I've been thinking about the question What is the earliest recorded example of religion (formerly What is the consensus for the earliest recorded mythology?). I feel bad about that question, because this site essentially set the OP up for failure. To quote randomblink:

First off. I think it's ridiculous that this "Mythology" StackExchange board puts a question on hold because they at FIRST didn't know what I meant by Mythology... and then when I presented a definition they balked at my definition or at my source for where I got the definition. If this board is going to be about Mythology, it would probably GREATLY help those coming here if the word was clearly defined for all to see and know.


But on a "Mythology" StackExchange I would expect there to EITHER BE a "Terms" page (or something similar) that outlines WHAT Mythology is to avoid lengthy discussions on definition that should already be clarified or... there should be no issue when any user presents any definition. It needs to be one way or the other. So when I make the statement that mythology is a "system of beliefs that explain a peoples culture, nature, etc." is this board doesn't have a clearly defined definition then I'm confused as all get-out as to the wide range of outcry when I present a definition as I understand it. - End Rant on Outcry over my definition of Mythology.


I REALLY feel like being put on hold because I didn't clarify what I meant when I used the word "mythology" (on a Mythology StackExchange... go figure) and because I didn't clarify what I meant by "recorded history" were some sort of elitist semantics meant to get rid of those not creating questions up to a certain calibre of writing. Which makes no sense. Especially as the META for this board has a leading question asking how to generate more activity on this board.

Tip for those running this board... shutting down questions because you don't like them isn't it. Presenting proper information to questioners to better format their questions to fit the goal of the board is.

I asked a question that used the word "mythology" and phrase "recorded history" and my question is locked down. It Makes. No. Sense.

(Note: I bear a lot of the responsibility for that question, for which I have apologized. I also agree that randomblink has a point with "I didn't clarify what I meant by "recorded history" were some sort of elitist semantics meant to get rid of those not creating questions up to a certain calibre of writing", although that is perhaps a topic for another meta question.)

Part of the problem with the question (as I see it) is that randomblink used the word mythology when randomblink should have used the word religion. But randomblink is right: it's stupid that we don't have a page that clearly explains the meanings of words like mythology.

Could we create one please? I wrote a blog post on the subject, but a definition should exist on this site and it should probably be less scholarly than my blog post.

  • Good thinking. The point is, how? Not many of us actually go on meta.
    – bleh
    Jan 16 '16 at 14:03
  • @bleh we could create a question on the main site
    – user62
    Jan 16 '16 at 14:57
  • 2
    Honestly, I didn't see a problem with their use of the word mythology in the initial revision of that question, but it was unclear regardless, and was closed as such. As far as creating a canonical definition, my opinion on that hasn't changed, I think it's counter-productive.
    – femtoRgon
    Jan 16 '16 at 17:33
  • 4
    I don't see how this would be helpful in general, or how even it would have helped the specific question. Which wasn't closed because it lacked a definition of mythology, btw. This is the version of the question that was closed, and lacking a definition of mythology is the least of its problems (lack of any prior research, not even a hint of what is meant by "generally recognized", "oldest one recorded", "historical", etc) .
    – yannis Mod
    Jan 17 '16 at 16:54

I feel that any definition we'd come up with, would end up being yet another unnecessary constraint on our scope.

This would do more to hurt new users, than help them.

As for the specific question, it happened to require a definition of mythology (among other things) to be answerable. That's not common enough to warranty a policy change, or even this Meta discussion (imho).

It's just that questions asking about the "earliest", "farthest", "fastest", etc must clearly specify their scope; otherwise they run the risk of turning into a huge mess. Especially when the "whatever-est" can be a matter of opinion.

In cases like this I feel the easier solution is just to ask the asker to tell us what definition of mythology they are going by. And if their definition of mythology happens to be different than ours, that's ok (assuming of course the question is answerable).

Unfortunately, the asker in question wasn't particularly responsive when asked to clarify their requirements. That happens, and I don't see what more any of us could - or should - have done about it. There are a lot of other questions & answers out there that could benefit from our collective time & energy.

PS. Even if we come up with a perfect definition for mythology, does anyone honestly believes that new users - especially those unfamiliar with the SE model - actually read our help articles?

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