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A recent question was of the form "Is X the superlative?"

I want to suggest we change such questions to ask "What is the superlative?" as a matter of policy.

The question attracted a lot of answers, but since it was phrased as a yes/no question, every answer amounted to "no".

Then, OP accepted the answer that described the superlative from among the answers posted up until then, indicating they were really asking "What is the superlative?" in the first place. So I changed the title.

Asking "What is the superlative?" is a common tactic of asking a potential list question so that it can have a single answer. SE's purpose is met, and we learn things and have fun along the way.

It's OK if OP suggests a candidate the way it happened in this instance, and does indicate some initial research effort. But it's an XY problem to ask, as a yes/no question, whether the candidate is the superlative. The mere act of asking means OP isn't sure.

So, should we discourage questions that ask for a superlative that way, and prefer that people just ask for the superlative?

(I had originally thought of the stronger proposition of discouraging all yes/no questions on main, but decided to narrow it)


@Valorum asked for some more examples. Searching SFF:SE for questions with "First" yielded:

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  • Can you identify some additional relevant examples? I always think that pointing at a single question to set policy isn't the best idea
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 16:28
  • 1
    None of these questions appear to be unliked by the community
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 16:56
  • 2
    @Valorum Why would their relative popularity make a difference? People are interacting with those questions as if their OPs had asked "what is the first" to begin with. Editing the titles isn't going to change that, but it will cause less confusion going forward.
    – Spencer
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 17:03
  • @Spencer - The flipside is also true. Why would you want to change something that the community don't have an obvious objection to? Why would you think that that would be a popular choice to make? The total number of downvotes spread among your five examples is two. The total upvotes is well over a hundred
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 17:07
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    @Valorum If that's what you think, then post an answer.
    – Spencer
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 19:45

1 Answer 1

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The old wording was fine

You understood that it wasn't really a yes/no question. Everyone who answered the question understood. I understood. The commenters understood. Even on other, similarly phrased questions across the network, most people just seem to understand. It's very rare to see an answer that just says yes or no with no explanation.

It's perfectly natural to ask questions indirectly, with the intention of getting answers that address the "speech act meaning, not the literal meaning" of the question. The old title is not even the most indirect phrasing:

  • Do you know if…?
  • Can you tell me if…?
  • Tell me if…
  • I really want to know if…
  • I'll (metaphorically) die if nobody tells me if…

Half of those aren't even questions! Now, with the examples I gave, I do edit since it's needlessly wordy and casual, but it's definitely not unclear.

The original wording of the question was neither excessively wordy nor casual, so I don't think your edit was necessary (but I don't care enough to roll it back). Mentioning JEJ was a fun fact that may have piqued the interest of Star Wars fans, in addition to giving a baseline for potential answerers before they even look at the question. (Several people have commented on another part of the title, so "the longest time" could afford to be reworded if someone can find a better wording for "not necessary consecutively but across the largest range of years".)

Looking at the four other example questions you listed, I don't think any of them would be improved by editing in the way you suggest. (At least two of them have edit histories or comments that suggest the titles could be improved in other ways.)

This should fall under existing policy

That is, avoid making edits that replace perfectly good wording with different perfectly good wording.

(I think this applies to all yes/no questions, not just the ones you asked about.)

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  • None of the questions mentioned appear to have suffered from a lack of understanding or a lack of upvotes
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 12:13
  • SE in general has a comprehensive lack of sympathy for "Oh, you know what I mean." When I've tried to argue that in the past, I've been told "words matter".
    – Spencer
    Commented Oct 17, 2022 at 18:01

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