Posts Tagged ‘main-site’

Why did I delete your answer?

2015-11-13 by Matt Ellen. 3 comments

Imagine someone has a question about physics, say “How can I figure out the acceleration due to gravity?”

A physicist answers with “You can throw a bowling ball from various floors of a multistorey building.” The physicist knows in their head the experiment they would perform. It’s so obvious to them that they skim over the details and say what they see to be the key points, and assume that the person asking will figure the rest out.

The problem with this is that a non-physicist has asked the question, and they don’t know the details that the physicist skimmed over. If they did, they maybe wouldn’t have to ask the question. Thus, the person asking the question is little better off than they were before asking.

Now imagine this is a single word request:

Word for staring wide-eyed at a TV

I saw my son staring wide-eyed at the television. His face looked so comical to me. Is there a word to describe such wide-eyed staring?

I’d like to use it like “My son was staring at the TV last night, it was so funny to see.”, but I don’t like staring because it doesn’t emphasise his wide-eyed-ness.

Is there a word that would better describe what I mean?

And then there is the answer:

I think you’re looking for goggling.

Now you and I know that is a good word for the situation, but is it a helpful answer?

If you’re wondering, then let me tell you: it’s not. The Stack Exchange system itself will parse it and flag it as “low quality” and it will garner a comment from a moderator or other concerned member and then, if no improvements are made after a week or so, it will be deleted.

Yes, the asker now has a word to fill their gap, but the answer does not explain why goggling is fit for the purpose. The asker has no context to decide if this answer is the best fit, and no way to generalize the word to fit other situations.

Why is that important? The thing to remember is that the person who came here looking for an answer is unlikely to already know the answer. You don’t get many people who go around wondering “how many people know the word goggling?” (And I suspect most of those who do are crossword designers.)

If someone doesn’t already know the answer, then the details are important. When you suggest a word for a given context, you need to explain why it fits the context so that when they try and use it in the future they have a grasp on how the word works and what its connotations are.

I know many of you might complain that they should look it up in a dictionary. We’re a site for serious English language enthusiasts, after all.

That is irrelevant. An answer needs to be complete.

However, to entertain that idea for a moment. Most of our users are not serious enthusiasts. Most people come here looking for an answer and leave with one, without ever posting anything. That is the beauty of Stack Exchange.

That is why it is so important to leave a complete answer. With only half an answer, people will only half understand how to use a word.

So what does a better answer look like?

I think you’re looking for goggling. It’s from the verb *to goggle*, which means to stare at something with your eyes wide open and an amazed look on your face.

Instantly this answer is a lot more helpful. By adding a definition the answer now gives a clear explanation why the word is suitable. Also note that the definition isn’t from a reference. When giving the explanation a reference can be useful, but if you have your own way to articulate the meaning, then that is fine, too.

If you do use a reference it is essential to cite your source. If you copy and paste without citing your source the answer will be deleted as plagiarism. With a reference the answer would be:

I think you’re looking for goggling. From ODO, to goggle means:
Look with wide open eyes, typically in amazement

The important points to remember:

  • You are writing an answer for someone who doesn’t know anything about the word you’re suggesting.
  • An answer needs to explain the word in order for it to be useful.
  • If you are copy/pasting a definition you must cite where you got it from.

Getting into the spirit

2011-12-20 by martha. 0 comments

… the Holiday spirit, that is. Here’s a selection of Christmas and other end-of-year holiday questions that you may find interesting.

Determining Which Good Sentiment to Wish at Each Holiday – If you have ever wondered why we don’t say “Merry New Year”, or why “Happy Christmas” is perfectly fine in Britain but exceedingly odd in America, you’re not alone. If you know some of the history behind these set phrases, here’s your opportunity to post a good answer.

How many articles should go in “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”? and How should Merry Christmas and Happy New Year be capitalized? – These questions might come in handy if you haven’t written your Christmas cards yet.

What preposition should I use before “Christmas”? – Yes, this is Yet Another Question About Prepositions, but like many other commonplace expressions, Christmas does have its idiosyncrasies, so the answers might be worth a read if English isn’t your native language, or if you’re puzzled by the usage on the opposite side of the pond. Another similar question is Prepositions for “Wednesday night” and “the night of Christmas Eve.”

What method of counting puts Twelfth Night on January 6? – OK, full disclosure, this is my question, but I still think it’s a good one. And my traditional year-end gripe bears repeating, too: however you count them, the twelve days of Christmas come after Christmas. If you’re taking down your decorations on the 26th, you’re doing it wrong.

And finally, why do some words have “X” as a substitute? – This is worth reading just for the comment by mgkrebbs, which (in my opinion) quite effectively debunks the notion that writing “Xmas” is a nefarious new plot to remove Christ from Christmas.

Themed Questions: Wars

2011-11-11 by waiwai933. 2 comments

On 11 November 1918, at 11 AM Paris time, the armistice that ended fighting between the Triple Entente and Germany in the First World War came into effect, and to this day, nations around the world hold memorial days on November 11th, no matter what they are called—Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Memorial Day, or Veterans Day.

For better or for worse, wars are no small part of human history, and that is evident in the questions the English Language and Usage Stack Exchange site receives. Let’s take a look at a few:

How do I say WWI out loud?

As most countries observe November 11th in honor of those who died in WWI, let’s start with a question about that conflict. How do we expand the acronym?

Our members provide several suggestions: the First World War and World War One seem to be among the names most commonly used.

Are the allies always good guys?

Another fascinating question of terminology. The OP perhaps explains the question best:

[T]he side described as “allies” is nearly always reserved to the side to which the speaker has sympathy. Although technically the word means somebody in alliance, I virtually never seen the word applied to a supposedly bad side even if that side has an alliance of their own.

Word for opposing sides in a war

Let’s say we’d like to sidestep the issue of naming each side and just use a more general term for the two sides fighting in a war. What are our options?

Centigonal provides us with our most popular suggestion, belligerents, but Mitch and mickeyf trail close behind, with opponents, combatants, and adversaries as alternatives.

When referring to a specific war (or other named event), should the word “war” be capitalized when it appears alone?

Here’s a broader question. If we’re referring to, say, the Cold War, and we use the word war by itself, should it be capitalized?

Jim opines that both can be valid, but both he and Barrie England seem to prefer that war not be capitalized.

“Decimate”: has it been used in the “classic” sense in modern writing?

On a related note, decimate is a word commonly criticized that many people believe should mean to kill one in every ten, but very rarely do we see it used to mean the execution of a proportion that is anywhere near one-tenth. How often is the “correct” meaning used?

Very rarely, it seems—the answerers only seem to have been able to source it a few times. But ShreevatsaR provides us with an interesting glimpse of why what many people perceive to be the correct meaning is in fact not grounded in historical fact. Fascinating reading.

No matter where you live, November 11 marks an important anniversary for the human race—WWI is called a world war for a reason. Even as we enjoy the remarkable uniqueness of the date (i.e. 11-11-11), we should also take a moment to remember the tragedies of the World Wars.

Proofreading Questions

2011-10-05 by waiwai933. 2 comments

If we were to categorize all closed questions on the English Language and Usage – Stack Exchange, proofreading questions would be by far the largest category. The fact that we get proofreading questions in quantity is no surprise—after all, a vast number of people are eager to learn English, which is the lingua franca of international business, science, technology and aviation”, and they want to know if their English is respectable.

At the same time, EL&U-SE has a policy that prohibits proofreading questions. Does this mean that we don’t want to help people get better at English and that we’re only here for discussing obscure questions about grammar? Of course not! The entire point of EL&U-SE, and every other SE site, is to help people learn about the subject matter. The reason we don’t allow proofreading questions is because there is nothing to be gained by a simple proofreading question—true, a sentence will be improved, but the author does not benefit from experience, nor does the community benefit, as it is statistically unlikely that some other person will come up with the same sentence. 

Certainly, we could identify all the errors in a piece of writing, but that doesn’t teach the author about pronoun-antecdent agreement, about idiomatic uses, or about the differences between to, too, and two. We’d love to teach our friends about these things so that they can benefit in the long-term. So while we don’t allow general proofreading requests, proofreading requests that identify a specific area of concern are welcome.

For example, presume the following post was posted on EL&U-SE.

The cats eating food of cat.
What are the errors in the above sentence?

The example sentence has at least two mistakes, depending on how you count them, but that isn’t our concern right now. Let’s say we were to identify the errors for the author. Hopefully, he/she would be grateful, but in the long run, the author’s only resource is to continue asking us. This doesn’t help anyone learn, and eventually, we’d all get bored of these questions.

On the other hand, here’s a good example of a proofreading question:

The cats eating food of cat.
Can you use *eating* in the above sentence? I don’t see verbs that end in *ing* by themselves in sentences, but I don’t know why that is.

This is an example of a good proofreading question; an answer could discuss verb forms that end in -ing (i.e. participles and gerunds) and why they can’t be used as a verb by themselves (but they can with a form of the verb to be, e.g. was eating). This way, the author can understand better how verb forms work. Note that the author has to take the initiative to identify the area of concern; it would be too much expenditure of effort if we explained every error when the author was only trying to get an editor for free and didn’t care how or why the sentence was wrong

In addition, most people are kind enough to mention as a side note that food of cat is wrong, and why food for cats and cat food are the acceptable phrasings. We’re generally able to help with minor issues, so long as the original author has demonstrated concern and a willingness to learn.

In summary, proofreading questions, when they identify the area of concern, are welcome on EL&U-SE.