As far as I know, etymology has never been on-topic on ELL.

This recent question asks about the origin of a term and uses, to my surprise, the tag “etymology”.

Unsurprisingly, a high rep user shows impatience with the question, which, however, finally get an answer.

Is it on-topic here? Has anything recently changed with respect to etymo questions on ELL?

  • Be that as it may, the community has always tolerated certain etymology questions since the beginning, and my impression is the criteria was whether an English language learner would have the question. Of course, that's subjective but what it means is that simply calling out a question as etymology isn't enough to have it migrated. (Huh, and I wouldn't say the question is tagged the best way)
    – M.A.R.
    Jul 26, 2018 at 19:19
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    Even though some of us argued that it should be off-topic here, the support for that position was always lukewarm at best.
    – user230
    Jul 27, 2018 at 13:13
  • I'm an active member of the EL&U community, and I wouldn't mind see the lag bolt question there. It shows research and the term is probably somewhat obscure to many native/fluent English speakers. (NB: I'm not saying it is off-topic here; just that it would be on-topic there.)
    – Lawrence
    Jul 29, 2018 at 11:53
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    @Lawrence - yes, I know that it would be on-topic on ELU. The issue here is just the opposite, is the question on-topic on ELL? Apparently the traditional negative attitude towards etymo questions on ELL has changed and now, from what they suggest, these questions are sort of tolerated on this site.
    – user29952
    Jul 29, 2018 at 13:52
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    Is it actually an etymology question, or a [meaning]/[meaning-in-context] one? The poster doesn't seem interested in when and how the phrase "lag bolts" gained widespread use, but what "lag" means when talking about bolts. Aug 1, 2018 at 11:13
  • @MaciejStachowski agreed, the OP tried to look up its meaning ~ What is the meaning of "lag" here? I've read all meanings at Wiktionary to no avail ~
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2018 at 9:02
  • @Mari-LouA - whatever they, the etymo issue is still a hot one on ELL!
    – user29952
    Aug 2, 2018 at 9:05
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    "This recent question asks about the origin of a term" Not in the title, and not in the body. Only in a tag. The question is perfectly on-topic with or w/o the etymology tag, removing the tag does no harm to the OP nor to any of the answers posted. It does, however, remove the pretext/excuse for closure. Of course, one could always say it should be migrated to EL&U nevertheless.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2018 at 9:13
  • @Mari-LouA On-topic questions should not be migrated. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10249/…
    – ColleenV
    Aug 2, 2018 at 10:42
  • @ColleenV The point I am making is that three different users cast their vote to close it for being "off-topic", not everyone agrees that the Q fits ELL.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2018 at 11:01
  • @Mari-LouA Of course not everyone will agree. Some folks haven't read the help text since we've changed it or they didn't agree with the change. That's OK. We shouldn't carve these things in stone and forget about them. A little bit of disagreement is good because it makes us discuss certain topics and make sure the community still feels the same way about them. It was that sort of disagreement that prompted the change to not specifically exclude etymology questions.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 2, 2018 at 11:05

1 Answer 1


We updated the "What can I ask about here?" page a while back to remove the statement that etymology was off-topic and to instead suggest visiting EL&U for that topic in the "If you have questions about the following topics, you may want visit other Stack Exchange sites to see if they would be a better place to ask your question" section. We chose this route because there are some situations where etymology can be useful to a learner, and there are some folks in the community that are interested in asking or answering etymology questions. Much of the decision of whether to ask on ELL or EL&U depends upon what sort of answer you would like, and many learners feel more comfortable asking here.

I don't see any close votes or anyone complaining that the question was completely off-topic for ELL, so I think so far it was handled exactly as it should have been. Maybe some of the comments could be misinterpreted as being hostile to these sorts of questions, but I don't think they were intended to be.

It never hurts to revisit a discussion to make sure the community still feels the same way about it - we've had a lot of new folks join and a few veterans leave - so the consensus may have shifted.

  • 1
    There are now three votes in favour of closing the question because questions about etymology are off-topic on ELL. Seeing is believing.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2018 at 5:12
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    @Mari-LouA Some folks aren't aware of the change to the help center text, so it's good that we're having this discussion.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 2, 2018 at 10:40
  • @Mari-LouA - I can't see the CVs for rep reasons, but if the question is put on hold as off-topic, I'd expect it to be reopened immediately, given all the above.
    – user29952
    Aug 3, 2018 at 7:30

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