes a vote for "Searching for any of the tags remains futile" which seems undesirable.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Sep 3, 2016 at 19:48
  • 3
    There are degrees of futility, certainly. If the consensus is that the tags as they exist are worthless because they are messy, inexact, and overlapping, then I suppose it makes sense either to sort them out or to consolidate them into the most general category of the three. A similar criticism could be made, I suspect, of the multiple categories of "request' tags (single-word request, phrase request, idiom request, expression request, proverb request). We could try to sort them out (I'm not volunteering), consolidate them under, say, requests, or leave them alone.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 3, 2016 at 19:56

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