There is clear distinction between thesaurus questions and on-topic word (or idiom)-request questions.

  1. The former (usually) requests for a list of words like this one. Verbs for describing the action of defecating. It is readily answerable by searching the internet. This is the one link I found in a matter of a few seconds. If one user posts an answer using one word or idiom in the link, the number of answers to this question could be more than 100. The question itself is too broad.

  2. The former (usually) doesn't have any context. What is the common term for the word “menstruation”?. This is the one link that I found in a matter of a few seconds. If one user posts an answer using one word or idiom, the number of answers could be more than 10.

  3. The former (usually) is answerable for non-native speakers to look up their own language to English dictionary. I firmly believe the above two questions are answerable by this method. This is the typical thesaurus question.

  4. The former (usually) lacks research. Why? Because the Original Posters don't bother to do it expecting this community to do research on their behalf. That's why those thesaurus questions are not good for this community.

For the above questions to be on-topic, I think the Original Posters should indicate how the word or idiom would be used as indicated in the closing reason for a Single-Word-Request question on English Language and Usage:

Questions on choosing an ideal word or phrase must include information on how it will be used in order to be answered. For help writing a good word or phrase request, see: About single word requests.

Unless the policy of this community is to make this forum another run-of-the-mill thesaurus dictionary site, I think we have to make clear distinction between the thesaurus questions and non-thesaurus questions. The more we become welcoming to this kind of questions, the more thesaurus questions we would see, e.g.:

  1. What are more common words/phrases for the word to "fart"?
  2. What are more common words/phrases for the word to "piss"?
  3. What are more colloquial verbs to replace to "fart"?
  4. What are more colloquial verbs to replace to "piss"?

The list goes on and on.

Do we need these questions? I would like to have your opinion on this.

  • 1
    ELU has, as I understand it, rather sharply rejected these in the same reason they use for dictionary lookups; so far there has been very little concern about this on ELL, perhaps because we don't get too many of these questions. Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 8:26
  • @NathanTuggy Yes, I think you are right. The thing is some members on English Language and Usage complain that the former questions were not closed and we are applying double standard. Now, English Language Learners is relatively new and we need to implement a clear policy or guideline for this kind of question so that we won't hear the same complaint later.
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 8:29
  • 3
    Related: Ask even if the answer exists online Just because someone fluent in English can find an answer somewhere else on the Internet doesn't automatically make a question off-topic here regardless of how quickly they can do it.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 14:31
  • I want to point out that we keep talking about this question as "another term for defecate", but the original author of the question never mentioned the word defecate. They knew a word existed but originally thought it might start with an 'f'. The question title was edited by someone here to change "making a shit" into "defecating" and someone else edited the body of his question to the point where it was difficult to tell what the author's intention/skill level really was. "Bodily function" questions are more difficult for learners to find answers for because people insist on being polite.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 16:54
  • @ColleenV That is another issue that I am about to raise here. We should not edit anything other than tags. It is a community to welcome Learners. Why would someone edit the questions? There are too many editors on this site. They should spend more time in answering than editing.
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 16:56
  • @Rathony I think editing title and tags are important, but too many folks edit the body of the question too heavily. We have has some discussion about this already: meta.ell.stackexchange.com/q/6 meta.ell.stackexchange.com/q/2769 meta.ell.stackexchange.com/q/2465 Editing posts is just as important as answering because a good answer does no good if someone else with the same question can't find it.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 17:00
  • @ColleenV Simple solution is ask users not to edit anything other than tags. This community is not English Language and Usage. We have original posters who just started to learn the language. What do you get from editing their sentences unless we are a proof-reading site? When I joined this site, I felt it strange to leave out grammatical and typographical mistakes when editing, but I understand now. They show the Original Poster's competency in English and I believe we should not edit anything other than relevant tags.
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 17:05
  • 1
    Sometimes it is necessary to edit a question to make it clear what is being asked. We can't expect a learner to write perfect posts, but we can help them express what they are trying to ask so they will get better answers.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 17:14
  • @ColleenV Sometimes an edit could cause confusion and lead to a question that the Original Poster didn't intend in the first place. If we have a better tag system, we don't have to worry about those edits. The most important thing is there is no standard based on which users could edit. This issue should have been discussed when this site was created.
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 17:17

2 Answers 2


What is the common term for the word “menstruation”?. This is the one link that I found in a matter of a few seconds.

That one link says nothing about how "common" each of those words are – which is what the question asked.

These are valid questions for learners. It's often a matter of reading between the lines and seeing what the learners are after. They are plenty of slang words for bodily functions, readily discovered with a little research, but learners often want to know which ones are common, or polite, or socially acceptable in mixed company, etc.

As an example, the word "intercourse" can be used as a synonym for "conversation," but I pity the learners who visit your one trusty link and start dropping that word into their, um, intercourse.

Oftentimes these questions aren't simply fishing for random synonyms, they are cases where the O.P. is trying to figure out which of the available synonyms can be used in certain situations. And we really don't need the close hammer coming down too hard on these inquiring minds.

  • I googled "polite term for defecate" and got this link. The question doesn't have any context other than asking for words to be used colloquially. The second question asks for common term. I got this in a matter of a few seconds. Why do we need to provide a Google service to the Original Posters? If they asked "I found this and that expressions", which is more common and natural?" I would not ask it
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 14:21
  • 5
    @Rathony I don't think that you are taking into consideration that learners are asking a question in a language they don't speak well. If you think to yourself "this would be an OK question if they worded it differently, maybe we should dig a little to see if that's what they were trying to express but were unable to. Here is the "Google for synonyms" answer to a question, and it's flat out wrong: ell.stackexchange.com/a/80501/9161
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 14:35
  • @ColleenV We can't fix all the wrong answers on the internet. I know we can't expect learners to write a question in an ideal way. My point is we need to ask them to provide context, e.g., what is the definition of the word common? Are you going to say it to your parents, friends, boyfriend, or your colleagues? The questions look bad. What is the common term for "pregnancy"? What is the common term for "hallucination". What is the common term for "drunk"... are they good questions?
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 14:44
  • 3
    @Rathomy It's not a wrong answer, it's a wrong answer for the question that was asked. Those synonyms are fine in a different context, which was my point. The learner needs help that a thesaurus can't provide.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 15:23
  • 4
    I agree that adding something like, "I found this and that expression – which is more common and natural?" could maybe improve some of these questions. That said, I still think allowances can be made, particularly for newer users. I don't see the need to discourage or condemn all of what you call "thesaurus questions" in a meta post. We need to look deeper at each question individually, and not paint with too broad a brush.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 15:48
  • This answer is exactly what I expected from you. Your using intercourse as an example simply reinforces my point that English Language Learners should not be a thesaurus site. I will upvote more than 100 times (if I could) if anyone asks about the word intercourse that has a different meaning than we normally use with an example sentence or context. That's the question we have to welcome, not "What is more common term for this word?" or "What is more colloquial term for this word?" Is there any reason to close other questions including a request for proof-reading?
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 18:31
  • 1
    I think a request for proof-reading is more helpful to learners than those thesaurus questions. We should not paint with a broad brush. Learners want to know what is wrong with their sentences. They can't do any research on their sentences. I understand the reason why proof-reading questions should be closed on English Language and Usage, but I don't understand why they should be closed on English Language Learners while those thesaurus questions have such lenient acceptance. We should not close any question at all except for 100% duplicate questions. They are all learners after all.
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 18:39
  • @Rathony Proof-reading is off-topic because it only helps the person who wrote the text, so it's not more helpful to learners than a question about the right word to choose for a context. It's extremely unlikely that two people will write exactly the same sentence with exactly the same mistakes. It's much more likely that many learners will confuse compliment with complement, or that they will see "teeming with" as a synonym for "rife with" and write something like "teeming with crime".
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 19:13
  • 4
    Asking for what is common or colloquial is NOT a "thesaurus question." A thesaurus question asks, "What's another word for X?" A stipulation like, "What's a more common word for X?", or, "What's a more polite word for X?", or, "What's a more colloquial word for X?", or, "What's a more technical word for X?" is different, because thesauri in general do not say much about how their listed synonyms are used, while native speakers can refute or confirm a word's pervasiveness, politeness, or familiarity. As for proofreading, ELL is not a free proofreading service.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 19:33
  • @ColleenV That's one of my points. If someone asks what is more colloquial for defecating, no one would write the same answer. It could be different for regions, family background and even religion. No one would write the same answer for those thesaurus questions unless two or three words/phrases are picked up by the Original Poster and compared. I fully understand your points, but we have something missing here. I would differentiate them using general thesaurus questions and specific thesaurus questions. The latter could be acceptable, but we have to think about the former.
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 4:42
  • Based on your answer, this question, Thanks vs Thank you vs Thank you so much? and this one, Aggressive in a good way should not be closed. They are all legitimate questions from learners. Let me rephrase the latter, What is the positive term for the word aggressive”?. I don't see the difference, do you?
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 6:25

I agree with you that we do get some questions that are answerable by a dictionary and that they are off-topic. I think that thesaurus questions are trickier to decide whether they are on-topic or off-topic.

The reason I think the particular question Verbs for describing the action of defecating is on-topic is because the asker did put some additional context in that was later edited out by someone in the community to make the question more "concise". There was quite a bit of context and explanation in the original, so I don't see this as a "what's another word for X?" question (which I agree would be off-topic).

Also, topics like defecation, farting, sexual intercourse, et. al. are really tricky for a learner because of the euphemisms. It's really hard to tell from a thesaurus which "colloquial" phrases might make a bad impression and which are just slang or informal. I'll tell you right now that if you say "pinch a loaf" in front of me, I'll think you're a low-class goofball. Maybe you aren't, but low-class goofballs are the only folks I know that use that expression in mixed company. There are probably some folks that have an impression of what I'm like because I used the word "goofball" instead of something else (don't be fooled, I use much stronger language when I speak than when I write).

English is probably one of the most expressive languages on the planet. A word in one context can express something completely different in a slightly different context. A misplaced comma can change the meaning or tone of a sentence. I think if the asker tries to explain why they didn't just look a word up in a thesaurus that we should try to bring the question on-topic before closing it.

If the entire question is "What are more common words/phrases for the word to "fart"?", I'll vote with you to close it (although I'll probably choose the "this needs more context/show your research" reason instead of the "general reference" reason). If it seems to me like the asker is having trouble understanding the different nuances of the synonyms, I think we should leave it open.

  • 2
    This site DOES want questions, don't they? I TOTALLY agree with Colleen here. I am struggling to learn Italian, and I must tell you, often I am very afraid of posting a question, because I don't want to run afoul of the rules in any manner. My questions, I am sure, may look dumb, or very elementary to the moderators and other users on the Italian Site, but they are dumb and elementary because I am LEARNING, and I don't know very much about Italian. These sites should not become so unforgiving in nature to use that you are scaring off the very people who could benefit from using them. ;-)
    – Msfolly
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 19:52
  • @Msfolly There is clear distinction between a learner who spend some time doing research and write a question with specific points and a learner who doesn't want to do research and ask whatever question (s)he likes in whatever format. I am not sure how Italian Stack Exchange would respond to questions in my post, but I doubt they would be welcomed very much there, e.g. "What is more colloquial term for defecating in Italian?". I am tempted to ask that question there to get a response.
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 11:43
  • @'Rathony Please don't! I am sure, though, that it would get a lot of views... ;-)
    – Msfolly
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 12:08
  • Exactly. Then, why would English Language Learners Stack Exchange want such a question? That's the whole point in my post. :-)
    – user24743
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 13:48

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