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I refer to Is this “ever” grammatical here?, which was unilaterally closed by a mod 7 minutes after posting.

The [current] question text is quite short. Since it may later be edited such that users with lower rep can't see exactly the situation when it was put on hold (as Unclear), I'll reproduce it here...

I repented ever doing this all by myself.

What is this ever?
Is this ever grammatical here?


I don't really want to get too bogged down in the matter of whether or not the question truly is "Unclear" (personally I don't think so, but obviously there's room for debate on that).

My concern is that in this particular case I can see that the OP there (quite obviously an established user) asked the question an hour ago as I write, but hasn't (again, as I write) been seen on the site since 4 minutes after posting it. As of right now, he knows nothing of what's happened to the question.

I have a general feeling that mods should leave it to the community to close questions wherever possible, particularly when the justification for closure might not be clear-cut, and little time has elapsed.

Question: Is my position on this issue justified? Is this a case of "over-moderation"?


EDIT: The original OP has since closed the question. But (particularly noting @Esoteric Screen Name's re-open vote) I've taken it upon myself to edit the question to provide a couple of cited usages, and to focus more specifically on what I feel may be the semantic issues raised by the usage which could be confusing to learners. Obviously I have also voted to re-open.

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    The OP did not seem to be asking the question in good faith - in their question history, they have a pattern of asking off-topic and unclear questions. – jimsug Jun 16 '14 at 2:56
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    FWIW, allegations of a seven-minutes closure are greatly exaggerated :^) From the question's timeline: Question asked: 20:41; first comment: 20:55; question flagged: 20:57; first mod comment: 21:08; third comment: 21:15; second mod comment and closure: 21:23. Total elapsed time: 42 minutes. That said, that's still less than an hour, so Fumble's question here is still a legitimate one. – J.R. Jun 16 '14 at 10:48
  • @J.R.: Hovering over the individual events to see the exact times, I see you are right. When I posted this, I was just using the X minutes ago values showing at the time - taken from several different browser windows I had open. Either those values weren't being validly updated, or my mental arithmetic was below par (an extremely credible alternative! :). But as you say, the exact values aren't really crucial to the issue here. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 16 '14 at 11:33
  • I'll just add that, when we mod-close questions that we feel are good candidates for the OP returning and adding more info to make the question valid, we also monitor the question pretty closely. I often even add a tag to my comment along the lines of "If you would like to edit your question to add this information, please feel free to flag this question for reopening or @ reply to my comment." I suppose I'm just trying to say that we aren't closing these willy-nilly and leaving them to float off into the ether... If that makes you feel any better about the issue in general. cc @J.R. – WendiKidd Jun 17 '14 at 0:24
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    (And the reason behind doing it like this is pretty much what J.R. said in his answer: to avoid "broken windows" and prevent a bunch of people from posting a bunch of different answers that may or may not actually answer the question being asked, and might end up being invalid. The goal is to waste the time of the fewest possible number of users. And if the OP comes back to edit, yay! We'll reopen. :) I'm just discussing the topic in general, not this question specifically.) – WendiKidd Jun 17 '14 at 0:25
  • And who gets to decide what "actually answers" the question? The OP? And who gets to decide whether the OP is asking "in good faith"? On what grounds? And how do these answers differ from the ones on ELU? – John Lawler Jun 22 '14 at 16:59
  • @John: Well, the OP gets a "special" vote in that he can publicly accept one answer, but collectively the community may vote more decisively for a different answer. And in principle it seems to me the limits of "acceptability/grammaticality" are defined by the average of all native speakers, even if some supposedly authoritative reference sources disagree. After all, language would be a pretty useless communication system if there wasn't broad agreement about how to use and understand it. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 22 '14 at 17:35
  • @FumbleFingers: Oh, great. Committee meetings and votes. With everybody having to express their own unique opinion. Just what I don't miss about academic life. No thanks. – John Lawler Jun 22 '14 at 17:38
  • @John: I was thinking in terms of questions asking things like "What does [some text] mean?", or "Is [some text] idiomatically acceptable?", where for most purposes I'd expect the majority of native speakers to agree. Though following my (possibly misguided) attempt to make the question under consideration here more "on topic", it seems no-one is interested in offering an opinion anyway. Which I think is a shame, since I personally don't know how to answer the question after my edit, so I was kinda interested in seeing some answers. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 22 '14 at 17:46
  • The obvious answer is that ever is a negative polarity item, and regret is a negative trigger. What's the problem? – John Lawler Jun 22 '14 at 17:50
  • @John: To me the issue is whether "I ever regret marrying her" means something subtly different to "I regret ever marrying her". I feel the first one (which I accept is probably a "dated/archaic" usage) focusses on having regretted marrying ever since some point in the past - not necessarily as far back as the actual marriage, but long ago, and by implication expected to continue through the present into the far future. Whereas the second (more "normal") one means something more like "Right now I wish I had never got married" (but maybe I only started feeling that a moment ago). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 22 '14 at 17:57
  • *I ever regret marrying her is ungrammatical. I regret ever marrying her is grammatical. As I said, what's the problem? Isn't this sposta be the SE for simple questions with simple answers? Or am I misunderstanding again? – John Lawler Jun 22 '14 at 18:33
  • @John: I see the handful of written instances of and I ever regret in Google Books are mostly over a century old, so I'm not going to argue with it being "ungrammatical" by today's norms. Nevertheless, I still feel sometimes ever means "always", and sometimes "at one specific time", and the distinction isn't always clear-cut. But as to what SE is sposta be here for, I guess de facto it's so we can get our rocks off. Me both learning and teaching, but prolly you only get the latter :/ – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 22 '14 at 21:05
  • Ever is related to every, which is a universal quantifier. Ever used to mean 'at all times'; but now it's been specialized to negative environments, where its sense is restricted to not (at) any time. And this is not a fact that's needed to explain this to learners; they can find out about the rich and contradictory history later. – John Lawler Jun 22 '14 at 21:53
  • @John: Many thanks! At least that last comment has succinctly cleared up my uncertainties about what's going on there! – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 22 '14 at 22:00
4

Note that early reports of how quickly the question was closed were greatly exaggerated. Given the rapid activity on this question, 40 minutes is pretty fair. That's still a quick closure, sure, but it's a far cry from "instant". Expecting users to hang around and monitor their questions for about 15 minutes after posting (the timeframe for the first couple comments) is eminently reasonable. I'm not going to bother editing my answer's text because I'm lazy, so disregard any remarks about closing this question too fast.


I can see why someone would close this question, but I think closure immediately after posting was a bit hasty. Personally, I do understand the question, though of course I agree that it is quite terse. The OP has deleted the question; I've voted to undelete and will vote to reopen if possible.

Users who keep careful track of their questions, as this one does, often clean up after themselves; for example, by deleting their closed questions. Yes, there's "on hold" rather than outright closure, but once a user is familiar enough with the system, they understand that it's just a labeling difference. An instant closure from a moderator is likely to make a user think "wow, I was really off base here!" JR did leave a comment asking for additional context, which implies that the question will be reopened if it's supplied. I do think we shouldn't hesitate to close questions which need improvement, but making sure users understand that the questions will get reopened after being fixed is tricky.

I hesitate to call this "over moderation", as I don't really fault (even though I also don't really agree with) the closure itself, but I do think it would have been better to let the question sit for a while. Likely some additional context would have come up during the normal answering cycle. I disagree with jimsug: I don't think a moderator should simply cast close votes in exactly the same way they would as a regular user. Moderators must take additional care because their votes are binding, and they send a much stronger signal to users. One moderator vote weighs more heavily than five community votes, because moderators are undeniable authority figures. It's something like the difference between being shouted down by the crowd versus asked to leave by the organizers at a public speaking event. But, when you get down to it, if someone really has no idea what the question asks, then it's completely appropriate to close as unclear.

FumbleFingers' point about letting the community do most of the work is well made. Moderator abilities don't scale with site population, so the more the community does, the better. True, the site is pretty small right now, so moderators can tackle the bulk of the work, but that also means it's easy to keep track of questions and give borderline cases a bit more personal attention and curating.

As an aside, I encourage everyone to flag LMGTFY comments as offensive, and not respond to them. There's a good reason linking to that site is automatically blocked. If it's really a case where a simple search for a definition suffices to answer the question, then just vote to close as general reference, no need to insult users.

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    Agreed with LMGTFY comments. They are patronising, insulting, and there's no place for them on a language learners' site. – jimsug Jun 16 '14 at 2:48
  • I think what I said is too open to interpretation - I'll edit it momentarily. However, it seems to me that even if the closure itself isn't being contested, the speed with which it was closed is a concern for many. The issue seems to be more that: a single user closed the question, and closed it so quickly. – jimsug Jun 16 '14 at 2:53
  • @jimsug I agree that being a moderator shouldn't make a difference to how you vote, but I think it should affect when you vote. – Esoteric Screen Name Jun 16 '14 at 3:46
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    Timing often plays a role in this. I just happened to stumble on the question minutes after it opened. Had I logged in an hour later than I did, who knows? The question might have been flagged already (particularly with that LMGTFY comment atop it). As for 7 minutes being a bit hasty, I would agree – but that's not accurate. The question was asked at 20:41 Z, and closed at 21:23 Z, so it was more like 40 minutes than 7. That all said, I appreciate your very positive, thoughtful, and constructive comments here. – J.R. Jun 16 '14 at 10:41
  • @J.R. Thanks for pointing that out, I did not actually check the timestamps. I think 40 minutes is plenty of time. – Esoteric Screen Name Jun 16 '14 at 12:21
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    +1 I think I agree with all the points made here. It may also be worth noting that since ELL is a beta site, the rep threshold for "ordinary" users to be able to closevote is much lower than on "graduated" sites, so there are actually quite a lot of users with sufficient privileges to do this (almost 100, I think). But implication, it's not as "necessary" for mods to close questions as one might have thought. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 16 '14 at 12:40
3

It wasn't closed. It was put on hold. Those are not the same thing.

I only requested that the O.P. specify where the quote came from.

I have done this before – put a question on hold on the basis of incompleteness in some manner or another – on several occasions.1 After the question is updated, the question gets reopened. (Sometimes this might all transpire in just an hour or so.)

My comment to the O.P. was:

The question is hard to answer without a source. I can't find one. This could be a request for proofreading, or maybe it asks about an archaic quote, or it could even be typo (perhaps the original was supposed to say even, not ever). I think more information is needed before this can be properly answered. [emphasis added]

In this case, I was hoping the O.P. would simply clarify with a remark such as "I found this in Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan," or "I wrote this sentence; here is the full context." However, the O.P. opted to delete the question instead.

I'd like to add, my motivation for putting such questions on hold is twofold: (1) prevent users from spending time writing answers that don't help the O.P., because they answer the wrong part of a vague question, and (2) help the O.P. improve the question in hopes that they learn to write better questions in the future.


1Here are a few examples:

  • 24688, where I pressed for some examples, and reopened the question after they were provided.
  • 9690, where I asked for more context, and reopened after the edit
  • 10266, where I asked for a source of confusion to be identified, and reopened after the edit
  • 22640, where I closed a question, reclosed the question (for a different reason), and then ultimately reopened it based on the O.P.'s good-faith effort to improve it.
  • 20732 You may not be able to see this one, depending on your rep, as the question was self-deleted by the user. However, it followed the same pattern: closed for insufficient details (though not quite unilaterally; one user voted before I did), edited with more information, and subsequently reopened. By the way, my first comment in that question answered something left in the comments by the O.P. (but later deleted by the O.P.), asking: I edited the text – why isnt it reopened?
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  • I said in the question that I didn't want to get bogged down in whether "Unclear" was truly justified, but I really must say I can't see any problem with substituting the idiomatically more likely regret for repent. It's not to find examples of "I regret ever doing {something}", and I honestly can't see that the grammatical aspects of this use of the word ever (which is all OP asked about) could be significantly affected by knowing any more about the exact context. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 16 '14 at 11:43
  • Precisely my point. One person sees the question and thinks, "Well, if you replace repent with regret..." Another reads the question and thinks, "Well, if you replace ever with even..." Yet another thinks, "Why doesn't this person use a dictionary to figure out what what the word ever means?" I don't see what's wrong with putting such a question on hold before it goes in half a dozen different directions, and asking the O.P. for some additional clarification. – J.R. Jun 16 '14 at 15:38
  • I can't see that. Per my original comment on the question itself, there are extremely similar written usages with repent in Google Books - I just suggested the trivial/irrelevant change to regret because it's semantically and syntactically identical in OP's context, but far more common (and he wasn't asking about the verb). But changing to even would completely negate the raison d'être for the question, since it specifically asked about the word ever. But it's obvious I'm a lone voice here, so there's really no point me keeping on about it. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 16 '14 at 16:34
  • Many seem to agree that the original – I repented ever doing this all by myself – seems a bit unusual. Yes, the question asks about ever, but this wouldn't be the first time a question became a different question (or a non-question) after everyone learned there was a transcription error (e.g., see 18390, 19764, 18653). I still think a request for clarification was justified, as was putting the question on hold until the vagueness was cleared up. – J.R. Jun 16 '14 at 19:14
  • @Fumble - As an epilogue of sorts, you've correctly pointed out that I closed the question for the wrong reason. Rather than "Unclear what you're asking", I should have selected, "Should include more details – please provide more context". That was my bad. – J.R. Jun 18 '14 at 9:47
  • "Repent" is not at all unusual in that context, it's merely stronger in sentiment than "regret" (I was wrong as opposed to that might not have been one of my better choices). And no, it doesn't require an original context (let alone anything well-known or publicly available) to make the question valid or understandable. – Stan Rogers Jul 8 '14 at 10:08
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I feel that for some people, this would be solved with a dictionary lookup.

For me, this means that the question would likely have been closed as such eventually anyway, so disregarding the reason for closure, I don't think it's an unreasonable closing.

However, I'll concede that 7 minutes is an exceptionally quick closure. Now that closure simply places it "on hold", the OP is welcome to edit the question, or question the closure in meta (which I suppose you've done for them).

In general, I will say that I have agreed with J.R.'s actions. I believe the question would have been closed, but I have to vote on it. Moderators are empowered to make this decision. While this affects how many users are required to close the question - that is, one rather than five - it should not affect the vote they cast.

If moderators should not close a question that doesn't have four votes on it, it really restricts the ways in which they can regularly contribute to the site. This is the reason why I have previously said that if a moderator would have voted the same way were they a regular user, then they should even as a moderator.

I would also add that it isn't necessarily the case that because the OP has a history of asking questions that they are all good questions, and I'm not just talking about older ones.

Looking at their question history, I can see several questions that have been recently closed. These seem to be divided between questions with a lack of detail/context, questions that are unclear, and questions that are proofreading requests.

The user appears to have deleted the question - while it may be due to the attention it received, it would seem to me that the question may have been answered in the comments. If so, and if my recollection of the comments are correct, then it was just a general reference question.

If this was the first time this occurred, I would assume that the user has learnt that these questions are off-topic and has deleted it so that in future they can ask better questions. This is not the case here.

My general opinion on these kinds of questions is that if the OP doesn't understand what it means and the meaning can easily be found using a dictionary lookup, then it needs more detail to explain why we're being asked to define it. I completely understand the desire to not become a dictionary lookup service.

(For instance, here's a question I wouldn't close: cheery / cheerily pick any charges.)

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    I'm with J.R. on this one; I have no idea what OP is asking, and putting it on hold until that's resolved is entirely appropriate. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 16 '14 at 0:32
  • @StoneyB apparently their question has been answered, or they've withdrawn it for some other reason. To me, it looked like a definition question - which is why I would've asked for more information on why they don't understand. – jimsug Jun 16 '14 at 3:07

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