My question is: Generally, when there is a minor disconnect between the question title and the question body, is it okay to infer intent from the body of the question, or should the literal interpretation of the question title take precedence?

In a question I recently answered, I was informed in a comment that:

The correct course of action when presented with a poorly delineated single word request is never to guess at an answer. This is a misuse of the site. // An answer is incorrect if it doesn't answer the question as written, not as might possibly have been intended.

I understand the point: The question holds useful information for future users of the site seeking answers. If the answer does not address the question as asked, the utility of both the question and answer is diminished.

In this particular discussion, the question was originally titled:

Looking for a word that means something that used to be unique but is now so commonplace it is no longer noticed

After some reflection, I reasoned that "the question as written" is aimed at the word means in the title. I then believe the comment asserts that a correct answer would have to provide a word that connotes used to be unique.

However, when I first answered the question, I did not take means in the literal sense. Since the body of the question post made no other mention of previous uniqueness, I reasoned the intent was that the requested word should be applicable in such a situation. I think this was the initial disconnect I had between the quoted comment and my answer.

I have since edited the title removing the word means, although leaving in "used to be unique". This still makes the comments objecting to the answers still relevant, while loosening the constraint in the original title.

  • If the 'used to be unique' requirement is disregarded, I believe the question is barely distinguishable from a request for synonyms of 'commonplace' (a word actually given by OP), and as such should be closed on lack of research grounds. And in fact, OP's 'commonplace' seems more appropriate than 'ubiquitous' here to at least 1006a and myself. If the 'used to be unique' requirement is taken as binding, ... Dec 29, 2016 at 14:07
  • Is there a word that means when there's too much of something and people don't take interest anymore? would surely overlap sufficiently to be deemed a duplicate. Dec 29, 2016 at 14:07
  • @EdwinAshworth While I originally did not give the used to be unique part any consideration, my answer merely asserted ubiquitous was the probably the word the asker had in mind. However, the complete answer had always been about how ubiquitous did not quite fit all aspects of the stated question, which I think is why it was better received than the other ubiquitous answer. One aspect of the question that seems to get overlooked is how the scenario included camouflaging the object in a truly ubiquitous one (a door frame).
    – jxh
    Dec 29, 2016 at 19:38
  • 1
    Neither the question title nor the question body are sufficient by themselves. Answering the title while ignoring the body is like reading only the headlines in a newspaper and thinking you've gotten a complete picture of the news. Ignoring the title is slightly less problematic, and might be necessary if the body and title contradict each other, but in general, you need to read both to get a complete picture of the question.
    – Marthaª
    Jan 2, 2017 at 15:35

1 Answer 1


It's fine to try to infer intent. The real problem this answer ran into is that it's answering a guessing game question. The question in a nutshell is "what is the word that I can't currently remember, ending in -ous and maybe meaning too commonplace to be noticed". While such questions are common (and popular), and several SE sites tend to attract them, they are off topic for several reasons discussed in the linked article. To summarize, they are generally:

  • Unneeded. A trivia contest, not a practical problem. An important hurdle for any question is whether the answer is needed.

  • Unfindable, even if there were other people with the same question. The point of this site is to help future visitors. If you forgot the same word, how would you construct the web search that would bring you to this Q&A?

  • Unfair to answerers. The question inflates the reputation of the person who guesses right, not the person who wrote the best, most comprehensive answer.

  • Uneducational. There's nothing to be learned from the answer about the process of coming up with it, because there's no process. Either you knew the answer or you didn't.

The unfairness of the question explains why your correct answer attracted some flak.

  • It is illuminating to see this point of view. Much of any discipline involves being able to recognize whether or not some collection of information represents a situation already named, encountered, and/or understood. I wouldn't immediately dismiss this kind of problem as a trivia contest. In any case, I really don't want this to be a discussion about the specific question I answered on the main site.
    – jxh
    Dec 29, 2016 at 18:10
  • @jxh But your question above largely focuses on that very question. I'm sorry you still find it necessary to query MetaEd's largely well-worded answer here (although I can't accept that 'ubiquitous' is 'a correct answer'. And if OP there reworded to drop the 'once unique' requirement, the question should be closed because reference works give 'ubiquitous' as a synonym of 'commonplace'. Dec 29, 2016 at 23:41
  • @EdwinAshworth: The main site question is used as an example to frame the general question. A guessing game to one person may be straightforward application of knowledge to someone else. My question has more to do with that the question title points to an answer that has only cursory relevance to what is asked in the question body. You were focused on unique (title), I was focused on integrated into door frames (body).
    – jxh
    Dec 29, 2016 at 23:56

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