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The question which led to this one: Can "women echoed" be considered a figure of speech?

Its topicality has been debated in the comments, so I'm bringing this to meta.

What kinds of general literary-device questions (not connected to a specific literary work) are on-topic?

Some previously well-received questions for your consideration

The "woman echoed" question is not about any specific work. For context, it was originally asked on Writing. See the revision history of the question here; it was originally worded as "Is this a valid figure of speech?" and is now worded to be a bit more general, though with the same core question.

Is this more or less acceptable than the above-linked well-received non-work-specific literary-device** questions? General literary-device recognition is taught in literature classes (or at least in my literature/English classes), as that is considered essential for understanding the literature read. By the same logic, is asking for what literary device is present, in a passage not from a specific literary work, on-topic here?

Clearly some non-work-specific questions are on-topic. Where's the line?

Feel free to discuss the specific question that inspired this meta question, and consider the other well-received questions linked above.

* It might need work/author tags, but my point is that the current tagging indicates a question meant to be taken more generally
** Have you noticed that I like hyphens yet? :)

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  • I don't think the "inconsequential elements" question is the same sort of question as the other two. It's asking about a narrative element, not a figure of speech. – verbose May 19 at 2:33
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Let's distinguish between various types of questions about identifying figures of speech:

All of these seem unproblematically on-topic here. The question "Can 'women echoed' be considered a figure of speech?," however, does not fall into any of the above categories. It's very different from the other three types, and I would argue that its difference makes it off-topic.

First off, the asker says he wants to know whether that phrasing is "a valid figure of speech" (emphasis added). What does valid mean? We don't speak of figurative language as being valid or invalid. We can speak of specific uses of language as being correctly described as metaphor or synecdoche or personification, etc., but that doesn't make those uses of language valid.

Secondly, rhetorical devices are just that: rhetoric, i.e., the manipulation of language for effect. When a writer uses a figure of speech, it is to achieve a particular effect. Listing off the figures of speech a writer uses is of no use in itself; it is useful only when their use is related to the effect of the work. For example, Tennyson's oft-cited use of consonance in The Princess is meant to evoke the humming of bees:

The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

Without further context, it's hard to know what effect is intended or achieved by saying "the women echoed" instead of "the laughter echoed." If the asker had not gone on to explain that he's talking about laughter, the meaning of the phrase would be quite obscure.

Finally, when one discusses literary devices, it's usually easy to find examples. If I say that alliteration does not have to rely on successive words, or that mispronunciation is used for comedic effect, it's easy to furnish examples. If the asker is unable to come up with any examples in literature of the device he's trying to identify, then what is the basis for asking whether it's a literary device?

It seems the question is, "Can I write this and get away with it by claiming it's a figure of speech?" The answer is, nobody is stopping you from writing this; you can get away with it if the overall work appeals to enough people; and why do you want to claim it's a figure of speech, particularly if you can't find any examples in existing literature? All of which is fine feedback, but we don't give feedback on self-created works of literature here.

The bottom line is that for a literary device / trope / figure of speech to be identified as such, it has to have a history of being used in literary works. The three types of questions listed at the start of this answer meet that criterion. The fourth does not. So if someone cannot provide examples from literary works other than self-created ones for a particular figure of speech, then that person is asking for feedback on original literary works, and as such the question would be off-topic.

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    I guess "we don't give feedback on self-created works of literature here" is the key point here, following this previous meta discussion. If "The women echoed in my daydreaming" was taken from an existing published poem, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. [cont] – Rand al'Thor Mod May 19 at 7:26
  • But what if that phrase was set in context, say in an entire stanza? It might be more answerable then, and we might not be sure if it was self-created or from an obscure unindexed-by-search-engines poem. That's why I argued (unsuccessfully) that authorship is less important than answerability and we shouldn't care if the OP wrote the poem or not. – Rand al'Thor Mod May 19 at 7:26
  • I think if someone posts a poem or excerpt on here for analysis, but does not specify the source of the excerpt, the first question anybody will ask is: "where is this from?" – verbose May 20 at 7:12

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