Why was How did the cross-linguistic univerbation 'nothing/not/none/no + less' semantically shift to signify 'despite'? closed?

The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Language-specific grammar and usage questions are off-topic unless primarily concerned with linguistics rather than usage. There are many language-specific sites where such questions are welcomed; see: http://stackexchange.com/sites" – curiousdannii, bytebuster, Jeremy Needle, Alex B., jknappen

My question obviously is not 'language-specific'.

Perhaps this wasn't the true reason? One closer commented

You've now turned an acceptable question into an off-topic one. Arbitrary meaning changes are not good questions for this site. – curiousdannii 8 hours ago

Yet s/he doesn't explain how this semantic shift is "arbitrary"? Even if it is, I didn't know that arbitrary semantic shifts are off-topic?


It is pointless and argumentative to repeatedly ask the question "why was this question closed?". No new information is obtained from asking the question. It is possible that you would gain actual knowledge if all users who voted to close would explain their reasoning, but you know that this does not happen.

My position is that the "language-specific" reason (as represented either in the "close-box" or in the help center) is too telegraphic, and does not inform users what questions are likely to be closed for that reason. That means that users have to induce a generalization from the actual examples and surrounding comments for such questions. This is actually doable, for experienced users, so the only real problem is the newbies who have minimal experience in distinguishing on-topic from off-topic.

You could reasonably argue that the three existing site-specific VTC reasons are insufficient, and should be expanded to 5 (which I believe is now possible since we are out of Beta). Observationally, "language-specific" subsumes multiple distinct reasons, and the "tree" reasons suffers from over-specificity (it's not just trees) plus a small degree of over-generality (it's not about everything that pertains to trees).

One remedy would be to replace the help-center declaration of what linguistics is, changing it from "It is the scientific study of languages" to "Linguistics is the study of language systems", except that this still needs a bit more explanation. The listed item "and more!" really needs to be deleted. The "and not about" list needs to be better articulated, especially since "language-specific" does not appear in the off-topic list.


I've explained my personal perspective on etymology questions before:

Linguistics is the study of language systems. Etymology questions belong here when they're asking about systematic issues. This could involve sound system changes. It could be about languages which have borrowed wholesale and systematically from another language. And questions on grammatical morphology are almost always on topic. But non systematic arbitrary borrowings or meaning changes don't really belong here.

When your question was asking about whether several European languages had inherited their words or whether they had later all constructed them as calques, that's a systematic issue. But now you're not asking about that, you're asking about the original formation of the word in whichever language it originated in. It's the origin of a single word, no longer focused on anything systematic.

I call it arbitrary because words can develop their meanings in innumerable ways. Usually through some idiomatic accident in one culture and time. It's up to question askers to demonstrate that their questions are about systematic issues; if you don't, I will assume that a question about a single word is not systematic and I'll vote to close.

  • 'I call it arbitrary because words can develop their meanings in innumerable ways.': This feels overbroad? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_change#Typology_by_Blank_(1999) don't appear 'arbitrary'.
    – NNOX Apps
    Aug 14 '19 at 2:19
  • 1
    @Greek-Area51Proposal Any of those methods could apply, which one does is a quirk of history.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Aug 14 '19 at 7:18
  • 'you're asking about the original formation of the word in whichever language it originated in. It's the origin of a single word' : How do you know that it's one word that branched out, not multiple words that shifted identically but separately?
    – NNOX Apps
    Aug 14 '19 at 19:57

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