EDIT: The point of this meta-discussion is NOT this particular example but the behavior present (intended or otherwise) in the example. I have also severely toned down the hyperbole and attitude... which may lead to a little confusion regarding the first few answers. Apologies.


I could be way off base here (so correct me if I am) but this type of question seems lifted solely on the merit of its catchy title.

If Christopher is a “carrier of Christ” then what is Jennifer carrying?

The idea that Jennifer and Christopher are related is such a specific assumption that the entire question, and its title, are mostly irrelevant. The real question is, "What is the etymology of the name Jennifer?" At best, you could as "Do Christopher and Jennifer have similar etymologies?"

But that isn't as catchy. So instead we get a extremely narrow question about a relationship between two specific names that isn't likely to be useful in any other context. The top answer (as of this writing) completely ignores the Christopher suggestion and answers the real question. This suggests that the Christopher suggestion shouldn't have been there in the first place.

This pattern of question should be actively discouraged because it weakens the content of this site by restricting the domain to specific cases instead of general cases. Such a restriction helps when the topic at hand is broad, but this isn't one of those cases. In and of itself, this isn't so much an issue because we can just answer it and move on but I feel that the question was well received because of the title.

The reason I think these need to be forcefully addressed is because such a title will pull in more activity. I don't have a problem with someone getting clever and reaping reputation rewards but I think this is a bad question. Questions and answers that get upvoted past a certain point tend to get immunity. And they get mimicked. A good title shouldn't make up for a poor question.

I apologize for ranting. The condensed point is this: "Restriction the scope of a question so that you can use a more catchy title is bad and should be discouraged."

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You should have titled this question "The problem with inaccurate titles". Now I have to go to meta.meta.stackexchange.com to complain about overly attractive titles in the meta forums. :-} –  JeffSahol Jun 23 '11 at 14:10

6 Answers 6

I think the question is fine and should stay open. It is only to be expected that questions will contain invalid assumptions; I don't think that is much of a problem—on the contrary, because people searching for the same answer will often make the same false assumptions, and they find this question by the same route.

As long as the answers are reasonably interesting or conceivably helpful to people, I don't have a problem with such questions. I can conceive of people wondering, "hey, are Christopher and Jennifer related?". Nothing wrong with that.

Half the questions on this site aren't very interesting to me anyway, so that shouldn't be a criterion. What it basically comes down to is that, when I vote to close a question, I do it because I have a gut feeling that says "this question is bad, bad", and I will try to find a closing reason that matches my feeling to some extent. Clinging too much to specific closing rules seems either self-delusional or destructive, though I must confess I do it too, on occasion.

[Edited:] An example of the kind of reactions our already restrictive policies elicit, from the OP of the Jennifer question, who has 2000+ reputation, as said in chat:

I think a far greater question for this site might be is it worth the price of alienating people to make sure the questions are the way you want them. Whenever these negative interactions happen on this site it makes me not want to visit often. That could be a really problem for keeping users. It obviously is not that bad of a question and others seem to agree. You might want to consider toning it down.

I agree. It just looks very confrontational and unwelcoming for a new user to get his question closed for reasons he finds unclear—and for experienced users too. Questions should be tolerated unless they are positively intolerable to most people on this site.

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To be clear, I am not calling for a close. I didn't even vote to close the question. I just think it is a terrible question and something we should actively discourage. If that means closing, okay. But I didn't come into this with that solution in mind. –  MrHen Jun 21 '11 at 19:13
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To actually address your point, "interesting" is very much a criterion for "good question". And the question didn't ask, "Are these names related?" It asked, "Are these names related in this very specific way?" –  MrHen Jun 21 '11 at 19:16
    
I voted this down, because nowhere in the question MrHen talks about closing –  Theta30 Sep 12 '11 at 17:20
    
@Theta30: And I didn't say he did. It is just that we don't have many other means to "forcefully discourage" certain kinds of questions, so that whether or not we should close them seems relevant. –  Cerberus Sep 12 '11 at 18:10
    
The actual quotes are "forcefully addressed" and "actively discouraged". This can be done by editing of the titles (in this case), by downvoting or (less forcefully) by comments. Yes, closing is relevant, but you speak only about closing method. –  Theta30 Sep 12 '11 at 18:21
    
@Theta30: Right, that is true. But MrHen didn't say how he felt it should be addressed, and closing seems an option. Besides, nearly everything I said applies to those other methods as well. I supposed I could have emphasised closing less, but my arguments were aimed at any discouraging measures in general. –  Cerberus Sep 12 '11 at 22:24
    
achoo! Sorry, I'm allergic to dogs. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jul 9 '12 at 16:46

The etymology of Christopher is relevant because it helps motivate the question. Every word in the English language, together with every name in the English-speaking world, has a corresponding "What is the etymology of" question. So a good question doesn't just ask for that, it gives a reason why the asker is interested in the etymology of that particular word, ideally in a way that will make other people interested as well. This question seems like a perfect example of that. (I don't know what the answers looked like when you posted this, but right now all four answers address the underlying question, some better than others.)

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I can understand and agree with this. I suppose at some point the reason or motivation "goes too far" in the sense that the they are obscuring or restricting the scope of the question... but yeah, very good point. –  MrHen Jun 22 '11 at 13:03

A is similar to B, A is based on X, is B also based on X (or something similar)?

How is this a 'Bad Question'?

This is not very far from the reasoning that Charles Darwin used to derive the "Theory of Evolution". Deductive logic demands such questions, even when the answer is "The similarity between A and B is superficial and does not lead us to a deeper relationship the QUESTION is still valid.

The top answer (from @Unreason) at this time does not (as you suggest) "completely ignore" the "Christopher suggestion". The first sentence is, No Jennifer is from, These simple words address that the etymology of Jennifer is apart from Christopher. Since OP has already identified the history of "Christopher" respondent (@Unreason) then explains the etymology of Jennifer.

What you have done is attempt to redraw the OP's question in your own image. You have attempted to treat an obvious similarity as trivial rather than accepting them as the rational foundation for the question. Further, through you use of the "down vote", you have punished him for being curious and asking a question. (Please tell us you are not a school teacher!)

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"Ark is similar to arc; an ark is boat; is arc related to boats?" This form itself isn't an indicator of a good question. –  MrHen Jun 21 '11 at 19:12
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That depends entirely upon the questioner. I would consider this a cleaver question from a 7 year old, who may not have yet learned the difference between "ark" and "arc", this would, in fact, be an excellent teaching opportunity. Again I ask, please ensure me that you are not a "teacher". –  Cos Callis Jun 21 '11 at 19:14
    
What does "teacher" have to do with anything? SE isn't here to answer every little curiosity that someone has. –  MrHen Jun 21 '11 at 19:35
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Because your attitude is terrible for a teacher. "SE isn't here to answer every little curiosity that someone has?." I can not find that anywhere the FAQ's? If you don't want to answer a particular question, move along... but you are so ____ as to become "Pissed off" because someone asked a question you didn't like. –  Cos Callis Jun 21 '11 at 19:44
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@Cos: The idea that it depends entirely on the questioner is evidence that this type of question shouldn't be on SE. Here, a good question should not require context from outside of the question itself. The site should strive to make questions that are helpful in the future to future visitors who are asking similar questions (and are bringing potentially different contexts.) –  MrHen Jun 21 '11 at 19:44
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@Cos: Approaching SE as if it is a teacher/student relationship is not the best approach. On SE, there are bad questions. Uninteresting is a topic that has been covered before but that wasn't really really the focus of my post here. My being pissed off is because of a pattern of behavior; not a particular question. (Also a not very good day.) –  MrHen Jun 21 '11 at 19:50
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@MrHen, and it is your position that acting out childishly because someone asked a question you didn't like the form of and your having a bad day is a better approach to SE? –  Cos Callis Jun 21 '11 at 19:53
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@Cos: What are you talking about? I saw something I didn't like, downvoted with an explanation and, when challenged, created a topic about it on meta. My lack of patience (today) just streamlined the process and didn't edit out asocial words like "pissed". –  MrHen Jun 21 '11 at 20:00

I could be way off base here (so correct me if I am) but this type of question pisses me off.

In similar fashion, I assume that this is hyperbole, which could be considered a similar tweaking of the question to garner more attention. I hope that this sort of thing doesn't truly "piss you off".

The idea that Jennifer and Christopher are related is such a specific assumption that the entire question, and its title, are completely irrelevant.

That seems like quite an assertion to make (that the specificity of an assumption should render the resulting question irrelevant). Why would this be so?

The real question is, "What is the etymology of the name Jennifer?"

I'll grant that if you were to answer the question with a simple "No, they are not related", then the OP would probably want more information about the history of the name "Jennifer". But you have removed part of the question simply because you believe it's "irrelevant".

The top answer (as of this writing) completely ignores the Christopher suggestion and answers the real question. This means that the Christopher suggestion shouldn't have been there in the first place.

On the contrary; the top-voted answer addresses the OP's question directly with "No", then proceeds to explain why and how this is the case. This is exactly how questions should be answered on StackExchange sites, where the answerer deals with the question directly, then addresses what are likely underlying assumptions or inevitable follow-up questions.

This pattern of question should be actively discouraged because it weakens the content of this site by restricting the domain to specific cases instead of general cases.

How would the way this question is phrased hinder someone from finding out information about "Christopher" or "Jennifer"? I don't think you can make the case that the omission of the word "etymology" would do this, as the question could have been asked in an equally dry fashion using simpler vocabulary ("Where does the name Jennifer come from?").

The reason I think these need to be forcefully addressed is because such a title will pull in more activity.

I think you'll need to be more specific about how having a clever title that entices people to view (and hopefully answer) a question is a Bad Thing.

I don't have a problem with someone getting clever and reaping reputation rewards but I think this is a bad question.

Then vote to close the question. At roughly 8k reputation, you should be able to vote to close questions. This may seem like a somewhat flippant response, but either closing or downvoting a question that you believe to be of low quality is exactly the sort of response that was originally intended.

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Yeah, I have limited patience right now so it does piss me off. But I'll get over it. To address your points, any question that could get an answer of "No." is probably not formed well for SE. (This is my opinion.) The Bad Thing about more views/upvotes to catchy titles on bad questions is that it encourages more of the same behavior which will lead to a focus on Catchy Titles instead of Good Questions. I didn't vote to close the question because I recognized this as another area I tend to be in the minority. Instead, I simply downvoted. –  MrHen Jun 21 '11 at 19:39
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@MrHen: If SE were a new beast I would probably agree with you (about the tendency toward catchy titles vs. quality content), but the questions that are present across the SE network (including the StackOverflow behemoth) seem to indicate that this is not the case. –  Adam Robinson Jun 21 '11 at 19:42
    
Fair enough. Admittedly, I have been spending time on a Beta site where the quality of the questions is really, really bad. I came back over here to find this waiting for me and flipped. –  MrHen Jun 21 '11 at 19:52

First let me state that I respect your opinion and have no objection on your down-vote of the question and I support it as your opinion.

I have a very simple, possibly naive, attempt at demonstrating that in objectifying it you are off base here. You say:

The condensed point is this: "Restriction of the scope of a question so that you can use a more catchy title is bad and should be discouraged."

To this, I put forward a claim that: the scope of a question was not restricted.(!)

Let me try to argue it; the title of the question is:

If Christopher is a “carrier of Christ” then what is Jennifer carrying?

I hope that my perspective is one that can be shared, and from my point of view "carrying" is an obvious metaphor1. The most significant interpretation is:

Name "Christopher" comes from "carrier of Christ". Where does name Jennifer come from?

In another words I claim that the OP there actually asks

What is the etymology of the name Jennifer and is it related to etymology of Christopher?

I agree that it might be better to leave metaphors out of titles and use them in body of the question; but if the question is properly tagged and keywords are mentioned in the title I see no reason to try to discourage titles that are trying to be poetic or aesthetic.

NOTE: This question and answers address quite a lot of things. To be more productive may I suggest that you propose applicable policy as new meta question? I would suggest rephrasing the "Restriction of the scope of a question so that you can use a more catchy title is bad and should be discouraged." into (something like) "Don't use metaphors in question titles" and get people's opinion on such suggestion.


1 this one I personally like, since "carrying" can refer to:

  • etymology itself (explained above),
  • (possible) similarity in etymology (from established phero~carry to possible, for OP at time of asking, fer~carry),
  • meaning of the name, from "to carry a meaning" (from etymology of carry: "to transport in a vehicle")
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The problem is that this is a restricted form of the question, "What is the etymology of Jennifer?" When the answer to that question comes back, the asker will know if the etymology of Christopher is related. By mentioning Christopher (and assuming that Jennifer is carrying something), the question is making an invalid assumption. Invalid assumptions make bad questions (especially when they are in the title.) But thank you for addressing the point clearly. It does help. :) –  MrHen Jun 22 '11 at 12:59
    
I think the question is not based on the invalid assumption - the question asks if the assumption is correct: "If(!)...", "I assume(!)...", "With that in mind(!), does it have similar derivation?", "If(!!) so.. what is it?" - assumption is openly admitted every step of the way giving the opportunity to be corrected. That is why I see the two forms as equivalent. –  Unreason Jun 22 '11 at 13:54
    
Right, I understand what you are saying. I think we just disagree on good/badness of questions. Of note, my original comment claims that Christopher and carrying were red herrings. Removing them from the question would not have significantly impacted the answers. –  MrHen Jun 22 '11 at 14:45
    
Ok, but then in that sense you see the two forms as equivalent (or at least not significantly different), too, don't you? ;) Anyway, to be more pragmatic, another suggestion - why not edit the title by appending: "(i.e. What is the etymology of Jennifer)"? OP can then revert the change if feels strongly about it. This can also be a constructive approach for future cases - it can fail sometimes if it messes with the question too much, but in general the intention might be more clear then downvote+explain. –  Unreason Jun 22 '11 at 14:58
    
@Unreason: I didn't edit because I tend to land in the severe minority with regards to things like this. So I just downvoted and added a comment; someone challenged the comment so I moved things to meta. –  MrHen Jun 22 '11 at 15:20
    
@Unreason: In terms of forms, "X implies Y; does Z imply Y?" is a very different form of question to "What does Z imply?" In this case, neither the X or Y were relevant. In other questions they could be, sure, but not here. "Relevant" is a fuzzy, opinion-based word and my guess is that this is where most of the disagreeing is happening. (Not necessarily with you; just people.) –  MrHen Jun 22 '11 at 15:22

The question being asked if Christopher and Jennifer have something in common in their etymologies. It's different from asking the etymology of Jennifer, even if in both the questions the answer should report the origin of the name. The answer to the actual question should be that the names don't have a similar derivation, and point out which is the derivation of Jennifer.

The title of a question should let the users understand what is being asked without to read all the question, which would mean to click on the title to go to the question page. If I use "Either he's dead or my watch has stopped" as title for a question that is really asking about the etymology of Groucho, then the title would not clearly suit the question, and it should be changed.

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