I think we have a knee-jerk reaction to close questions that look like they're about a word's definition.

Anytime I see such a question, I attempt to look up the word in dictionaries myself. If I can find one quickly, then I post a link to the definition in a comment and vote to close. If I, as an intelligent internet-savvy native-speaker, can't find a suitable definition in a minute or two, then it seems to me that the question is on-topic.

Here's the most recent example: the Tory manifesto saw the PM promise.

I added a note to the upvoted answer on dictionary definitions. I checked six dictionaries, and only one had the appropriate definition. Not only that, but I had to google to figure out what a "Tory manifesto" even was. England's political system bears some resemblance to the US's, so I have some prior knowledge to help me realize that this definition applies. If I were a non-native speaker from a radically different country, then not only finding this definition but realizing that it applied would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Before voting to close a question because it's "basic", please stop and take a minute to try and determine whether it actually is.

  • Premature/not-so-much-thought-into closing will always happen. I for one confess that not all of my VTC's are fully justified. There's nothing here to stop (FWIW, I don't believe closers have anything else in mind than trying to help site's quality evaluate); just bring in the issue to meta and we can decide on it. Oh, and here's a VTR.
    – M.A.R.
    Jul 17, 2015 at 20:41
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    I disagree in this particular instance - I provided explicit references to three dictionary definitions which to my mind make the meaning of the passage in question clear. But it is possible that I let my distaste for OP's questions influence my judgment. 'Meatie' (as the moderators can tell you) is the latest avatar of a troll notorious here and on ELU. His standard ploy around here is to pose a far-fetched objection to some perfectly ordinary and even clichéd figurative use of a term, whining indignantly that "dictionaries" (which he never cites) give no warrant for the use. Jul 19, 2015 at 6:52
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    I am of the same mind as @StoneyB. I personally would save my effort for better questions like maybe this unanswered one where the asker explains their thinking a little bit ell.stackexchange.com/q/62194/9161
    – ColleenV
    Jul 20, 2015 at 0:20
  • @ColleenV I really think the question about 'saw' is better than the one you've linked. Meatie's question makes the source clear, even including a link, and says exactly what the confusion is. It couldn't be more on topic: "Here's a word that's being used in a way that doesn't appear to match any definitions I can find, help me understand the intended meaning". Roka114's question is not at all clear. I don't know where that sentence came from or what it's supposed to mean. This is evident in the answers, which start with "I guess that you mean" and "Depends on what you mean".
    – DCShannon
    Jul 20, 2015 at 17:20
  • @DCShannon We'll have to agree to disagree. You might want to look over meatie's other questions and commentary before you defend the quality of those questions too vigorously. Saying you couldn't find a definition that fits doesn't mean you actually tried. I probably should recuse myself from the discussion because I have a very negative view of meatie's questions.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 20, 2015 at 18:06
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    @ColleenV I can agree to disagree. That being said, judging a question's worth based on other questions, even if they're by the same user, seems like a practice that we should avoid, not encourage. A particular question should stand or not based on its own merits.
    – DCShannon
    Jul 20, 2015 at 18:17
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    @DCShannon I am judging it on it's merits, it's just that it is exactly the same template of a lot of other fruitless questions so I may judge it more harshly than someone who doesn't see how these questions always play out. It is a masterful bit of trolling that caught me when I first got involved with ELL. I think your point would be better served by a different example.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 20, 2015 at 18:29

1 Answer 1


In my opinion, you are confusing an interesting bit of context with a good question. If I had a question about the usage of "see" in the phrase 1888 saw the rise of temperance groups would I be able to easily find this question and understand that it was relevant to my question?

Does it have any detail at all that makes it more than a very specific question about one specific body of text? Does it show any effort to find an answer before asking the question?

I could post many linguistically interesting bits of text that would be fun to explain, but they would not be good questions for the Stack Exchange format in my opinion.

I don't necessarily disagree with you that sometimes questions get closed without enough thought put in, and my solution to that is to be thoughtful when I'm reviewing. I add a comment explaining why when I disagree with a close vote so that the next reviewer might think about it before agreeing. I am very likely to vote to reopen if some effort to address the feedback from the close votes was made, even if the final result isn't as good as I would like to see.

And in the end, sometimes I just have to accept that the community doesn't agree with me on some things. The community is constantly changing, so today it might be too quick to CV, and tomorrow it might be too lenient. All any of us can do I think is to act on what we believe is right, and to communicate with each other.

  • +1 for the fourth paragraph. Granted, you could probably rework the title on the example question to make it clearer, something like "An inanimate object sees?". But I feel like you're missing the point. Maybe I didn't make it clear what exactly I'm drawing issue with? Closing because something is too localized is completely different than closing because something is "basic". All I'm saying is I disagree with the bar I've seen for "too basic", and I think it's kind of insulting. But, as long as we all do what you describe in paragraph 4, it'll work itself out.
    – DCShannon
    Jul 20, 2015 at 19:36
  • I have issues with some of the wording of the off-topic reasons, and I've proposed replacing the links in them with links to a thread that has more guidance (meta.ell.stackexchange.com/q/2412/9161). I rarely choose the "answerable with a dictionary" reason, but for meatie and others that should know better, I don't bother being gentle. There is a place for an "off-topic because we're not a dictionary look-up service" close reason. I think though that the guidance given by that reason could be better. @DCShannon
    – ColleenV
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:24

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