Recently, a question on pronunciation was downvoted and then put on hold for being "primarily opinion based".

That particular question wasn't the best-constructed, lucidly-typed question in the world, but it did seem (a) related to chemistry and (b) not really that opinion based. The question was "how to pronounce this", not "what of two widely used pronunciation alternatives is the 'correct' one?"

I think there are several ways of handling pronunciation questions:

  1. Downvoting them and marking them as off-topic immediately after they are posted with no substantive feedback to the OP.

  2. Advising the OP that pronunciation questions sometimes are "opinion-based", so that they should be careful to phrase (or re-phrase) their question in a factual way. For example, "what is the most common pronunciation of NONOate among practicing chemists in Europe?" is a question with a factual answer, whereas, "My friend says no-no-eight and I think that's wrong...who's right?" is opinion based.

  3. Refer the question to ELL in the hopes that they will know how chemists often pronounce arcane chemistry terms.

Right now it seems (although my data is admittedly coming from only one question) that the preferred tactics are a mixture of #1 and #3. I would be a fan of including more #2 in the mix. But what other options are there? What have I missed?

  • $\begingroup$ My personal opinion is that these questions are off-topic and should be closed and if possible migrated to a different site (which may be about language). Of course one necessity of migration is, that the question is on topic on the target site. In this particular case, you note, that the question is not well crafted, so I would feel bad about migrating it. $\endgroup$ Feb 6, 2016 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ I can understand where you are coming from, but this point of view seems quite new to chemistry.SE. Searching for pronunciation gives several answered, upvoted, non-closed questions. Should we really be endeavoring to close these? $\endgroup$
    – Curt F.
    Feb 13, 2016 at 16:40

1 Answer 1


I think there is another method of handling pronunciation questions. While there are some abbreviations that probably shouldn’t be pronounced in any way other than letter-by-letter (NONOate being one of them), there are some legitimate concerns about pronunciations that are not adequately addressed in education — remember that English is one of the languages with the worst phoneme to writing mapping that exists.

For example, I would deem a question asking for the correct English pronunciation of (say) piperidine a perfectly valid one if it otherwise follows our guidelines for acceptable questions. That means, it should be applicable to a wider audience, well phrased, etc. Note: That doesn’t automatically make a question good, but acceptable. Remember that we have a plethora of questions with zero or +1 score that are still within scope.

The question you are asking about fails this test highlighted above. NONOate is an abbreviation that probably shouldn’t even be used on paper (unless defined in a list of abbreviations). There is no ‘standard’ pronunciation and there can be none. Whether somebody says no-no-eight or en-oh-en-oh-eight doesn’t matter and is opinion based. It is therefore, in my opinion, rightly closed (and cannot be salvaged).

Also note that redirecting it to ELL wouldn’t help: They, too, cannot define an ‘accurate’ pronuncation for the word. It remains an abbreviation. If anything, they can suggest to pronounce it letter-by-letter because that’s what English often does with abbreviations. But that still remains somewhat opinion-based. In much the same way, a question on German Language asking for the pronunciation of $\ce{SO4^2-}$ (the letter combination, not the compound) would be off-topic (and my personal answer like Sophie is even more highly opinion based).

  • $\begingroup$ While I roughly agree with the general sentiment of this, I absolutely don't agree that a question about the pronunciation of piperidine would be acceptable. $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2016 at 8:15

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