We already have and tags, for questions about the meaning or symbolic significance of specific passages or objects in works of literature. After seeing the recent question What happens at the end of The Scar by China Mieville?, I've been wondering whether we need a tag such as to complement these, specifically for questions about the plot of a story, rather than e.g. the meaning of a passage or the symbolism of an object.

If we do want this tag, it will probably have to be added to quite a lot of existing questions - I haven't checked, but I'd guess perhaps a few dozen. Hence why I'm posting to meta rather than just going ahead and creating the tag - it would be a big enough addition to the system to not come under the "this minor tag is too small an issue to worry about at present" Standard Meta Answer.

Context: at least two of Literature's closest sister sites have experimented with a tag.

SFF's argument for nuking it was essentially that it was being used inconsistently, and the community opted to remove it from the 500-odd questions with the tag rather than adding it to the however-many plot explanation questions without the tag. Note that Lit is a young enough site not to have this problem: adding the tag to as many questions as need it is a feasible endeavour, if we decide that this tag is worthwhile, so I can't see it going the same way as SFF's tag further down the road.

  • 2
    Well, I would prefer not to add a plot explanation tag unless meaning and symbolism start being used consistently. I'm not convinced that these two tags are being used consistently. I'm also not convinced that meaning, symbolism, or plot explanation add any meaningful information to a question.
    – user111
    Aug 3, 2017 at 15:43
  • 2
    (Btw, this question is intended to be neutral, not an endorsement of a plot-explanation tag. So voting on the question should be about whether or not it's a useful discussion, and won't give us a consensus on whether or not we want the tag - for the latter, we need answers to be voted on.)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Aug 3, 2017 at 15:46
  • Just a small nitpick: not too familiar with Movies, but with SFF, the only similarity is our topic. When it comes to answers, focus, policy: we're very different. This site is probably closer to Philosophy or English Language Usage.
    – user111
    Aug 4, 2017 at 13:49
  • 1
    @Hamlet True, but I'd say the main defining feature of any SE site is its topic :-) There are far more questions which would be accepted both here and on SFF than would be accepted both here and Philosophy or ELU, even if the answers they'd attract would be different.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Aug 4, 2017 at 20:07
  • I would have to disagree.
    – user111
    Aug 6, 2017 at 16:16

1 Answer 1


Here are the reasons why I think that tags such as , , and the proposed aren't really worth having around.

  1. Tags are supposed to help people find questions that they can answer. These tags don't do that. There isn't such a thing as being an expert in meaning, or being knowledgeable about plot-explanations. Answering a plot-explanation question can involve anything from close reading to critical theory to explaining a basic grammatical question. Contrast that to a tag such as , where questions with that tag, more likely than not, will require knowledge of The Canterbury Tales to answer.

  2. These tags are broad, unintuitive, and unspecific. For example, meaning can mean anything from "What does word x in this story mean?" to "what is the meaning of character y's obsession with idea z?" Symbolism: does that only refer to questions about objects in stories (e.g. what does the white dress symbolize)? Or does symbolism refer to, to quote from a meta post on the subject, "Any time there is something that represents more than its literal meaning"? In that case, can I use the symbolism tag for plot-explanation questions, e.g. what does the ending symbolize? And plot explanation: plot can refer to stages of a story, e.g. ending or beginning, it can refer to specific actions characters take, it can refer to the order of events in a story... you get the idea.

  3. In practice, these tags are used inconsistently, which probably is due to them being broad and unspecific. To use some my questions as an example (simply because they're easy for me to find), I've asked many questions that could be tagged with and . But while people have retagged my questions on many occasions, no one has bothered to add the or tags, perhaps because people don't have a clear definition to use when deciding whether the tags are appropriate.

    For example, the question What is a "Cristopher"? could very easily be a symbolism question--it's about an object--but no one retagged the question, despite the question getting a relative amount of attention. Mathematics or gibberish? Understanding a description of an alien message in His Master's Voice, Why is the future "a safe, sterile laboratory"?, and How much French does Madame Eglentyne know? are all questions about the meaning of a specific passage that received a fair bit of attention, but again, no one felt confident enough to retag the questions. I could go on and compile a whole list; these are just a few of the questions on my profile.

    As a matter of fact, looking through the symbolism tag, I see a lot of questions that could also be tagged with the meaning tag. Just on the first page of the tag, I already found Does the poem 'In Just' (e. e. cummings) allude to innocents being led astray by the devil?, which could also use the meaning tag. And from the meaning tag: In the song "Ja is Playing Jazz" (Джа играет джаз), who is Ja? could very easily be reworded to "what does ja symbolize". It's a mess!

Let's not add a tag. Let's remove and instead.

  • I want to disagree with this answer because I think the meaning and symbolism tags are doing a good job, but I must admit that you have a good point with 1 and probably 2 too. Can you give examples to support 3, of inconsistent usage of the two existing tags?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Aug 3, 2017 at 21:35
  • @Randal'Thor edited.
    – user111
    Aug 3, 2017 at 21:45
  • 3
    1 and 2 are especially good points - the sole purpose of tags is to help people find questions that they want to answer, and [plot-explanation] doesn't really do that. Aug 4, 2017 at 20:16
  • @EJoshuaS just to be clear, do you think points one and two apply to [symbolism] and [meaning]?
    – user111
    Aug 6, 2017 at 12:59
  • I'm unclear on what will happen if this answer gets enough upvotes to count as consensus. Will we just not create a plot-explanation tag (as that's what the question is about), or will we get rid of meaning and symbolism (as recommended in this answer)? One problem with doing the latter is that people who have an opinion about those tags might not even have bothered looking at this question. OTOH, since this answer essentially has two conclusions, it's hard to tell which one the voters on it are voting for.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Aug 20, 2017 at 20:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .