This question about mind maps was posted. I cast a close vote, then when I signed off, it had accrued three more. Today, I see a comment from FumbleFingers indicating a fifth vote was cast, and there are no pending close votes. But the question is open, and the revision history shows it was indeed closed, but then JR reopened it unilaterally. Why?

Below are the questions asked in the post. Ignoring the fact that so many disparate queries makes a question too broad, let's examine each individually.

My question is where do they get the mind map from? Who does produce/publish the map?

These questions are clearly unanswerable by us, because we have no source for the images posted. Additionally, such questions are outside the scope of ELL because they're about publishing or the location of outside resources, not learning English.

How do I get my maps and how do I map foreign language map to my language or otherwise combine maps of two different languages?

This is too broad, and creeps towards off topic (being about software rather than linguistics). How to correctly source, form and mutate mind maps is an intricate and complex topic and far too much for a single question.

I guess there is no one-to-one correspondence between english, estonian and russian word map. Does the concept of mind map suggest that translation is evil?

This is clearly opinion based, and I have trouble even deciding what it would mean for a translation to be evil.

Should I learn new language as if it is my first language because and leave any attempt to find correspondence between two?

Also obviously opinion based. We've closed other "what's the best way to learn" questions as such in the past.

Maybe there's a salvageable question in this post, but as it stands, it should be closed. I presume the community agrees with me, given the down votes, comments and swift closure (but perhaps I do so unjustifiedly). Reopening it without any changes sends the message that this is a well formed, on topic question, which it is not. The question even asks us to say something if it tries to cover too much with its first words, and a couple of us did.

An unexplained reopening and subsequent answering looks... strange. The answer posted doesn't substantially address the bulk of the actual question, as the OP seems to have a decent grasp on what a mind map is and how it diagrams synonyms (which is what the first half of JR's answer explains).

I'm certainly not insinuating anything about JR, but on the face of it, these actions are inscrutable to me. Why reopen?

And, more importantly, what does the rest of the community think about this question? Should it be open? If so, does it need substantial editing?

  • Thanks for discussion. These questions are clearly unanswerable by us, because we have no source for the images posted. Also, such questions are outside the scope of ELL because they're about publishing or the location of outside resources, not learning English. -- It is like saying that we cannot tell where formulas of calculus are coming from because we have no source of these particular formulas and cannot refer to the Newton, math departments and textbooks because they are not about learning math.
    – user1847
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 9:23
  • This is clearly opinion based, and I have trouble even deciding what it would mean for a translation to be evil. This is vague indeed. I meant to say that translation does not work on word-by-word basis. You should learn the language like a am newborn rather than learn yourself translating words or sentences from familiar language to the other. Or, did I clarify this in my post?
    – user1847
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 9:28
  • This is too broad, and creeps towards off topic (being about software rather than linguistics). How to correctly source, form and mutate mind maps is an intricate and complex topic and far too much for a single question. Mapping between words and translation is a topic of software programming and has nothing to do with Linguistics. Bingo! BTW, don't you know why translation theory in computer science starts with Chomsky Classification? Is he a computer scientist?
    – user1847
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 9:37
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    @Val - You should probably put all of this into an answer here, as opposed to three comments.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 10:05
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    If anyone is interested, I've reposted parts of this question on Linguistics.se. That being said, I'm not as sure of what is considered on-topic there, so we'll see what happens.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 0:35
  • @Val thanks for participating in the discussion. I hope my critique of your question doesn't come off as harsh or insulting, because that is certainly not my intent. This is a fascinating subject, and also one that I'm wholly ignorant of, but I'm just not sure how to shape the question into something on topic for ELL. Please stay and contribute more to the community, because I'm sure you've got lots of interesting ideas. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 0:38
  • @Val may I ask if you considered our feedback and comments, and had thought about editing the question so that it was within scope and on-topic for the site? That it was closed twice in a little over 24 hours seems to indicate that a number of people within the community feel that it is off-topic, too broad, and/or primarily opinion-based. Saying that we have cannot answer questions because we have no source is perhaps an exaggeration - but I think you should have provided a source, at the very least.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 1:58
  • @Val the fact that you pre-empted your question with an offer to separate it (along with your network profile) indicates to me that you have some experience with asking questions suitable for our format, and yet your resistance to doing so makes me think that you wanted to incite unproductive discussion (which occurred, and you were more than happy to participate in).
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 2:01
  • 2
    @Val I don't think evil is an appropriate term to use to describe the idea that translation does not work on a word-by-word basis; unsuitable would have been better, and perhaps this would have attracted less attention. The word evil in English, always carries a moral judgement, and is loaded with axiological values.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 2:02
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    Also, to @Val and all: I apologise in advance if my remarks appear accusatory, which is not my intention, though I can understand if they are interpreted in that way - I'm merely looking to see if I can understand this reaction, so that in future, I may take steps to elicit a more productive response with my comments, or other means.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 2:04

2 Answers 2


As one of the original close voters, I'd like to know what the rationale behind the reopening was. From what I can see, this is clearly off-topic, and far too broad for the SE format.

In particular, from off-topic:

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

Not only can I imagine an entire book that answers the question, there are multiple, entire books that have attempted to answer each of the questions and failed, perhaps with the exception of Does the concept of mind map suggest that translation is evil?, which is definitely primarily opinion-based. I don't think millenia of philosophy have determined criteria for evil.

It's been pointed out that evil may be a poor translation from another language - in this case, (I'm having trouble thinking of languages that would conflate evil with anything that isn't related to a moral judgement of some sort,) it's still opinion-based: because it's something that is necessary, it's like asking whether multilateral trade agreements are a good thing, and even that's easier to answer.

Additionally, even if the entire book thing is a maxim, the fact that this post as about five questions in it, each of which would warrant its own book, is one of the things that prompted me to flag it for closure.

Apart from all of this, the OP asks in the first sentence of their post:

Please tell me if I must separate my question

And yet, he was resistant to suggestions that he should, and made no effort to do so - no edit, and, as has been pointed out, no new questions.

This question seems formulated to incite unproductive, primarily-opinion based discussion with each of its questions.

Finally, if a moderator believes that a question should not have been closed, it is their prerogative to reopen it. I don't know what considerations one makes when doing so, but at the very least, I think the fact in reopening a question, five other opinions of the community are annulled should not be a matter that is met with "it'll be closed again anyway". That's not the point - were I a moderator, I would say that if it'll be closed again anyway, it should be kept closed.

Having said all that, I appreciate the need to attract and retain enthusiastic users who ask interesting and thought-provoking questions, and we recently may have been eager to close.

With that in mind, perhaps we could instead instruct them on our preferred modus operandi. In this case, the user seemed to understand that the question should have been separated. A moderator may have been able to persuade him to do so. Or, maybe we can split the question and answer it ourselves.

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    Given the nature of ELL, I'm guessing "evil" is a bad translation from someone's original language.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 9:22
  • 1
    I think that 'entire book' thing should be taken as a maxim rather than a prescription. I'm pretty surethat many Big Fat Books have been written on all of the grammatical topics raised here, and on topics which impinge meaningfully on many of even the narrowest lexical inquiries. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 11:37
  • @StoneyB certainly, however, the OP acknowledged that the question was too broad in the very first sentence of their question, and yet posted it anyway, and resisted suggestions to separate it. Furthermore, the first two questions within their questions should have been ones that they could answer (Where did they get it from? Could they have checked with the source how they it was produced?) or at least attempted to show that they had tried to find out themselves (I looked on the website but it is very vague), and sourced it.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 13:23
  • The last part of the question - the last question, indeed, is the only one that I would have answered - the theories of language development and acquisition are interesting and varied, and yet, this might be the one question that is too broad and warrant too long of an answer for this format.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 13:26
  • @jimsug As I've said on other occasions, I'm not too concerned about conforming to SE standards: my criteria are "Does it raise a question which puzzles other users? Does it provoke answers other learners will find useful?" This question seems to me to do both, and it is not particularly relevant that the questions it raises are not exactly those which OP asks! :) Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 15:24
  • I still can't endorse the "Too Broad" designation. It seems to me the core of the question was/is something like Are "mind maps" a useful tool to help learners?, with the strong implication that the answer is more likely to be "Yes" if it can be shown that there's a high degree of overlap between the "semantic scope/milieu" of "core" words in different languages. A caveat which I think is less generally true than the OP would like to think, and which could probably be better addressed on Linguistics than on ELL. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 17:27
  • @FumbleFingers fair enough agree to disagree - if I understand right, if that question were answered, you would consider the question answered, whereas I would answer each question posed. It seems like a lot of the discussion generated is because the OP could have asked the question differently.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 22:11
  • But I'll say this: after reading the further comments, it doesn't seem like the OP is here to learn - seems like they are here to tell us what is the best way to learn, or not. And it seems like they have been shown the Truth about the nature of meaning and language, and that mind maps represent this. I'm not basing the judgement of primarily opinion-based solely on the question, but on the entire body of evidence presented.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 22:18
  • 2
    @jimsug: From one perspective I can't really say I disagree with your point that the OP bundled several questions into one. Nor do I disagree with StoneyB that taken as a whole it embodies some truly interesting points I'd like to know more about myself. But I still see "mind map consistency across languages" as central to the issue, and it's my suspicion that consistency is in fact so low that even if professional lexicographers produced extensive (and objective) mind maps for both your native and "target acquisition" language, they wouldn't speed the process appreciably. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 22:33
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I don't dispute that the questions are interesting - in fact, as I've said, they're interesting, but in the wrong way. If it were one question about semantics or translation, we could perhaps migrate it to Linguistics (but we'd definitely need to re-word the evil part). If it were one question about language learning, this would be a straightforward close on ELL, since it's out of scope. And I stand by my claim that those questions about production and methodology were obfuscated by not sourcing the material. Maybe methodology could go to Linguistics as well.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 22:42
  • @jimsug: I found OP's source first time around, but got sidetracked into arguing about the question itself before I got around to posting it. Anyway, I've just tracked it down again and added it to the post. You may find the associated discussion interesting - most contributors seem to be saying it's "interesting" (in a BrE sort of way, meaning "...but not necessarily useful"). All the same, I'd like it if you posted what you see as the relevant portion of the question on Linguistics yourself (you rather than me, since I get the impression it's more your specialist subject). Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 23:08
  • My thoughts exactly re: "if it'll be closed again anyway, it should be kept closed", the notion that the question remains off topic even if broken down, and the last two paragraphs. But I disagree with the casting of any delete votes (did you mean close votes? You don't have delete powers yet). Deletion isn't necessary (though the system will do so automatically in this case), because this is an interesting topic, and tangentially related to learning a language. I'm willing to give Val's reaction a pass (though it's true the question wasn't edited); I can see how this might feel to a new user. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 0:58
  • 1
    @EsotericScreenName right you are about deletion - fixed. I'm not sure having only two questions on ELL and dozens of other questions on sites within the SE network qualifies someone as new.
    – jimsug
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 1:46
  • @jimsug Ah good point, I had not reviewed his profile or accounts on other sites. I suspect JR may not have either. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 1:48

I'll answer your "unilaterally" part....

I was one sentence away from completing my answer when the fifth close vote came in. That put me in an odd spot. Were I a "normal" ELL contributor, I would've cast a reopen vote, and hoped for four more, but I'm unable to do that. As a moderator, my vote to reopen reopens the question.

I wrestled with what to do next. Leave it alone? Start a new meta post? Try to cram my post into a comment or two? Reopen the question and post my answer?

I considered all of those options. In trying to figure out what to do next, I considered these factors:

1) It was only the user's second question on ELL, and the question got trounced and closed in a matter of a couple hours. That seemed a bit harsh.

2) I may be able to reopen a question unilaterally, but that's not a permanent action. Questions can be reclosed with five more close votes. Given that the question had only been alive for three hours, and most of the United States was probably still sleeping, there would be plenty of time for more close votes to be accrued, should that be the community's will.

3) I started my reply when the question already had four close votes. I could have gamed the system – and I even had this thought at the time: Hurry! Click the Post Your Answer button after just one sentence, just to get your answer in there, and then finish it with an edit later. But I didn't want to play that game.

4) Some may deem the question "too broad" or "opinion-based", or maybe a little of both, and I think those are fair assessments. But I also thought the question was a refreshing reprise from the some of the more run-of-the-mill questions we get here. It made me think.

5) More than once on ELL, I've seen where an O.P. asked a question that was being viewed negatively, until someone posted an answer that cast the question in a new light (I've observed this same behavior on ELU as well; it prompted me to weigh in on the MSE debate for the ability to rescind close votes – twice).

In short:

  • Had my answer been more amenable to a comment, I would have put it in a comment, and let the community garner support for reopening the question.

  • Had the O.P. already had a long history of asking off-topic questions, I probably would have left the question closed.

  • Had close votes continued to accumulate even after one or two users had a chance at providing an answer, I probably would have let the closure stand.

  • If there was no way to override my decision, I would have been more cautious about acting unilaterally.

I found myself in a damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don't gray area. I'm sorry if anyone was offended that I overrode a successful campaign to close the question initially.

Incidentally, as I finish this answer, the question is a mere 24 hours old, and is already back to 4 close votes. It won't be long before the question is closed again, but at least two ELL members had a chance to try to make the O.P. feel a bit more welcome, with the same end state for the question. I don't think that's a terrible thing.

  • 1
    A Daniel come to judgment. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 11:38
  • 2
    Nothing personal, but I'm afraid the way I see it is you're damned because you did (unilaterally re-open the question in circumstances where I think it's vanishingly unlikely you'd have done that if you hadn't laboriously prepared an answer). I watched the ongoing discussion with some interest before weighing in - at which time I was torn between closing it (by then I could see I held a "deciding vote"), and flagging it for mod attention (specifically, that it should be migrated to linguistics). Your answer said nothing that could't easily have been conveyed in comments, I feel. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 17:19
  • 1
    I think this is a fair and reasonable explanation of your thought process in the reopening of the question, and I appreciate the clarity. I don't feel you did anything wrong (and certainly nothing that isn't easily reversed!), but I do want to say that I think the only reason the question is back to 4 close votes is because this meta question gave it greater visibility. I think that it would be valuable for us to come up with a way that, should similar action be taken in the future, we can ensure the question still gets that visibility. We don't want it slipping away unnoticed. Thoughts? :)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 22:34
  • 2
    "I was one sentence away from completing my answer when the fifth close vote came in. That put me in an odd spot. Were I a "normal" ELL contributor, I would've cast a reopen vote, and hoped for four more, but I'm unable to do that." Quite so. I get a strong sense from your post here that you reopened the question mainly because you wanted to post an answer. I don't think that's an appropriate reason to reopen a question, and especially not when the user has moderator powers to do so without any community input. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 0:25
  • 1
    Your point about wanting to be gentle to new users is a good one, and perhaps I could have done a better job explaining how to improve the question (though I really don't see how to do so in this case). But whether or not a question is a good fit has nothing to do with who posts it. You're absolutely right that it got closed (and reclosed) very quickly. This generally indicates that the community strongly feels the question isn't appropriate for the site. But again, I completely agree that it's of paramount importance to retain new users, and the community should take care to encourage them. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 0:35
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    And of course, thank you for the explanation. I might disagree with your decision, but I can understand the spirit it was made in. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 0:49
  • @Fumble & Esoteric - Someone smells a fish. Was this an "abuse" of moderator privilege, just to get my answer in? Today, I'm asking myself, What if either of you had been one sentence away from completing an answer, and flagged the question, asking for a moderator to reopen it? Would I have reacted differently? If so, then I have acted inappropriately, and deserve censure. If not, then I stand by my actions.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 10:53
  • @J.R.: For my part, I think I'm just slightly further along the spectrum than Wendikidd there. I think the rights and wrongs of reopening were very finely balanced, and I'm assuming you wouldn't have done so if you hadn't had a whole answer waiting to post. But when you introduce the possibility that an ordinary user might have asked you as a mod to facilitate their being able to hit "Post Your Answer", I'd probably tip the other way and think it was an acceptable "bending of the rules". From my perspective, it's a very marginal issue in the context of excellent moderation overall. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 15:28
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    @J.R. I wouldn't cast such a flag. If I had, I would expect it to be declined (I can't know what you'd have done though). We close questions explicitly to prevent answers from being posted, because we don't want to encourage those kinds of questions. Whether someone has a great, fully formed answer only seconds away from posting is irrelevant. If we're going to reopen questions to allow answers, why bother closing them in the first place? If only certain users or answers are allowed to slip in after closing, who decides what qualifies? And such a scheme opposes the egalitarian spirit of SE. Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 0:14
  • Relevant MSE posts: meta.stackexchange.com/a/91928/191706 and meta.stackexchange.com/q/173497/191706 I'd also say I'm slightly further along the spectrum than FumbleFingers. I was quite surprised to hear that wanting to post an answer was part of the reason for reopening; it appeared that way at first blush, but I didn't think it was so. But of course we all have different perspectives and biases. I'll second the remark about excellent overall moderation as well. Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 0:35
  • @Esoteric - As for whether or not such flags ought to be cast, I was only bringing up a hypothetical situation to debate this matter in my own mind. I wouldn't expect to see such flags, either, except perhaps in a rare case where people "piled on" too quickly and the one raising the flag had some insight. Most often, quickly-closed questions are very bad questions; occasionally, though, it's more a matter of quick-triggered members of the community stricken by group think. Few things ever seem 100% black-and-white. P.S. Thank you for the kind comments.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 9:21
  • That's a very good point about how you'd have reacted to a hypothetical flag, I think! At any rate, I tend to agree with FumbleFingers that this is a rather minor thing overall. No harm was done :)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 18:08
  • 2
    I personally think this question should be closed (and so I close voted), but I don't think it's a big deal that it was temporarily reopened. Since I don't think it's a big deal, I don't think you need a really strong reason for reopening. "A user had an answer just about ready to post" seems like an okay enough reason, even if that user happens to be you. Actually, the site has a grace period after closing--it's s'posed to let you post anyway. Maybe next time see if it'll let your answer go through without reopening :-)
    – user230
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 20:03
  • 3
    In short: no lives were lost, a few people had to click a couple more times, and a meta post was written. Nothing censure-worthy took place, the way I see it.
    – user230
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 20:05
  • Hear hear! What @snailplane said :)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 22:52

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