Let's assume I ask the following question:

Eu li recentemente, em um jornal de expressão nacional, a palavra "porisso" e que me parece estar errada, pois eu aprendi na escola que o correto é "por isso". Está realmente errado escrever "por isso" como uma única palavra?

From my early days here at SE I've often seen such questions be closed as off-topic on grounds that "questions whose answers can be easily found in any dictionary are considered general reference and thus "off-topic". I'd like to hear what the moderators and the community have to say about this. Do the powers-that-be discourage posting such questions? Are they acceptable here because we are still in beta and we need retention?

  • 2
    I don't think the moderators have anything to say about this as moderators. The moderators are appointed to help administer the site. Deciding what questions are on-topic and off-topic is something the community decides by voting on the answers posted here on meta. If there is somewhat of a consensus, the moderators can close questions the community wants to close or dismiss close flags, as the case may be.
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 20, 2016 at 10:11
  • @Earthliŋ I see. So far Portuguese Language (PT) members sound more democratic than those at EL&U where I've been a member for a few years. We often disscuss what is considered off-topic there How to respond to dictionary/“general reference” questions? Of course we don't have to act the same way here, but our mods are always reminding the community of what the powers-that-be want and do not want for EL&U. and the community is not supposed to decide about everything.
    – Centaurus
    Feb 20, 2016 at 15:06
  • Well, on ELU moderators are elected. Here we were appointed by the community team... I've been a member of Japanese.SE for a number of years and during the beta phase (we graduated only three months ago) the moderators didn't really push through their beliefs. On a different note, I saw that on ELU there's a close reason that reads "Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic". We should list this as an option in the answers to this question...
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 20, 2016 at 15:25
  • 1
    Are they acceptable here because we are still in beta and we need retention? I think at no point in time we should keep questions, just because we need more questions. All our questions should be posted out of genuine curiosity and all our questions should (ideally) be good questions.
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 22, 2016 at 16:26

3 Answers 3


Vote early, vote often

(I'm somewhat impartial to the case at hand, probably because I as a beginner, can't quite judge what questions are "easy", but...)

There's something we can (must!) do: vote early and vote often.

By using both up- and downvotes, we can push questions in the direction we want to see them.

Be transparent about downvotes

(The names are fictional and any resemblance to actual users of this site is unintentional.)

Leave a comment, saying

@carla -1. Sorry, but I think this question is too easy. I think you should have at least quoted one or two dictionary entries.

This allows people to respond to the criticism. (Give credit to the user that suggested the improvement.)

@Centaurus See the edit.

If you think the question is better, undo your downvote. (Votes can be undone once a post is edited.)

@carla Yeah, much better, thanks!

(And once the "conversation" is over, delete your own comments and flag all other obsolete comments.)

The suggestion has been incorporated into the question itself, ideally with credit to whoever suggested the improvement and we're left with a clean, better question and everyone benefits.

And if the post isn't edited, because OP and downvoter can't agree on an improvement, then the downvotes stay and represent exactly what they should do: a number of users think that this isn't a good question. And the question score is lower and is pushed into the background accordingly.

  • I really like this answer, but it seems to lose focus from the question and go on a tangent. Would you connect its points more strongly, Earthliŋ?
    – ANeves
    Feb 22, 2016 at 15:31
  • @ANeves Sure, I can make it more concise. What part do you think is too tangential and should be left out? (I took out part of it and posted it as a comment instead.)
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 22, 2016 at 16:24
  • Uhm... I... the removed part was the one that I thought was directly answering the question; the rest I was having more difficulty reading as a direct reply to the question - although useful and related, it felt indirect. (I've been "missing the mark" quite a lot recently, so this is probably caused by my reading rather than your writing.) Centaurus asked "are questions of type X off-topic?" and you answered "vote often and we'll see if they are!"; my understanding is that he wanted to understand what the community consensus was, to guide his actions.
    – ANeves
    Feb 22, 2016 at 18:14
  • I feel that I understand your answer better, by trying to reply. Maybe I'll try to suggest an edition, later.
    – ANeves
    Feb 22, 2016 at 18:14
  • 2
    @ANeves Well, the point of (what's left of) this answer is that we don't always need a close reason to identify bad questions. We have vote-buttons for that. Please do suggest an edit, though.
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 22, 2016 at 18:29

On ELU, there is a close reason that reads

Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. A list of these references can be found here: List of general references

If we were to post a resources wiki, we could opt to close (a/k/a "put on hold") questions that show too little commonly-available-reference-background-research with such a close reason, until the question is edited to reflect in what way a simple dictionary look-up doesn't satisfactorily answer the question.


If not even Mathematics can be complete and consistent, I am always very cautious with any 'carved in stone'zation of languages.

1. Is this word really out of the dictionaries?

Any inquisitor should be prudent when claiming such thing since some words are in some dictionaries but not in others.

2. So words not in the dictionary doen't exist?

The language is a living thing...but lets answer this with Prof. Moreno's quote in his article about the dictionaries Aurélio and Houaiss:

Para aqueles que pensam que só as palavras que estão dicionarizadas têm direito a existir, informo que nenhum dos dois registra agroexportador, antimotim, antiestatizante, autolimpante, bivolt, bloqueto, civilizatória, degravação, drogadito, drogadição, intensivista, mecatrônica, rinsagem.

Free translation:

For those who think only words in the dictionary have the right to exist, I tell you that none of them contains agroexportador, antimotim, antiestatizante, autolimpante, bivolt, bloqueto, civilizatória, degravação, drogadito, drogadição, intensivista, mecatrônica, rinsagem.

3. Yay, I found the word! So...How do I know if it is easily answered by the entry?

Assuming that dictionaries register all possible uses of that word [or at least all gramatical classes], one might say ''but it's written right there that detrás is an adverb never an adjective''; and some might say that this is not trivial, quite the contrary.

There is no axioms from where we can prove/deduce that something is 'easy' in Portuguese.

That being said, to avoid should I write 'vossê' or 'você' questions, the only thing to do is to flag it as off-topic/stupid/gimmeabreak or whatever you want and wait for people to agree with you. Maybe even open a Meta post to convince them.

Because in the end what is the truth other than something that most people agree with?

  • 1
    I disagree with your last sentence. People can be, and are often fooled. Examples abound in history.
    – Centaurus
    Feb 20, 2016 at 14:50
  • 1
    Maybe it's too late to say that this was an ironic conclusion...what I meant is that even if we reached a consensus about what is the correct behavior, if there was enough voters to say otherwise it wouldn't matter.
    – carla
    Feb 22, 2016 at 3:26
  • 2
    Vox populi, vox Dei.
    – Centaurus
    Feb 24, 2016 at 0:14

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