This question on Stack Overflow was declared a duplicate, which is per the rules, but absurd.

The simple reason is that an intelligent person who had never seen the obscure feature, could not possibly have found the duplicates without already knowing the answer to the question asked.

This is self-defeating. We are helping nobody and giving the person who asked the question negative feedback that is not warranted.

What recourse is there against this in general?

  • 9
    So you're admitting it's a duplicate, but should not have been closed as such because the OP could never have known? In that case, you're wrong.
    – Bart
    May 26, 2013 at 16:34
  • 6
    The OP of that question got 18 upvotes against 4 downvotes in only 4 hours, so I'm not seeing the negative feedback you are seeing. If he had been insulted and received far more downvotes, I'd be right there with you. May 26, 2013 at 16:36
  • No. I don't know what you know about the C language, but the topic is nothing anybody could search for without having extensive knowledge. The question is unique because of the criteria necessary to solve it. May 26, 2013 at 16:37
  • 4
    It is apparently so unique that at least two duplicates exist. As I state in my answer, this is not a case of "stupid OP, let us close this for you. You really should have found these".
    – Bart
    May 26, 2013 at 16:39
  • I tried to come up with a more descriptive title. Feel free to choose one that's more appropriate though if you think it doesn't fit. Before you ask: On Meta, votes are different and might express agreement/disagreement with your post.
    – slhck
    May 26, 2013 at 16:41
  • That's fine. I do get that meta is more discussion-oriented. Thanks. May 26, 2013 at 16:46
  • 1
    Although i'm not sure how you can "Vote against" a discussion May 26, 2013 at 16:48
  • @slhck - Thanks for the edit much better. May 26, 2013 at 16:51
  • 16
    @jimmcnamara: "We are helping nobody and giving the person who asked the question negative feedback that is not warranted." We are not giving negative feedback. It doesn't even title the question "[closed]" anymore; it's "[duplicate]". Which means that it's already been asked and answer. How much more neutral does "duplicate" have to be? May 26, 2013 at 17:18
  • Should have been closed for the most useless question title possible, making the question useful for nobody, making it too localized. Reopen and reclose. Thanks. May 26, 2013 at 18:42
  • 5
    @user414076 if you don't like the title, edit it. Closing for a poor title helps nobody. May 26, 2013 at 20:23
  • 4
    +1 because this is a useful question to ask, even if I disagree with the OP conclusion.
    – Hannele
    May 26, 2013 at 20:51
  • @RichardTingle voting 'against' a discussion essentially means you don't consider it worthy of a discussion. In this case, the -7 score indicates people don't agree that the OP has a point with his discussion, because he argues a case where the system is actually working as intended. May 26, 2013 at 23:51
  • @NielsKeurentjes I actually agree that the systems fine but meta comes across as so agressive because of this "voting is different on meta" thing May 27, 2013 at 9:56

5 Answers 5


There are three reasons:

  1. To give you the answer right away, as provided by people answering the other question, people who might not recognize your question as being the same thing even if they saw it
  2. To leave a signpost for people who think more like you than like the people on the other question, so that when they come to your question they too will be sent over to the one with the answers
  3. To ensure that all the answers are in one place rather than divided between the two ways of wording the question.

The first two are accomplished simply by marking your question as a duplicate, as simple as someone leaving a comment pointing to the other or registering a single close vote. I hope you consider that action to be a gift, rather than a punishment. You don't have to wait for answers, they are here for you already.

The third is accomplished by actually closing the question and thus preventing answers to be added to it. The poster of the duplicate can still earn rep, so this isn't a punishment either. Closing means that anyone who reads the duplicate and wants to answer will need to go to the other question to answer, which won't hurt anyone and keeps all the answers together. It also means anyone who reads the duplicate and thinks "yes! This is exactly what I need to know!" also needs to go to the other question, but it's just one click more.

I am not sure why there's a trend lately to have the rules of SO, which were developed to keep the site useful and clean, considered to be something that should not apply to people who mean well, who are just learning, who are new to the site, or who couldn't have known that two things were the same. That is what community moderation is all about. The poster of the duplicate didn't know, couldn't have known, and didn't need to know. Enough members of the community knew and took care of it. The site stays neat. Everyone gets their answers. This is functioning as it should and suggesting that it shouldn't because the OP couldn't have known is a serious case of Not Grasping The Concept.

  • 2
    Fine - I'll buy that. May 26, 2013 at 17:46
  • 5
    @jim mcnamara Basically, 'closed as duplicate' isn't meant to be malicious or hateful. You close as duplicate and downvote if it's both a commonly asked question and they should have been able to find it with a search/it is a low effort question, whereas you close as duplicate and UPVOTE if it's a good question and it even already has an answer!
    – Patashu
    May 26, 2013 at 22:30
  • 1
    Not Grasping goes both ways, which is why software designers are rarely allowed to conduct usability tests. May 26, 2013 at 22:56
  • I didn't mean to submit that unfinished, but the ENTER key surprised me. My comment ended up too large for the box anyway so I'll post a full answer instead. May 26, 2013 at 23:14

If it's a duplicate, it's a duplicate. Whether or not the OP could have known is of no importance. Closure is not a statement saying "stupid OP, you should have known better". It simply states "hey, the answer to the question you've asked is already given here".

Added advantage is that those users searching along similar lines as the question by the OP, would now also be given the extra information contained within the duplicates. It's a win-win really.

  • Presumably then questions like this would be a case for closed as duplicate but never deleted? May 26, 2013 at 16:43
  • @RichardTingle Exactly. It's one of those duplicates that does no harm. blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/…
    – Bart
    May 26, 2013 at 16:44
  • 5
    @RichardTingle Questions closed as duplicates rarely get deleted and should stay, since they serve as anchors for people coming from a different search query, etc.
    – slhck
    May 26, 2013 at 16:44
  • Let me try a math analogy: how do i differentiate [an interesting function]. There are a lot of questions possible in this format. They are all duplicates by your reasoning, or it it by consensus that duplicates exist? In other words an arbitrary decision is made. May 26, 2013 at 16:49
  • 2
    Let me try it like this then @jimmcnamara. In what way do the duplicates and the answers contained in them not answer the question asked? If your answer is, "well, they do, but.." then it's a duplicate.
    – Bart
    May 26, 2013 at 16:51
  • 2
    @jimmcnamara: the question wasn't closed as a dup of The C Standard. It was closed as a dup of questions that addressed that specific historical remnant of C. (i.e. a dup of a question solving that particular equation)
    – Mat
    May 26, 2013 at 16:52
  • I think the confusion stems from the wording "duplicate question", which they of course aren't by strict definition—but if you keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to find an answer, all the discussion about whether the questions are the same or not is irrelevant.
    – slhck
    May 26, 2013 at 16:53
  • 3
    And in addition to what @slhck says, the OP received a significant number of upvotes, indicating at the very least the interest of a significant number of users. In addition to the correct answers he received, there is now an entire set of linked information for the whole community to enjoy. There is nothing negative or problematic here. If anything, it all reads like "Great question, here are the answers, and here is this additional set of relevant information".
    – Bart
    May 26, 2013 at 16:55
  • I have seen it many times... two questions may seem to be duplicates to the casual observer (someone who may know nothing about the topic) and so it is voted as "duplicate". Then, other casual observers join in and the question is closed. But what if the OP of the "duplicate" question has tried the solutions offered in the "Master" question and they didn't work... how will they get an answer now that their question is closed? Editing their question to provide more detail seems futile since their question can no longer be answered. ... May 27, 2013 at 20:05
  • 1
    @KevinFegan Then they can either go the route of offering a bounty on the duplicate, stating that new/different information is required. Or they can update their question to clearly state what they have tried and what didn't work. Which of course is something they should have done in the first place. After such an update the question might be reopened.
    – Bart
    May 27, 2013 at 20:07
  • ... [sarcasm] Should they then edit the "Master" question to provide details of their situation in the hopes someone will post another answer there that might help them? [/sarcasm] The questions may seem the same, but the situations and answers may be totally different. May 27, 2013 at 20:08
  • 1
    @KevinFegan Once again: if it would require changing the duplicate, then they can instead update their own question clearly detailing how it is different and not a duplicate. Once they have done so the question can be reopened. Either by the community or by flagging a moderator and explaining the situation.
    – Bart
    May 27, 2013 at 20:09
  • @Bart - Of course, but it's not obvious to the OP, especially a newbie. When closed as a duplicate, the recommendation shown is: 'This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.' They are not encouraged to edit their question and flag for moderator attention, which I think is the best choice. Instead, they get recommendation to post another question on the same topic that they may strongly feel will also be marked as a duplicate. May 27, 2013 at 21:56

Strange C Programming Language Grammar

  1. If you type something like that in Google, you're really highly unlikely to find something useful for you.

  2. Sometimes you find the answer only if you formulate question in another way. This is not always obvious for the OP, but once something is marked as duplicate, no matter what potential searcher would find, the duplicate or the original question, he will get the answer.

  3. Generally, you shouldn't be upset if your question is marked as duplicate, because that means that the answer you are looking for already exists and you are given the direct link for it.

  • 6
    "If you type something like that in google, you're really highly unlikely to find something useful for you": well, right now Google returns this meta post as first hit for me :-)
    – Mat
    May 26, 2013 at 16:48

It doesn't matter that an asker wouldn't have been able to find the master question; if she knew how to find the answer anywhere, whether on Stack Overflow or not, she wouldn't have asked the question at all.

There's no significant difference between "The answer to your problem appears directly below your post" and "The answer appears at the other end of this link on the same website".

The point is that there are two goals: 1) get this person a solution to their problem 2) maintain a high-quality, easily-searchable archive of the solutions for future readers. Closing as duplicate fulfills both those goals; having answers spread across multiple questions hinders the second.


First, about that enter key performing a "submit" in an edit box where I'm used to using it to divide my thoughts as I write: I've never found SO halfway as transparent as it ought to be. As a new user, controls for facilities I expected were simply not there, so I had the pleasure of thinking I was going blind for ten minutes. Nice use of ten minutes. Not just dimmed out, but not there. I'm extremely sympathetic to novices who find SO less than totally transparent. No dimmed control with a pop-up explaining "requires XXX reputation" like you'd expect on a site that actively engages disoriented newbies.

Just this morning I was thinking about "workflow equity". This includes all the habits of doing something in a certain way. Habits are a powerful asset, until the powers-that-be mindlessly yank them away. Such as using the enter key to divide my thoughts during the act of composition, even if it won't let me submit a multi-paragraph answer. Ubuntu did this with Unity. Google does this with how they format search results. SO does this with missing controls and enter keys that outrageously violate the principle of least surprise. And yes, these observations are relevant to this discussion. See Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney or The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal about the importance of habit equity in conserving our surprisingly finite mental resourcefulness for more important matters.

Obviously, people with hardly any clue mainly search against the questions, not the answers, and it's hardly transparent that DUPLICATE is a transactional status meaning not that the item it marks is itself duplicate (as a question), but that any answers added would be because answers are already EXTANT, which is what duplicate really means here.

So what recourse?

Ask the question this way (if it hasn't been already): What technical terms do I need to know to effectively search SO for items pertaining to strange syntax or grammar in the C language?

I can think of a few: digraphs, trigraphs, operators and punctuators (esp. ternary operator), anonymous members, the C pre-processor.

With more questions directly concerning lexicon, we might have less ungraspage all around. The duplicated confusion can be directed to the meta-question about appropriate lexicon, while the (not yet) duplicated effort of repeating extant answers can be directed to the extant answers.

Heaven forbid SO takes asking the question as a first order activity, with a distinct and appropriate mechanism of its own for averting duplication of effort.


The first flags that came to me were crib, primer (from the movie Contact), Linear B, and Rosetta stone. Then I thought stone in shoe, snag, pitfall, trap for the unwary, quicksand. I like quicksand the best. An example of quicksand in the R language is the "promise" mechanism of lazy argument evaluation. It's not just a simple identification of a creepy-crawly with a certain number of wings and legs (like the :> digraph). There could be any number of ten line code fragments posted under WTF? They would all relate to the same quicksand. In C you have the disappearance of automatic storage after you pass it into a routine that hasn't finished with it yet, even though the function call returned long ago. node.js has some weird business that can bite you, and so does mongodb. For embedded programmers, ground loops with serial ports can make you think you're losing your mind.

The problem with quicksand is that it's generally invisible until you've stepped into it, even if you thought you knew. Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World has a brilliant sequence where everyone wears buckets to simulate a white-out while trying to extend and follow a rope to safety. It's harder than it looks the first time you try it. The point of that exercise is not to mark their effort as "duplicate no need to bother with the rope exercise, someone else already found the safety shed" but to provide some necessary orientation so that next time they can find the shed themselves. A quicksand or swamp flag could a starting point for finding things you need to know when you don't yet know how to ask the question.

  • 3
    What has this got to do with the question? Even on a discussion level, this seems like 80% tangential rant, and 20% something that seems like it's trying to get some point or advice across (but I'm left wondering what you're trying to say meant), with a 20% margin of error. You need to iron this out and make your statement a bit more clearly, and strip away the rant about unrelated Stack Exchange behaviour. May 26, 2013 at 23:51
  • 1
    I'm pretty sure the fifth paragraph is relevant. You should bump it up a tad.
    – Shog9
    May 27, 2013 at 0:29
  • You should not put things in your answer that are not related to answering the question. (If you still want to say them, reformat and make a MSO question of your own.)
    – Patashu
    May 27, 2013 at 3:59
  • I'm pretty sure @Shog9 didn't have an edit like that in mind when he suggested you bump up the relevant part a tad. I was almost about to vote for deletion when I noticed the stray sentence in there that at least makes some sense. Other than that this is a particularly poor and confusing answer.
    – Bart
    May 27, 2013 at 15:11
  • Puff, puff, pass, @user
    – Shog9
    May 27, 2013 at 15:15
  • Why is this answer "Dimmed"? May 27, 2013 at 22:53
  • 1
    @KevinFegan it isn't dimmed anymore, but when a question receives a net score of -3 or worse, it is dimmed May 28, 2013 at 13:30

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