I have been concerned about this for some time, and Joonas' recent post is a nice example of what causes my concern. The post is Where does our knowledge of the ancient poetic meters come from?

A little background

Firstly, I'm more of a lurker here than an active participant. That's why you don't see much of me, but on the other hand it makes me an unbiased observer. My SE activity started on the main SE site, but I gradually became dissatisfied with a) the constant negativity or nitpicking there, and b) the "give me teh codez questions", with no learning and no personal research.

I moved on to Software and English. Software is a but nicer, but still dog-eat-dog. English became boring because a) the lack of deep questions, and b) the preponderance of trivial questions (that I could answer, and did), but again there was no personal research. On some sites they are called LMGTFY questions.

I found a home on Cycling. A little like Latin, it's not dominated by a race to get the first answer out. It is more opinion-based than Latin, and that gives an interesting point of comparison.

Is the post on topic?

Maybe. What topics can I ask about here? says

We welcome questions about all aspects of Latin language, its relation to other languages and also cultural and historical questions that are strongly related to Latin.

but the examples don't explicitly cover such cases as this.

So is it clearly OT?

No, on my reading of What types of questions should I avoid asking?, it's on the border. For me it's

  • Chatty

  • If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

  • You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

  • However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK.

So where's the problem?

For me, this question has several issues

  • It shows no evidence of research.

  • I think a moderator should be setting the standards for the site.

  • It's not about Latin, or meta-Latin such as grammar.

It's really a request for resources.

Why not just flag it

I feel finding the boundaries is an important task for a fledgling SE community, and it should be discussed openly. Also, if I flagged it, I think it would give our moderators and senior (as in high-rep) members a conflict of interest.

Is this a rant disguise? I hope not. While I don't think this class of question belongs here, the community is run by us. All of us. There are at least two sides to the argument, and I probably haven't thought of them all; so I think it's positive to have the discussion. It probably will not be the last one.

So is the referenced post on topic or off topic, and why?

  • 2
    Thank you for asking this! This is a valid concern, and certainly not a rant in my eyes. If other users and moderators of the site feel that a question of mine is off-topic, I expect them to vote down and vote to close as they see fit. I will not be offended and I will not prohibit any such actions towards my questions. As anyone else, I can ask for a reason if my post is closed or deleted, but I will not revolt or revenge. If people feel I misuse my power as a moderator and reminders have no effect on my behavior, I am ready to step down.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 9:27
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    No Joonas, no one is making any such accusation. It's great that we can have the discussion openly; that's how SE should be. Thank you. (And thanks for the edit)
    – andy256
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 13:58
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    I didn't take your post as an accusation. I just wanted to make clear that I don't want to be protected by my moderator status if there ever are accusations. As a user I use the site, as a moderator I serve it. It is indeed great that we can have these discussions openly; I know other SE sites can be hostile but I don't want us to take that path.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 17:35

2 Answers 2


It is good that you ask this question, and I understand where you're coming from, especially considering your experience on other SE sites. Nevertheless, I think the question is not just fine, but great.

Summary: those guidelines are but guidelines, they are subordinate to the ultimate purpose that this community has in mind for our site; I think this question strays from some of those guidelines, but not in a way that makes it uninteresting or that conflicts with said purpose.

General remarks about the guidelines mentioned

First, the things you mention from out FAQ and other SE sites' FAQs are guidelines, not hard strict rules. So we, the community, can use them as we see fit (within reason).

Secondly, they are but means to and end; the end trumps the means. If one were to formulate and end for our site, it could be "ensure that our users find or create questions and answers that interest them". Immediately below this end I would put, as a means or a sub-end, "ensure that questions should not be entirely unrelated to the Latin language and culture (for that is what our users probably came here for)".

Questions that are 'chatty' can sometimes be less enjoyable to read. Broad questions can result in a disinclination to answer because they would have to be inordinately long (a book) or superficial, or because it is unclear what the asker really wants to know. Questions that are not practical and specific can be unanswerable. Questions can be unanswerable if it is hard to understand what the asker wants to know without his showing his research.

In those cases, the question conflicts with the end we have formulated. Then the question is bad. But we should be able to specify, in each case where we apply one of those guidelines, how their "violation" results in a conflict with our end; for they are but guidelines, and often times violations do not conflict with whatever end we have set.

Lastly, I feel that most large SE sites are hostile and bureaucratic, including my own home site, English Language & Usage. So far I believe that our community wants to be far more open liberal than that, also because it is far easier to do so without issues when you are a small community about an academic subject. For that reason, I would like to allow as many questions as possible if there can be any doubt, if they can possibly be considered acceptable—although of course ultimately the community may decide otherwise.

About this specific question

As to research, I think it is clear enough what the question is about and what it is looking for in an answer. The requirement about research should, in my opinion, only be applied when the question is hard to understand or hard to answer without more research displayed by the asker.

As to whether a moderator should set a standard, I partly agree, partly disagree; posting a sloppy question would be bad, but posting an experimental question can be good, in order to explore how people feel about certain unusual approaches. I know Joonas has done this on occasion (although I don't believe he has done so here).

As to whether this question is about Latin, I am very much surprised that you should feel that it wasn't. Metre is a linguistic phaenomenon, and here it is about metre in Latin or its sister-language Greek. It is also an important aspect of Latin literature as such. Lastly, it is an important part of Latin culture, which is also what this site is about.

As to whether this question is broad, I agree with you: it is very broad. But I don't think that is a problem in this case, i.e. it doesn't make the question hard to answer and hence uninteresting. In addition, the question makes it very clear what kind of an answer it is looking for: a short overview of the types of sources that we gleaned our knowledge about this subject from. I agree that it would not have been a great question without this (though still fine in my opinion).

If we can provide short overviews of certain big, complex topics to readers, isn't that great? I also think that Weimer's answer, in a way, proves that the question is clear, answerable, and interesting.

  • I had hoped to get responses from the general community, before any moderators stepped in. Unfortunately, I feel that a response from the well-respected Cerberus♦, or any moderator, essentially short circuits the discussion. I hope that others show that I'm mistaken. BTW, is there a different language intended in metre in Latin or its sister-language Latin?
    – andy256
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 4:29
  • I had avoided strong critique of the particular question, but I feel that none of them discussed the origin of the information and how this information reached our era is trivial (or am I so ignorant). To me, the answer to both is that the information is intrinsic to the poems, and the poems have survived to this day. Weimer's answer, I'm afraid, just reinforces my feelings about the question.
    – andy256
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 4:29
  • And finally, I do agree that the site should be what it's members decide; however, the help pages should accurately reflect that. I'm hoping for consensus (even if it's different to my view), and for that consensus to be reflected in the help.
    – andy256
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 4:32
  • Oops, that wasn't all. Yes, I agree with avoiding the hostile and bureaucratic feel. To me (as a senior member) it's a constant struggle on Bicycles to get the balance right. On Bicycles we get many people who just came to get the answer to a common question, without taking the tour or reading the help. They just want their qn answered. But it's a duplicate. The site has >9K qns, so it's been asked many times before. Just to make it harder, it's really the answer that's the duplicate. How to help but still follow our own guidelines? It's tricky.
    – andy256
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 4:53
  • Let me try to justify my question briefly. First of all, it was something that I really wanted to know and failed to find elsewhere and that is deeply related to my Latin hobby. I have read a lot of material about metric poetry but none of it contained the answer. Unfortunately this was hard to convey in the question. That the question is compactly answerable was demonstrated by the great answer it got: a short overview covering the main points. To me the answer was brief, enlightening and non-trivial. // @Cerberus: I corrected the sister-language to Greek. Roll back if this was not intended.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 9:36
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    @andy256 I think you'll find that all the moderators are open to disagreement on this and other topics, so if other members of the community wish to express such views by downvoting this answer or offering their own, that's perfectly fine. I'm glad you raised this question! Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 18:58
  • I think we'll have to wait a week to see who else chimes in.
    – andy256
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 20:55
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    @andy256 I don't think there's a problem with letting the moderators chime in early. After all, since we're a new SE, the top 4 people were asked to be moderators here very recently (one declined). That means we're all still on the building-a-community stage. There is no establishment, and from what I know of our three mods, there is no urge at all to craft a consent around their opinions or to suppress dissent. || That said, can you expand a bit on how my answer "reinforces [your] feelings about the question"? That remains unclear to me.
    – cmw Mod
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 16:30

If it's not too far away from the principles under discussion, I'd like to put in a few words about my own experience here.

1. I have the impression that there are many trivial enquiries, and perhaps too many. However, I think that a certain proportion of such is inevitable, wouldn't want the Moderators to discourage any questioner who might be unfamiliar with Latin and the way the language works, and am happy to step in myself if the topic is of sufficiently general interest.

2. I have been a little surprised (though maybe should not have been) at the basic nature of some of the questions, particularly from some who claim expertise in other aspects of the language: this seems to be a general failing among contributors to similar sites. In contrast, I have been pleased to find some well-considered and valuable content among the answers; I don't always find myself in total agreement with the views of others, but value the chance to consider them and sometimes to modify my own.

3. I have not been surprised to find that some of my posts met with negativity and hostility. Of course it happens all over the internet, though I think it a pity that such things can happen here unprovoked. I wouldn't at all want to discourage discussion, but should much prefer a calmer attitude than outright abuse; I don't pretend to know how the Moderators might (should they wish to) encourage more moderate(!) behaviour.

Rant over.

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    Thanks for your comments Tom! When you see what you'd consider "outright abuse," feel free to flag such comments/posts so that the moderators can deal with them. If it turns out that your definition of "outright abuse" differs from that of the moderators, I hope you'll raise that issue on meta so the community can discuss. Thanks! Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 21:49
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    One thing to consider is that many SE sites (amongst which English.SE) have a policy where experienced users ask fairly simple questions which may be asked by others in the future, in order to elicit a canonical answer from another experienced user, or the asker might post an elaborate answer to his own question. Another thing is that our overlords at SE would like us to be a lively community with lots of questions, which we can accomplish by asking some ourselves. The "high quality, interesting content" is to be found mainly in answers at any rate.
    – Cerberus Mod
    Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 0:21

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