Often times I see a question that sparks my interest, and it looks like it's going to ask for the origins of a particular theme, but then I read the question to find "what is the oldest story of" or "what is the earliest example of".
This was sort of spawned by a conversation I had in chat based on this meta question: Something-Est Answers which was about cleaning up "clearly wrong" answers in "something-est" questions.
My current issue with this genre of questions is that I have trouble drawing the line. For example, this question: Earliest Walkers
The asker clarified that a walker would be some non-living vehicle that ambulates with more than two legs. Examples as ancient as the bulls of Hephaestus can be used to answer this. Eventually it was decided that Vernes steam-powered elephant best fit the bill.
It seems that every "earliest" example is precluded by an example that fits the bill somewhat less perfectly. Often times the asker is asked to produce a continual list of clarifications and restrictions on their question till they accept an answer. The counter-problem with this is that an over-specified question is somewhat useless. For (bad) example, if the asker is forced to sharpen their definition of "witch" to "a witch who is Hermione Granger", the answer is somewhat the question. Yes a severe example, but it at least points to where I'm trying to sling words at.
My default reaction is to "draw the line" with the term "earliest", and allow the askers definition to be bent. I treat them somewhat like an origin question. This is sometimes accepted, sometimes frowned upon.
For example: Earliest Harem Anime. This was once on SciFi, but was moved. There are two answers, mine where I decided to use a strict definition of "Harem Genre" and another where the possible origins of this Genre itself could be found. Unlike the "walkers" question, the asker decided on the origin-style answer.
Star Wars cemented "light sabres" into SciFi, and is/was the inspiration for most "beam blade" weapons, BUT there were precluding, somewhat less-bill-fitting light sabre examples spanning back to medieval times showing "swords of light". A question regarding the "earliest example of a light-sabre" may cause head trauma for me.
I find that when one of these questions appears, you get either people asking if the definition can be broadened ex: "will you accept foxes turning in to humans, or just wolves?". Or narrowed "do you mean specifically a vehicle you could ride IN or just a plain old vehicle?". Once, after I asked about 6 or 7 clarifying questions, the asker deleted their question, likely because I was being a pest.
On the flip-side, "origin" questions are very difficult to answer in entirety and thus may be equally frustrating to answer-ers. Mostly because every answer is likely to be partial, and future answers can borrow from existing ones, etc.
I find these questions difficult to answer, even with all the sources in the world because I don't know where to draw the line.
How answerable does everyone else feel these questions are? If "easily answerable", then how do you decide how to draw the line?
EDIT Some people feel that some of these are list questions in disguise. Does that imply harsher treatment of such questions?