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I was creating a question on Stack Overflow and I wrote something like "what's the best way of doing X?". This was considered subjective, so I got a red banner saying it was likely to be closed. When I changed "best" to "preferred", however, the warning went away. Why is it that "best" is considered to be subjective while "preferred" isn't? The semantics of these two words in this context are incredibly similar.

Considering the help that says "We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed." when posting a question on Stack Overflow, you'd think that a word such as "best" would be not only preferred but desired.

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3  
Best is objectively subjective. Preferred is subjectively objective. Make sense? –  Shog9 Mar 1 '11 at 17:15
    
@Shog9: About as much sense as unknown knowns. ;) –  gnostradamus Mar 1 '11 at 21:42
    
The preferred word is the best word. — Radek's law. –  rightføld Mar 1 '11 at 22:33

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Well, here's the concrete reason, courtesy of Jeff:

return Regex.IsMatch(s,
@"\bbest\b|\bworst\b|\bhardest\b|\byour?\b|\bfavou?rite\b",
RegexOptions.IgnoreCase);

In English, the site checks specifically for the word "best" but not for the word "preferred." Why wasn't "preferred" included? It isn't a big issue in practice:

I got those words by scanning about a hundred closed subjective questions that were not good fits on Stack Overflow. Those words aren't wrong per se but they do not bode well for a question. – Jeff Atwood♦

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The semantics of these two words in this context are incredibly similar.

It's incredibly hard to teach computers about semantics. I think a human just needs to add the word "preferred" to the list of words that trigger the warning.

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Semantics is hard. Let's go shopping! –  Adam Davis Mar 1 '11 at 22:35

I got a red banner saying it was likely to be closed. When I changed "best" to "preferred", however, the warning went away.

The fact that the warning went away because you changed one word in your title does not mean your question is suddenly non-subjective.

When the regex was created that causes that warning, they only included the top words that suggested a question might be subjective. They did not include all the synonyms - we would have to put a whole dictionary in there to catch every loophole.

Once "preferred" starts showing up frequently in questions, it'll be added. Until then, it's used so rarely that it doesn't need to be checked for.

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I realize that it didn't (make my question less subjective), I was just curious why the rule included one but not the other. –  Markus Jevring Mar 2 '11 at 9:11

Best is like generalizing something which sounds like "BEST FOR ALL" sort of, but since it again depends on the user who considers the method as BEST might not actually know there is another better way.

Preferred is like "Preferred by you" so it would be specific to the user who is answering and does not sound generic. Hence Best is regarded as Subjective whereas prefered would not be.

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I don't agree. The "for you" and "for all" dichotomy could just as easily be reversed. At the very least you could elevate "preferred" to "preferred by all". –  Markus Jevring Mar 1 '11 at 12:05
    
Well, usually "prefer" in question wrt SO mean like 'Preferred by you'. If it means "by all" then the question again would be closed as subjective by other users on SO anyway even if the notification does not show up while submitting question :) –  Sachin Shanbhag Mar 1 '11 at 12:36

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