This happens to me frequently. It's happened twice today, already. I see an interesting question that I'd like to answer, but I can't, because several other people who didn't understand the question got there before me and decided the question must not be asked, for some reason.

What is the point of doing that? Even in the cases where something is actually wrong with the question, what purpose does it serve to prevent me from answering? Why punish me? It wasn't my question.

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That is what it means to be "on hold" or "closed": it's a fundamental law, like gravity. If you don't post your answer before it gets closed, them's the breaks. There was no linguistic content to the math question, and the ɔ question can't be answered, for reasons that you very well know. You're essentially arguing that questions should never be closed, without making the logic of the argument explicit. The issue is not about whether you or someone else might be able to post something resembling an answer, the question is whether the question itself is appropriate given the purpose of LSE.

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    IMO, the question is whether someone learns something. – Greg Lee Jul 4 '15 at 5:33

I haven't seen the questions yet, but this is not about you. If a question is considered off topic, then it will be closed.

If you think it deserves to stay open, then vote to reopen and post a related question on Meta explaining why it deserves to stay open. If there is merit in your arguments, then I'm sure users will vote to reopen.

But the fact that you might have an answer is irrelevant to whether it must be closed or not.

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  • Yet another answer to my question that misses the point. Whether the answer is put on hold should be irrelevant to whether I am permitted to give an answer. (I do vote to reopen, but that is useless, because (1) I can't demonstrate that it is worthy of an answer without giving an answer, which I am not permitted to do, and (2) the original questioner is generally discouraged and gone by the time I can get the question open, anyway.) – Greg Lee Jul 5 '15 at 20:50
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    @GregLee I'm not missing the point, you just misunderstand how the system works. If the question is off topic, you don't demonstrate it's on topic by answering it. That's not how it works. It would be closed even if you answered it, because an answer does not make a question on topic. If the OP won't come back to support the reopening of their own question, then why should we? It's in their best interest to work on that; if it's a drive-by question, then it should stay closed, the OP might not even come back to accept an answer. – Alenanno Jul 5 '15 at 20:53
  • You're wrong. If I can give a good answer, I demonstrate that the question was on topic, and those who thought it was not were mistaken. Sometimes, you see, pertinence is not obvious, and an expert can find relevance where those who know less cannot. – Greg Lee Jul 5 '15 at 22:12
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    @GregLee You can give the best answer ever, but if a question is off topic, it's gonna get closed. Your answer and its quality are, therefore, irrelevant. It's also irrelevant if you think the question is interesting. It must be on topic to stay on the site. – Alenanno Jul 5 '15 at 22:17
  • Don't you understand that you may think a question is off topic and be mistaken about that? Or don't you admit the possibility of error? What a know-it-all! – Greg Lee Jul 5 '15 at 22:53
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    @GregLee First of all, you're the one who claimed to be the expert between us, I never claimed to be infallible. But we're getting off track here. What I said is that if a question is off topic, then it will be closed, not by me necessarily, but from whoever votes to close it. Like I said in the answer, if you think a certain question deserves to stay open, all you need to do is post a Meta question about that specific question and explain why you think so. Also, my answer above is not about a specific question, it's more in general about how the closing works. – Alenanno Jul 5 '15 at 23:27
  • I know how the closing works. That's what I'm complaining about. There is no good reason for preventing a question on hold being answered. It just makes no sense. – Greg Lee Jul 5 '15 at 23:36
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    @GregLee If you could answer closed questions then being closed would be a meaningless state! – curiousdannii Jul 6 '15 at 2:34
  • @curiousdannii, can we stay focused on my actual question? – Greg Lee Jul 6 '15 at 2:52
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    @GregLee If you want to be able to answer closed questions, then it's not me you have to talk to. Go to MSE and ask a feature request there, but of course, you'll find a 100% disagreement on that because one of the purposes of closing is exactly to prevent answers. – Alenanno Jul 6 '15 at 7:56
  • Please read my question again. It's not about closed questions. It's about questions on hold. – Greg Lee Jul 6 '15 at 15:57
  • @GregLee On Hold is a temporary state of questions, but if we get down to it, they are basically closed questions. – Alenanno Jul 6 '15 at 16:13
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    @GregLee It's not true because I'm saying it. I'm saying it because it's true. That's the difference. – Alenanno Jul 6 '15 at 19:17
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    @GregLee on hold is just a friendly name for recently closed. Quoting from What is a “closed” or “on hold” question? on meta.se: "If a question has been closed, then for the first 5 days, it is marked as “on hold” rather than “closed”." – CodesInChaos Jul 6 '15 at 19:40
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    @CodesInChaos, whatever on hold is, temporary or not, friendly or not, a mere marking or not, that is what my question is about. Not all questions which are closed are "on hold" -- isn't that evident? I didn't ask about questions that are closed. I asked about questions that are on hold. A question about closed questions would be a different question than the question I asked. (I'm getting tired of pointing out the obvious.) – Greg Lee Jul 6 '15 at 19:51

To protect you from spending time and effort on an answer that ends up being off-topic

If you answer an unclear question, there’s a risk the original poster or someone else may later edit the question in a way that makes your answer off topic. Preventing people from posting answers to closed or on-hold questions helps prevent this from happening.

To protect the original poster from being misled

If you answer an unclear question, the OP may think they got what they were looking for, while they actually still have a misunderstanding that nobody was able to address. This being the case, we’d like to encourage the original poster to clarify the question before an answer is posted.

Closing a question can send a signal to the OP that they have to communicate what they’re looking for more clearly, and keep paying attention to comments asking for clarification.

The /ɔ/ question: my overly-pessimistic, worst-case scenario

Here's the specific question that seems to be relevant. The problem I have with this question is that it’s not clear about what its purpose is, which I feel is vital for a list question. Since a complete answer is impossible (we can’t list all the words with /ɔ/), we need to know criteria for judging which answers are the most useful for the OP.

Obviously, any answer will have to deal with dialects, since this is something that varies dialectically. But we don’t actually know that the main question is about dialectology. That is only one interpretation of the question. It might actually be about phonetics. The question uses phonemic slashes, true; but it refers to the "/ɔ/ vowel sound" as well as using the symbol "/o/," which is ambiguous in the context of dialectology, and referring to "open back" counterparts of this vowel.

Here’s a possible “worst-case scenario” where the questioner doesn’t actually care about dialectology: imagine a person is learning Italian, which has contrastive /o/ and /ɔ/, and wants to learn how to pronounce /ɔ/. This person decides to look for example words in English with [ɔ] to help them learn the vowel sound. They assume that Italian /ɔ/ is phonetically [ɔ], and English /ɔ/ is phonetically [ɔ] (an easy assumption to make, but not necessarily a safe assumption). So, they make a post asking for words with the /ɔ/ sound in English.

Someone responds with a list of a few sample words with the /ɔ/ phoneme, a description of lexical sets, and discussion of how members of this lexical set vary across different American dialects. This would be a great answer to a question about the dialectical phonology of /ɔ/. However, the original poster misses out on learning useful information about the phonetic details that were actually the original motivation for their question.

An important point about this imaginary scenario is that nobody – the original poster, the answerers, and so on – will be able to realize that the original poster was motivated by an “unsafe assumption,” and missed out on useful information. The original poster thinks that they’ve gotten the information they need, and the answerer thinks they’ve provided all the relevant information about /ɔ/ in English.

Is this story far-fetched? Yes. But I don’t think you can disprove this story about the OP of that question, because they have not responded to anyone or clarified what their question is really about. Until that happens, or until someone decides that the OP has abandoned the question and edits it to have a clear purpose, there aren’t any objective criteria for selecting one answer as the best for that question.

An idea for what to do

If you really want to answer a question that was suggested to you by someone else's question, I think the best solution would be to post it as a new question. I assume it would not be closed as an exact duplicate if the original is closed for being unclear. For example, in this case, you could post and answer a question "Are there differences in the distribution of the phoneme /ɔ/ across different dialects of English? If so, what are they, and what are the relevant sound-changes and cross-dialectical correspondences?" I think that's sufficiently different from "give me words with /ɔ/" that it wouldn't be closed.

I'm unsure about this suggestion, however. Perhaps it would be better to simply edit the OP's question to what you want to answer, and then see if the OP responds.

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I have reopened the one question that you had flagged for re-opening, i.e. English words with the /ɔ/ vowel sound.

I noticed that five people had flagged it closed, and I can understand why: the list of words is going to be huge and it might encourage newbies to give more and more trivial answers.

But I can see that guiding the asker by showing him how to find his own answers would be very helpful.

As for it happening to you frequently, well, I'm not aware of it. Please flag such questions reopened.

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  • I see that you have not even tried to answer my question. Why prevent me from answering in the first place? Concerning the question about /ɔ/, that is essentially about English dialectology, though the questioner probably doesn't know that, and it is a perfectly respectable field of linguistic inquiry. The other question that I was prevented from answering this morning was about the context of a math expression, which is essentially a special case of the linguistic problem of describing the interpretation of pronouns in discourse. --- ... – Greg Lee Jul 4 '15 at 1:09
  • ... (cont.) Not everybody can know everything, of course, but if people just don't know, why let them step in and prevent an answer from someone who does know? – Greg Lee Jul 4 '15 at 1:10
  • The one on math expressions is definitely off-topic here. It's about proof-assistance software, which is on-topic at cs.stackexchange. – prash Jul 4 '15 at 12:35
  • Well, @prash, you're just wrong about that. – Greg Lee Jul 4 '15 at 16:27
  • If you want to see how your prediction about the list of words becoming huge, you could just take a look now and count all the new words that have been added. – Greg Lee Jul 6 '15 at 16:07
  • @GregLee Why the rush to conclude? Many of the questions that ask for lists (especially with the tag: list-of-languages) continue to get a lot of low quality answers even though they are a few years old. – prash Jul 6 '15 at 21:22
  • If there is ever any indication in future years that your prediction shows any sign of being correct, I trust you will let us know. – Greg Lee Jul 6 '15 at 22:55
  • @GregLee I'll take a pass on the offer. Handling the current load of junk questions and answers is enough work for me. – prash Jul 6 '15 at 23:00
  • If someone wants to guide the asker on how to find his own answers, isn't the proper place for that the comments? – brass tacks Jul 9 '15 at 22:23
  • @sumelic I disagree. It's only a matter of providing citations and references. Wouldn't you agree I do that in practically all my answers? – prash Jul 9 '15 at 22:43
  • @sumelic, I make it about dialectology. You can't expect clarity from questioners -- clarity is what you hope to help them with. The problem with comments is just the constrained format. I do what I can with comments, but when answers get a little bit involved, not being able to paragraph or set examples off from comments about them make my life more difficult than it needs to be. Why put me through this? There is no apparent rationale. That's the question I asked. What purpose is served? Why punish me for shortcomings in the formulation of a question asked by someone else? – Greg Lee Jul 9 '15 at 22:46
  • @prash: it depends. If the question is about how to find references, it makes sense to give that as an answer. I've linked an example of yours. But if the question asks abut more than that, I think an answer should answer the question posed as well as providing guidance on where to find such information. linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/11845/… – brass tacks Jul 9 '15 at 22:47
  • @GregLee: I posted a new answer to this question that expands on what I said above. It outlines some of my thoughts, although I'd appreciate community input about what I wrote to see if I'm on the same track as others. – brass tacks Jul 9 '15 at 23:00

Being able to answer a question doesn't mean the question belongs here! There are lots of opinion based questions, which everyone can answer, which is exactly why they need to be closed. Questions should be able to be objectively and definitively answered.

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  • I didn't say or imply that being able to answer a question meant the question belongs here. I didn't ask anything about closing questions. Did you even read my question? – Greg Lee Jul 6 '15 at 2:30
  • You're asking about on hold questions, how can you say that you didn't ask anything about closing questions?!? – curiousdannii Jul 6 '15 at 2:34
  • If I had wanted to ask about answering closed questions, that's what I would have asked about. Instead, I asked about answering questions on hold. You can easily verify this by re-reading the question I asked. If you want to talk about closed questions, maybe you should ask your own question, independent of my question. – Greg Lee Jul 6 '15 at 2:49
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    @GregLee On Hold and Closed are the same state! Closed questions are just label On Hold for one week so that new users don't get discouraged. But they are identical states. We have close votes, not on hold votes. – curiousdannii Jul 6 '15 at 2:50
  • They are obviously not identical states, otherwise the system software could not label them differently. Again, if you need to talk about closed questions, ask your own question. – Greg Lee Jul 6 '15 at 2:57
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    @GregLee It's just a different label for the first five days (not one week). There's one more difference: editing an on hold question automatically puts it in the reopen vote queue. But from the perspective of answering questions they are identical. I think you should take this issue to Meta Stack Exchange. – curiousdannii Jul 6 '15 at 5:22
  • Before On Hold appeared we only had "Closed". Then the new label was introduced for reducing the impact of the word "Closed" which might discourage some new users. Now it's On Hold first, then Closed. But yes, technically they mostly have the same effects: no answers, etc... so they're basically the same with a few changes. – Alenanno Jul 6 '15 at 8:03
  • @GregLee: I agree with curiousdannii that this is an issue that you'd want to discuss at Meta Stack Echange, since the relevant policy is wider than this one particular network. It's part of the overall "Stack Exchange" system. – brass tacks Jul 9 '15 at 23:18

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