I asked this question a while ago, and I still disagree with it being closed as off-topic. The reason given for closing the question is that commonly-available references can answer it. I mentioned in the question that the commonly-available references all point to the legal definition. I think it should be reopened. If not, can you help me understand why it should remain closed?

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    If it is reopened, it might be reclosed because you do not give a sentence illustrating how the word you want will be used. The site is getting pretty insistent on this point.
    – ab2
    Dec 17, 2016 at 0:22
  • I don't see that requirement on your help page. english.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic Dec 17, 2016 at 0:25
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    I'm not saying I'm unwilling to add that, I'm simply commenting that if the site insists, that should probably be mentioned in the help page. Dec 17, 2016 at 0:26
  • See english.stackexchange.com/tags/single-word-requests/info I have to confess, I never referred to the help page (too boring) but just picked things up as I went along.
    – ab2
    Dec 17, 2016 at 1:09
  • Nathan - Check out this help page, with particular attention paid toward what's beneath "unclear what you're asking." If you can improve your question by adding an example, you should do so.
    – J.R.
    Dec 17, 2016 at 12:27

2 Answers 2


I consulted some synonym dictionaries, and I can confirm Nathan L's research results: most dictionaries focus on the failure/forfeit sense of default. In fact, default in the sense of "automatically selected preference" (which originated as a computer-related term but has subsequently gained traction in more-general use) first appeared in the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary series in the tenth edition (1993), which indicates relatively recent mainstream adoption of the usage.

The closest adjectives to default in the relevant sense that I can think of are go-to and fallback, and neither of those is an especially good match for it.

It would be interesting to know how the computer meaning arose. My guess is that it originated in the sports metaphor of advancing to the next round in a bracketed tournament because the listed opponent forfeited the match. I can imagine a computer programmer treating a user's declining to alter the program's baseline settings as a kind of forfeiture of the opportunity to customize the settings, for example.

But this is quite aside from the legitimacy Nathan L's question about what words might serve as synonyms for default in its new sense. As far as I can see, it isn't a general-reference question. I therefore support his request to reopen the original question.

Currently, three of the four reasons given by close-voters seeking to reclose the original question cite its lack of an example providing context. To repeat a comment I made beneath Nathan L's original question, he seems to be asking about a situation in which, for example, default is used as a noun, as in "The 'Sell my personal data to anyone on the Internet who wants to buy it' option is the default." But a similar question could be asked about the use of default as an adjective, as in "Clicking 'Revert' causes the program to revert to its default settings."

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    SWR Qs must provide enough context or example sentence where the world or phrase would be used so that it can be answered. I don't think the Q is detailed enough and reopenable. Please don't cater to all the reopen requests posted on Meta. Why do we need this guideline when a question is always reopened based on a Meta request? I find it really difficult to foresee how the question would be helpful for current and future users. I think it would have been more prudent to ask the OP to come up with a context or sentence before we vote to reopen this Q. The accepted answer shows the Q has issues
    – user140086
    Dec 17, 2016 at 11:37
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    @Rathony: I promise to continue to cater to reopen requests posted on Meta only in instances where in my judgment the question should be reopened—just as I expect that you will continue to cater to close-vote flaggers in the Review queue only when in your judgment the flagged question should be closed. Both of us have earned the right on this site to make such judgments and to act on them, and I don't find it puzzling or philosophically disturbing that you and I often disagree about which questions should be open or closed.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 17, 2016 at 17:10
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    I hope you don't get me wrong. Recently ELU had some discussion about how useful the SWR Qs are and some users think they should be banned on ELU. I never agree with the idea, but there's got to be some guidelines so that those Qs can be improved. It's not very difficult to come up with an example sentence and it isn't a very strict requirement if your English is fluent enough to post a Q here on ELU. The issue I see is so many users are trying to play just nice when those questions compromise the quality of ELU. What value does the Q bring to ELU? What does ELU lose if the Q is kept closed?
    – user140086
    Dec 17, 2016 at 17:22
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    I am not at all sure that the word did originate in computing: the OED has (among other references) "1979 Perspectives of New Music 18 414 My default may indeed be Gaburo's ‘act of notating’ but whether ‘new musical ideas’ arise therefrom remains moot." There might be an interesting question there, but it is certainly not OPs original one. Dec 17, 2016 at 20:42
  • @TimLymington: Again, I would love to know how the term came to be popular in computer-related English.The interesting 1979 quotation that you mention actually uses default twice in the same sentence: "The concept 'notational ideas are musical ideas' has a familiar ring, but by default rather than design during the scratching process; my default may indeed be Gaburo's 'act of notating' but whether 'new musical ideas' arise therefrom remains moot." The first default here occurs in opposition to design, and I suspect that it strongly influences the sense of the second default.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 18, 2016 at 4:09
  • ...The current computer-related sense of default entails (in many instances) "by design, as the preset standard or fallback value or state"—which is quite different from "by stroke of fortune and without design," which i take to be closer to the Perspectives of New Music sense of the term. It's easy to see the analogy to the sports notion of default in this music usage, but harder to see the analogy in the computer-related examples I invented for my answer.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 18, 2016 at 4:20
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    I have added an answer on main, and it addresses your curiosity about how the computer meaning arose.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 19, 2016 at 17:47

It should go without saying that if you can show that commonly available references do not provide the information that you need, your question should not be closed, and if it is closed, you have every right to ask for it to be re-opened.

However, in your particular case, it is hard to see what good it would do. If there were a good single-word synonym for default value, it would be listed in thesauri and other reference works, and software developers would already be using it. Also, the fact that you have already accepted an answer does nothing to help your case.

  • I accepted an answer after the question was closed because I didn't have a lot of answers to choose from and I thought I should still reward the effort. I might add a bounty after the question is opened to give incentive for additional responses. Dec 17, 2016 at 0:29
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    @NathanL, just to set the record straight: "Accepting an answer is not meant to be a definitive and final statement indicating that the question has now been answered perfectly. It simply means that the author received an answer that worked for him or her personally. Not every user comes back to accept an answer, and of those who do, they might not change the accepted answer even if a newer, better answer comes along later."
    – JEL
    Dec 17, 2016 at 8:17
  • There are also cases where the discussion is enlightening even if there isn't a single word that fits the bill. I'm going to remove the single word request tag. Dec 20, 2016 at 14:37
  • Not every word has a synonym. Underlying this entire discussion, is that idea.
    – Lambie
    Dec 30, 2016 at 20:37

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