The latest CoC at the time of writing states the following. I feel the example violates all three sentences.

Whether you’ve come to ask questions or to generously share what you know, join us in building a community where all people feel welcome and can participate, regardless of expertise or identity.

Avoid sarcasm and be careful with jokes — tone is hard to decipher online.

No subtle put-downs or unfriendly language.

However to me one of the latest blogs posts violates the CoC - You graduated from coding bootcamp. Now what?

It’s a silly question with some interesting answers and a nice history of the web in the background.

I know of no definition that calling out a question to be "silly" is anything except insulting.

Is it ok to call questions silly?

  • All these types of questions basically boil down to 'its now a high risk option that is defined by which mod or SE staff member happens to look at your post, and what they ate for breakfast that day.' Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:43

6 Answers 6


Context is key

"Silly", like many words, can be used in insulting and innocuous ways and the only way to tell the difference is by looking at the context.

It’s a silly question with some interesting answers and a nice history of the web in the background.

I don't know enough about the coding context here to say exactly what is being referred to here in the question itself, but my reading of this statement is that it is not putting down the question but using "silly" to highlight the seeming simplicity of the question and is not being used as a put-down.

I understand that others might interpret the context and meaning differently though. If you do, I might recommend leaving feedback on that post to that effect. I believe that authors should be open to changing the wording of their posts in response to feedback from their audience if they want to communicate effectively.

We have many questions on the site I moderate that are unequivocally "silly" in the sense that they are goofy and light-hearted. If I saw a comment saying "I love seeing silly questions like this!" I would not consider that to be a violation of the CoC.

That being said, I wouldn't recommend using "silly" without carefully considering the ways in which it could be read just in case it is read as a put down.

You can't make explicit and detailed rules about how most normal words are used, it just isn't possible with the ambiguities of language and context.

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    Thing is, the new CoC is exactly that: set of iron-clad rules that must not be questioned or discussed, as recent events proved. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 15:59
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    I very much agree that context is key, but previously comments have disappeared because they were deemed unfriendly out of context. I don't like the hypocrisy (not on your part) that context is key when it suits "us".
    – Script47
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 16:03
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    @Script47 Has there been some huge crackdown on comments with the word "silly" in them in the past that I'm unaware of? This use of the word "silly" seems entirely benign to me so I don't see any hypocrisy at all here, it doesn't even seem borderline to me. At the very worst, this seems like word choice that could be improved, and I would certainly be open to changing it if it were, say, an answer of mine in response to feedback. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 16:09
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    @Rubiksmoose I never mentioned the word "silly" or any specific word. I was talking generally about the sentiments of "Context is key". I wish it was extended to other users of this site (like you have here) instead of just assuming ill will.
    – Script47
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 16:11
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    Replace the word silly with he and then ask whether context is still considered relevant. After all, he has centuries of usage as generic pronoun. The hypocrisy is that some authority decides for which words context is considered justified and for which it's taboo.
    – dfhwze
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 16:12
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    @dfhwze By my reading, the new CoC allows for using the generic "he" as an option for general use, it's not forbidden or taboo. The only time it is considered inappropriate is when someone asks you not to. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 16:14
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    I wouldn't recommend using "silly" without carefully considering the ways in which it could be read -- In other words, "don't use 'silly'".
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 16:29
  • @RobertHarvey Not using words that can be read to be demeaning is always the safer option, yes. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 16:30
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    @Rubiksmoose In other words, don't use words. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 16:49
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    @StopharmingMonica Not at all, but be open to changing the words you use in response to feedback is my personal policy. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 17:02
  • @Rubiksmoose Well that is wise. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 17:10
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    Plain comments showing a different angle are being sniped again. Sad place this has become.
    – dfhwze
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 14:35
  • According to this elite user (meta.stackexchange.com/a/336368/627227) he is the worst option, and the user refers to it as the default masculine he, not even generic, as if that somehow doesn't even exist. So I'm left confused at how SE interprets what is a generic pronoun and what isn't.
    – dfhwze
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 10:09

In my opinion, if you're going to make comments on a question on answering it, you should be sure to contribute with it somehow. I can't see how calling a question "silly" would improve it or give a serious feedback that someone could learn for it.

So the best way to go is discover why you think it is silly, and then explain how it could be improved.

  • +1 for the sentiment here. "No, it's not okay to refer to a question as silly. Doing so doesn't improve it, and it could actually be considered offensive by some people." I know I would not like hearing a question I asked referred to in that way—at least not without clarification that made it an explicitly benign comment. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 17:55

Is it ok to call questions silly?

That term implies judgement, so we would probably all stay away from using it.

Now, when taking the blog post into context, which reads:

It’s a silly question with some interesting answers and a nice history of the web in the background.

I think it is reasonable that the author intended to say something like:

And then we will be talking about that interesting question from stackoverflow that might sound bizarre initially, but that has a lot to learn from it.

In other words: using silly here for sure isn't meant as an insult. But then it is a nice example in regards to your quote from the CoC about Avoid sarcasm and be careful with jokes — tone is hard to decipher online.

Thus: yes, touché, you caught the SO team being lazy about their own rules!

But finally, my personal two cents on the other hand: if you asked me to write down a list with the 50 most important issues I currently see with SE Inc., the above CoC violation would probably appear as number 274. Or so. And I think that most people here will agree with me that SE Inc. has bigger fish to fry at this point in time, than to worry about inappropriate usages of the word silly.


Is it ok to call questions silly?

No, it isn't. (I just write this answer because all other current answers do not answer this question that clearly.)

Silly can always carry a negative connotation and therefore is unfriendly at the very least.

However, questions can for example be called "not useful" (That's one of the descriptions of the vote buttons.). It would be clear though that this is only a personal opinion.

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    I didn't downvote. But I think I can shed light on why someone might. GhostCat and Rubiksmoose have both explained ways that it may not be offensive. Where dustytrash doesn't think it's offensive at all. 'Banning' a word could lead to a situation where on a sub-site there's banter, someone says "I enjoy these silly questions" and then a rules lawyer is causing a commotion on the use of the word "silly". I'm sorry this is likely because I unknowingly asked a binary fallacy, where "yes, but discouraged" seems to be the answer.
    – Peilonrayz
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 15:17
  • @Peilonrayz Thank you for the explanation. I think the possible exceptions will be very, very rare in practice and almost always the answer should be "no, most probably not". Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 15:25

It's simply not ok for someone to call a question silly. And good catch in flagging it (if that's what you did).

But as my own broader observation, the fact that M.SE has descended so far as to entertain a python-esque hoity-toity endlessly back and forth conversation about it to this extent is bordering on ridiculous.

Add some English accents, some head posturing and other affectations, and call the BBC, because we're ready to air.


Is it ok to call a question silly?

Sometimes questions demonstrate a lack of understanding which needs to be addressed.

For example if a user is asking the difference between "Java" and "JavaScript", it wouldn't be helpful to outline the differences.

The user should be made aware the question (although answerable, technically makes sense) is not important. It is in fact, a silly question.

Other examples: If a user is asking how to do X with Y, where X is a framework/tool is specifically supposed to prevent Y. It may be possible, but doing so would be hacky and defeat the purpose of using X.

Of course saying the question is silly without explanation is not useful. But beginning your answer with That is a silly question should not be taken with any offense. I cannot think of a better alternative to letting the user know their question was silly.

I am open to an alternative, I just cannot think of one that's less offensive, and can be used at the beginning of an answer. (As a writing style, oftentimes you want to make a specific answer with a long explanation underneath).

  • Personally I think your reasoning violates the first quote of the CoC. Say I don't know the difference between Java and JavaScript. I post the question "What's the difference between Java and JavaScript?" and someone says "That is a silly question" then I wouldn't "feel welcome [...] regardless of expertise", because my would be lack of knowledge, expertise, would be the reason to ask the question. I'm not saying whether I think there's moral cases for or against, just in relation to the CoC.
    – Peilonrayz
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 18:39
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    @Peilonrayz It could be a matter of opinion, but I believe saying a question is silly is similar to kindly suggesting a question does not make sense / shows a greater misunderstanding. 'Silly' is different from 'stupid'. However I'd like to know of an alternative way, without using more than a few words to let the user know the answer to their question is meaningless, or what they are asking (although technically makes sense) does not make any real sense.
    – dustytrash
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 18:48
  • As an alternate don't focus on how the user has less knowledge, and what the core difference is? A simple, "The similarities between Java and JavaScript mostly end at their names." or "Java, JavaScript and Javanese are only similar in name." An attempt at being funny, "Don't forget there's no I in team." I don't see how it's hard to state they're not similar except in name. Seems like a poor strawman.
    – Peilonrayz
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 19:43
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    "The similarities between Java and JavaScript mostly end at their names" But they are both programming languages.
    – dustytrash
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 19:59
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    And both have highly similar syntax to C. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 22:40

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