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I ask this question because, in my opinion, it is painfully telling (of what, I’m not sure, hence the question) about many of this site’s visitors and at least one of its registered voters when an insightful and thought-provoking question asking about “Stagnation de la langue après une évolution technique” gets fewer than 200 views (actually only 159 as of now) and gets unilaterally “close-voted” to boot (if you can call one vote “getting voted [on]”) for being “too broad,” whereas a question asking about “French equivalents of 'cost an arm and a leg'” gets more than 2K views (2,174 and counting) and not even that same lone vote to close.

Granted, the latter, “arm/leg,” question technically only asked “Are there more [examples]?” (requiring a simple, non-broad, yes/no answer) without expressly requesting to see other examples (although I imagine the many examples provided so far were welcome, if not expected, by its author), whereas the former, “stagnation,” question did go beyond simply asking, yes or no, if there were other examples by daring to come right out and express its author’s curiosity/desire to actually know what some of them were.
(However, I seriously doubt if simply editing the last paragraph of the former question to match the latter’s, yes/no “Are there more?” type of query would get it reopened, but maybe it’s worth a try.)

My only hesitation in writing/asking this stemmed from my fear that it would result in getting the latter question closed (which is not my intention, btw) for it has been my general experience in life that when people are called out for engaging in the seemingly inconsistent treatment of two parties, the initial reaction of many of them is to erase the consistency, not by kindly rethinking their most recent, adverse treatment of the latest party, but by harshly and retroactively reversing their inconsistent favorable treatment of the earlier party.

However, in some cases involving inconsistent/selective enforcement of rules, among which I am personally tempted to include this one, where such a reaction could easily be seen as a blatant attempt to cover something up (possibly the favorable treatment of questions with high view counts? Again, hence my question.), I can’t imagine that anyone (except perhaps D. Trump), from fear of perhaps calling attention to all the reasons behind the inconsistent treatment, would give more than fleeting consideration to such a course of action, which leads me now to fear less that the latter question will be unilaterally closed.
If, however, I’m wrong and it is closed, unilaterally or otherwise, I sincerely apologize, in advance, to its author for that sad and unintended outcome.

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    I see a huge difference between asking what is a basically a translation question and a question about how languages evolve historically. Even after reading the posts below, I think it's all apples and oranges. It's like how to you properly do the crawl versus the history of the swimming pool. How can these be compared? – Lambie Dec 24 '17 at 19:46
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My theory in a nutshell: Feelew's question didn't have a clearly identifiable goal, and that unwritten principle of acceptable questions, for better or worse, tends to win out over the written rules.

To say it in more words, these are what I see as the relevant rules for asking SE questions:

  1. Don't ask open-ended questions to which there is no one right answer.

  2. Don't treat the site as a lookup service, like a dictionary or encyclopedia.

  3. Demonstrate that you have a goal in asking your question.

There is both overlap and tension between these rules. Specifically, (1) and (2) ask fundamentally contrary things, and (1) and (3) appear to overlap. But I think the two questions you cite help tease out the differences and compromises. Also, I suspect that (3) is less often acknowledged.

Feelew's question violates (1) and (3). It looks like a straight request for data. Data can satisfy curiosity, but it's more fruitful when it proves or disproves a hypothesis. What is Feelew trying to learn from the answers? I suspect he has or can name a few good questions to investigate using those examples, but I don't know what they are.

The other question violates (1) and (2). It shows little original research. If there were a site where the author could enter "costs an arm and a leg" and get a list of (verifiably) high-quality translations into French, he would have used it, and troubled fewer people. But StackExchange is about people—tapping the wisdom of unexpected experts (or bibliographers)—rather than static resources.

The questions then are: Why did the second configuration "win" the SE game while the first "lost"; and should it have been this way?

I'll try to answer the second first. No: in my opinion, it should have been the other way round. The solicitation of good data from which insights might or might not arise seems to me more interesting than the search for equivalents to a single expression. The goal is clear in the latter case, but the criteria are inherently underspecified. Accepting an answer to that question actually risks producing the wrong impression. I would rather see volunteer researchers not coming to conclusions than volunteer translators short-circuiting the work everyone must do to really understand a language.

That is, of course, a cynical view, and I don't mean that "What's the equivalent?" questions are always unproductive; I've asked them too when I can't think of a good way to express something, even though I can produce literal translations. But a good answer to such a question should discuss the difficulties of the translation and how they can be resolved, and should ideally not be an unqualified list of options. It's hard to produce good answers and probably unsatisfying.

So why did the close votes go the way they did? I suspect because it's easier to see the immediate use of a question asking for a translation than examples that may or may not produce interesting questions. Moreover, most voters probably have the same question themselves. I certainly suspect that view counts and positive votes are correlated.

Of course, close votes come from established users, not random visitors. So they must somehow be in line with the goal of the site as the veterans understand it, and perhaps my view isn't aligned with that. After all, people come here primarily to solve problems. One of those questions seeks to do that by a much more direct route than the other.


Jan. 18, 2018: Here's another of the many questions asked with no attempt at scholarship nor trace of effort on the part of the asker, with a query that could easily be resolved by an online service of high enough quality, and having no one right answer nor requiring any explanation of possible answers whatsoever. As usual, this question will be relatively active for the site and garner lots of views and answers of poor quality. But at least it has a clear goal and one that many users will probably also be curious about. Don't expect closure.

  • Thank you for a great analysis & especially for the insight on those 3 rules & how the respective potential weaknesses of these 2 queries can be distinguished from each other in terms of those rules. I had just seen them as two, arguably overly-broad, Qs, the only difference between them being that #1 came roaring out of the gate w/many early views, potentially on track to reach over 2K (which did occur) while #2 did not, which made me wonder if there’s possibly an “understanding” at the top, such as “Avoid unilaterally voting to close popular questions, folks, 'cause we really need the hits.” – Papa Poule Dec 18 '17 at 15:35
  • On the other hand, you do, however, mention that you “certainly suspect that view counts and positive votes are correlated,” & being ever wary, as I am, of those with power and especially of their actions, I could easily be tempted to interpret the notion of “positive votes” as including “the withholding of unilateral votes to close” (for the sole purpose of my own expanded understanding of what could possibly be suspected from the correlation you note, and not to put these extra words in your mouth). – Papa Poule Dec 18 '17 at 15:36
  • @PapaPoule FWIW, I don't think view counts or positive votes usually directly influence close decisions — at least, I don't think they influence my votes. I don't know whether others would agree. It seems to me, actually, that the enforcement of policies around here tends to shut down potentially view-garnering questions more often than esoteric, rarely viewed questions. – Luke Sawczak Dec 18 '17 at 16:22
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    Primarily opinion-based questions should not appear on SE. So I did not ask something along this line: “Is it still okay, though bars are not used anymore (or so little anyways) to say ‘barrer sa porte’?”, to which I suspect Europeans would have said no, purist Quebecquers would also have said no, and a few others would have said this is the familiar way we say it in Quebec, though it is technically wrong. Then what? Nothing to maintain a conversation, to get people to think about it any deeper. Now, I have a closed question, but I got data out of it if it comes around in a conversation. – ﺪﺪﺪ Dec 18 '17 at 19:36
  • @Feelew Je suis d'accord. – Luke Sawczak Dec 18 '17 at 23:29
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    I remember this Q. about a word not appearing in ngrams but the issue was the person did not select French in the drop-down hahaha. That was top voted. There's this confusion between acknowledging content and liking, a lot of it is about whether one shares the same question or concern or could see themselves having the same question for the same reasons. Is that flocking or trending? Who knows. Anyways, cheers! – user3177 Jan 21 '18 at 7:05
  • @onvousaouï lol. The upvote/downvote system definitely has limitations... When your language only has words for "yes" and "no", they end up having to mean so many different things! At least the star button adds something like "me too", but it seems people usually upvote anyway... – Luke Sawczak Jan 21 '18 at 13:21
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Closing questions has nothing to do with the number of views or the reputation of the asker. It's about whether the question is suitable for this site or not.

French equivalents of "cost an arm and a leg" asks how to express an idea in French. This is a perfectly reasonable question, and a very common type on this site.

Stagnation de la langue après une évolution technique asks for examples of an extremely common phenomenon. As it says in the help center under “What types of questions should I avoid asking?”:

To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where (…)

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ______?”
  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use ______ for ______, what do you use?”

(…)

Constructive subjective questions:

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”
  • tend to have long, not short, answers
  • (…)

The question is a textbook example of a “list question”, i.e. a question that invites items rather than answers. It played out in a very predictable way: 6 answers were posted before the question was closed, and every single one of them just cites one example of the phenomenon. The “answers” do not answer the question, they are just citing examples. A good answer would strive to enumerate all the examples, or to explain how to construct or locate them, but this is impossible because the criteria are too broad and subjective. Stack Exchange is not suited for that kind of enumeration.

Granted, the latter, “arm/leg,” question technically only asked “Are there more [examples]?” (requiring a simple, non-broad, yes/no answer) without expressly requesting to see other examples (although I imagine the many examples provided so far were welcome, if not expected, by its author), whereas the former, “stagnation,” question did go beyond simply asking, yes or no, if there were other examples by daring to come right out and express its author’s curiosity/desire to actually know what some of them were. (However, I seriously doubt if simply editing the last paragraph of the former question to match the latter’s, yes/no “Are there more?” type of query would get it reopened, but maybe it’s worth a try.)

No. It's about what the question means, not the detail of how it's worded. The fact that both questions are worded as “are there examples of X” is not relevant. In one question, X has a small, clearly defined scope, which is perfectly fine for this site. In the other question, X has an extremely broad scope, inviting thousands of answers, which is not suitable for this site.

After a rather long-winded discussion which, frankly, reads more like an appeal to emotion rather than a reasoned argument, you state:

inconsistent/selective enforcement of rules, among which I am personally tempted to include this one

Uh, what? This is clearly not an example of selective enforcement since the question that should have been closed is closed and the question that should have been open is open.

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    What's the difference between "asking how to express an idea in idiomatic French is fine" and "please don't ask us to translate a text to or from another language" (Help Center? Lazy "how do I say this English phrase in French" questions often get the comment that we're not a translation service, although they are also often answered. I find the line is not well-defined, and the arm-and-leg question is not a great specimen. But requests for the equivalents of idioms tend to be popular, probably because idioms are both common and untranslatable. – Luke Sawczak Dec 20 '17 at 2:42
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    Also, there's nothing subjective about the possible answers to Feelew's question. It's open-ended and generates a list rather than allowing for the picking of one right answer, for sure, and I can see how a consistent application of policy would lead to its closure. But I don't really see where subjectivity comes into it. – Luke Sawczak Dec 20 '17 at 2:44
  • @LukeSawczak “Please don't ask us to translate a text” is for people who ask how to translate a whole text, often one or more whole paragraphs. Asking how to translate an idea is fine as long as the idea is clearly conveyed. Feelew's question is subjective because you can choose to stop the etymological derivation at any time. – Gilles Dec 20 '17 at 8:03
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    More finely, then, what's the (key) difference between the arm/leg question and, say, this one? Is it that arm/leg is an idiom and this is an arbitrary fragment? Re: subjectivity: the question about whether to say aterrissage, alunissage, etc. is certainly subjective, but there seems to be a testable criterion in the request « Je serais curieux de connaître d’autres exemples de mots ou d’expressions qui n’expriment plus forcément la réalité technologique qui a originellement présidé à leur création. » – Luke Sawczak Dec 20 '17 at 14:12
  • +1, for, as is my belief/custom, anyone who takes the time to answer any of my questions deserves/receives at least my upvote for that answer. You correctly identified and aptly described the question’s arguably long-winded penultimate and final paragraphs as an emotional appeal, one addressed to those reading it not to vote to close the “arm/leg” question, and I’m very pleased that you chose to (valiantly) defend that question and not to (otherwise) close it unilaterally (& I hope that choice stands). – Papa Poule Dec 20 '17 at 15:19
  • Regarding your defense of the “arm/leg” question, however, in light of your “It's about what the question means, not the detail of how it's worded,” I’m wondering what the difference is, since it’s apparently not in the detail of how they are worded, between “I use ______ for ______, what do you use?” and “I've only found _____. Are there more?” – Papa Poule Dec 20 '17 at 15:20

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