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I've seen a few questions asking explicitly for single words, rather than phrases, which fit a certain description. Today, one popped up in the close queue. I saw this comment:

Single word requests are off-topic on ELL. We should focus on how to express something naturally, not how to express something within arbitrary game-like limits such as "the expression must be a single orthographic word".

However, this is the first time I've seen such a question closed for this reason. (Open examples: 1 2 3 4 5). I voted to close because I agreed with the comment's remarks (we shouldn't be limiting ourselves arbitrarily to one word on this site), but I now find myself rethinking it; likely I will end up rescinding my vote.

Often with these sorts of questions, the answer is there's just no one single word for this, here are some phrases, and usually askers will be receptive to this. I've looked at a number of these questions and many parenthetically remark that a short phrase would be OK also, or accept an answer which suggests phrases, etc.

Is this really a reason to close questions? A question which is otherwise fine is now off topic because the asker requested the greatest amount of brevity possible? I don't think this is a reasonable approach, since:

  • The question is still perfectly answerable; there's no single word for X is a proper answer.
  • Learners might not understand English well enough (or may simply have incorrect expectations) to understand that many concepts can't be adequately expressed with a single word in English.
  • It's better to put information about the failings of single word expressions in an answer than a close reason. This allows for explanation and suggestion of proper phrasal alternatives, rather than just shutting the question down.
  • Single word requests are on topic at ELU; we can migrate there rather than simply closing (assuming that we edit the question first, check for duplicates, etc.).

This discussion is highly relevant, but about the tag rather than the topicality of such questions.

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This is an excellent question, but you're not focusing on what I think is the main thrust of the comment (which I will put in bold):

Single word requests are off-topic on ELL. We should focus on how to express something naturally, not how to express something within arbitrary game-like limits such as "the expression must be a single orthographic word"

I think the comment as a whole is not meant to say that single-word requests are always off topic, but that the site should discourage the use of a single, obscure word when a shorter phrase would be much better to use in conversation.

As an example, I think a question like this would be on-topic:

In my native language, we have the word iyønifix, which means, roughly, someone who was once an enemy but is now an ally. My translation dictionary doesn't have a listing for iyønifix – is there a word or idiomatic phrase in English that fits this definition?

Here, the O.P. is clearly an English learner, asking if a word exists in English. I would not vote to close such a question.

However, consider a question like this:

When I go to restaurants, I see signs by the register that say things like "To Go" or "Carry Out". Is there a single word that could be used instead?

I'm not so fond of this question. There's a reason restaurants hang signs that say "Carry Out" and that cashiers ask, "Is this for here or to go?" – that's the way we speak the language.

In the question you cite, the person is asking for a one-word equivalent for follow up. There's no reason follow up needs to be condensed to one word – it's a common and natural expression, as I think snailplane correctly pointed out.

I think the comment you ask about might have been more accurate had it said:

Single word requests like this one are off-topic on ELL. We should focus on how to express something naturally, not how to express something within arbitrary game-like limits such as "the expression must be a single orthographic word"

In short, I think single-word requests can be on-topic on ELL, but it really depends on how the question is framed and what the O.P. is trying to learn.

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    I agree with your revision of my comment :-) – snailplane Aug 17 '14 at 14:42
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    Let's never forget "No", "None such exists" etc is a valid answer to certain questions. – SF. Sep 6 '14 at 12:44
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Single word requests are off-topic on ELL. We should focus on how to express something naturally, not how to express something within arbitrary game-like limits such as "the expression must be a single orthographic word".
Source

I support this comment:

  • to minimise overlap with ELU
  • to focus on learning English (I understand requests for a given meaning, but I think one-word requests go beyond general language learning)
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    If I could, I'd vote for moving these requests to ELU. – Nico Aug 11 '14 at 13:47
  • You can always flag the question and use "other" to request that a moderator move it. I support the comment also, but my question is whether outright closure is the best way to promote its goals while still offering at least some help. – Esoteric Screen Name Aug 11 '14 at 15:46
  • @EsotericScreenName In "theory", from a user point of view, it'd be friendlier to move the question to ELU than closure. – Nico Aug 11 '14 at 17:14
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    I agree completely; this is what I'm getting at. Instead of closing these kinds of questions, we should do something else, like migrate them. – Esoteric Screen Name Aug 12 '14 at 0:24
  • I chose to leave that open, I think. However, it's sort of like a reverse dictionary lookup, and is likely to be minimally useful to both the OP, and learners in the future. – jimsug Aug 13 '14 at 12:13
  • I don't think single-word requests are an ELU issue by default. If you are not a native English speaker, and that's the main reason you're seeking a single word, there's a good chance this is the right place to ask. – J.R. Aug 17 '14 at 8:56

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