Prior discussions from the past couple of years:

I'd like to make another push to rework our custom close reasons. I'll make proposals for each close reason, so please give feedback on them.


So the most straightforward is the translation reasons. Currently it says:

Questions seeking help with identification of or translation of specific samples of text are off-topic.

We should change this to include speech, not just text. And maybe also include transcriptions:

Questions seeking help with the identification, translation, or transcription of specific samples of text or speech are off-topic.


Questions requesting to make syntax trees are not within the scope defined in the help center. For any doubt, please ask on Meta.

This close reason is clear, but it could be better. And those links are too generic to be of much use.

These two discussions raised some suggestions of what we could edit it, in particular changing it to refer to homework questions instead of trees:

Thinking again now, I don't think that gets at the big problem. Lazy homework questions is a problem, but arguably the bigger problem is that we can't make a tree for them when we don't know what tree model they're using. I think a close reason like this gets at both issues:

Questions requesting syntax trees are not allowed unless they ask how a specific grammatical feature can be represented in a specific grammatical framework's syntax tree model.

The idea is that questions like "How do these inalienable possession markers from X language get represented in Role & Reference Grammar trees?" would be allowed, but anything less specific than that would not.


Prior discussions:

I'd like to propose that we add a new close reason for the etymology of specific words. I think adding one will remove a lot of the messiness currently felt by many in the community over how the grammar and usage close reason gets used. We'll need to ask staff to increase our custom close reason limit, but this is a real need so I can't imagine they'd decline.

Languages are always changing; words change their meanings and are borrowed between languages unpredictably. So questions asking for the origin of words or phrases are off-topic unless they demonstrate that there is a reasonable assumption of systematicity, by situating themselves within a historical context of language change or contact.

I think this close reason would distinguish between the good etymology questions we get and the low effort ones that are trying to use this site as an etymology look-up service. No doubt there will be disagreement over some questions, and that's where we'll use our judgement.

Grammar and usage

The way this close reason is currently used is quite messy and not consistent with what it actually says. But if the other close reasons are changed, then this close reason actually looks quite focused to me now.

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

Maybe we could add something about language learning? Maybe change "usage" to "meaning and usage"? And I'll change the final sentence so that it doesn't misleadingly suggest that all languages have a site where you can ask these questions.

Language-specific grammar, meaning, and usage questions, as well as questions about teaching and learning languages are off-topic unless primarily concerned with linguistics rather than usage. Many language have their own specific sites where such questions are welcome; see: https://stackexchange.com/sites

Edit: 15 June 2022

The first three of these close reasons have now been implemented. We will wait to see if we do need a fourth one for grammar and usage or not.

  • 3
    I agree on all points.
    – prash Mod
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 14:03
  • We are still limited to only 3 "close reason" slots. But of the four above, whichever kind of question we see the least, we can just write the off-topic reason in the help pages.
    – prash Mod
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 7:21
  • 1
    @prash Other sites have more, the mods just have to request it. I'm pretty confident the staff would accept our request - we get a lot of all four of these types of questions, and none have any substantial overlap with each other. Also the fact that we've been debating for years what we could do to fit everything into just 3 close reasons, without any success...
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 7:56
  • I see one downvote - it would be really helpful if you could give specific feedback. We want community consensus on this after all!
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 23:17
  • 1
    OK, I see the title and look in vain for one source of The New Rules. Please post them here and identify them as not just proposals any more.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 15:50

1 Answer 1


I wholeheartedly agree. But since we can only have three custom reasons, I propose getting rid of the "language-specific grammar and usage" reason, replacing it with the etymology one.

In my experience, "language-specific grammar and usage" is used as the default close reason for all sorts of questions. The intent, I imagine, was for this reason to apply to ELU-style questions: "is it correct to say 'whom' here?" But instead it gets applied to everything from etymology to translation requests to theory questions that people don't especially like.

Moreover, language-specific questions aren't always poorly received here. From a descriptive standpoint, I've asked and answered various questions about Egyptian, Sumerian, and Hittite that have very limited applicability to other languages but still seem to have been accepted and enjoyed by the community.

The result is that "language-specific grammar and usage" feels like a general "this question is bad" reason that doesn't give the asker any real information. If a question can be better answered on ELU, Language Learning, or one of the other stacks, it should be migrated (which can be accomplished by flagging the question even if we don't have established migration paths). If it's a translation request, close it as a translation request. And for any actual usage questions that don't have a migration target and don't seem like a good fit for the site, a custom reason is always an option.

  • As I said in the comments, I'm pretty confident the staff would increase our limit if we asked. But if they don't, then let's do this.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 22:45
  • 1
    @curiousdannii True, but honestly even if that were possible I'd prefer to remove "language-specific grammar and usage". It so seldom seems to be used for its intended purpose and if we keep it it'll obfuscate the more relevant reasons.
    – Draconis Mod
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 22:55
  • I guess we could change the other reasons now, and then see how we feel in a couple of months about whether it would be helpful to have the 4th reason.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 23:10
  • Oh no, I just took a look at the custom close reasons dialog, and you now have to add so much info now! They changed it since the last time I added one, when it was just a single box.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 23:42
  • The problem with keeping "language-specific grammar and usage" open is that people will ask questions served by other sites meant for that purpose. We have SE sites for English, Japanese, German, etc. This will become the dumping ground for all languages that don't have such SE sites. Besides, usage guidance is not what linguistics is about.
    – prash Mod
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 12:31
  • 1
    @prash We don't have to declare them on-topic; I just don't like it being listed in the close reasons because it's used in such a way as to render it meaningless. We don't currently have a specific close reason for no-effort homework questions but they still get closed.
    – Draconis Mod
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 16:17
  • What do you think of a question like: Pronunciation of MHG swër That's the sort of thing which the language-specific close reason is meant to capture.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 4:52
  • @Draconis I went and created the new close reasons, but they need to be approved by another mod.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 5:00
  • 1
    @curiousdannii It should be done now!
    – Draconis Mod
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 5:07
  • @Draconis Beautiful! Thank you. Let's consider in a few months time how the site is going without the fourth reason.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 5:09
  • @Draconis: You're sposta say Nihil obstat. Imprimatur.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 14:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .