Entirely too much bandwidth and moderator time is being invested in quashing the victimless crime of using borrowed terms in a query under the false pretense that such terms invade some third-party property rights. Succinctly, all questions about third party fictional worlds boil down to canon. Borrowed terms, whether they be from literature or from any other cultural origin, are in fact fully congruent with the goals and principles of both world-building practice, and this world-building site (WBSE). An offense exists if AND ONLY IF an explanatory answer exists in any canon not owned by the OP; thus, queries with canonical Delphicity* are by definition uncanonical to the third party world, and thus can NOT be judged as "off-topic" for the singular reason of a descriptive term's origins. I owe a proof of this:
- The WBSE asks querents to post questions which are scannable. Terms with high information density serve this cause specifically. E.g., the two statements below are identical, but #2 is preferred:
- How can a quadrupedal mammal of the genus cannis, having very sharp canine teeth at the front of its mouth, that are designed to tear and puncture rather than pulverize, successfully pulverize the chewy bubble-gum creatures on my world?
- How can a dog pulverize the chewy bubble-gum creatures on my world?
The word dog has a vast information density that facilitates the scannability of the query. I am fairly certain all members can agree that use of this word is a "net plus" to our goals. Yet, the words "Warp" and "Light-sabre" and even "vampire" have come under recent inexplicable fire for being used in this same way.
The WBSE asks a querent to "do research" before engaging this community. Borrowed terms are the very product of earlier research. William Shakespeare gave us "Alligator" in Act 5 of Romeo and Juliet through the vernacular pronunciation of the Spanish term for "big lizard." That word today contains its own research. Gene Roddenberry gave us "Warp speed" which contains vast research into FTL. Using the word "warp" in a query is in keeping with our policy while the answer can not be derived from any of Roddenberry's worlds.
The WBSE asks for question titles to accurately and concisely summarize the problem in the title. Borrowed terms with high information density perfectly accomplish this goal. "Dog," "Mermaid," Vulcan," Darwinian," "Nazi," "Lovecraftian," "Delphic," "Muslim," are all words that contribute to the concise, accurate, and specific communication of the problem in your world.
The default WBSE assumption is that members are obeying the code of conduct, and are therefore creating their own worlds. I do agree that trends show rife disregard for third party property, yet trends do not set our principals; they set policies for the enforcement of those principles. It is NOT true that a querent owes a burden of proof as to ownership of their world. It is our general expectation that querents are being honest (we do NOT assume all new queries with the words "Hobbit" or "Warp" or "Liliputian" are pirating intellectual property by default). Instead, if we feel a query needs policing, we are expected to "be clear and constructive when giving feedback, and be open when receiving it."
Information density is both encouraged and discouraged in the same breath when taboos are levied against borrowed descriptive words. Consider that a query about an "anatomically correct Hobbit" is taboo, while an image of the creature pictured below (Wikimedia commons source) is actually encouraged under the ACS guidelines? This is not hypocritical and contrarian?
Canonical Explanations vs. Canonical descriptions
The simple reason that an image is ENCOURAGED and a word is taboo is because an image is by nature descriptive of the problem. A word can be interpreted as either descriptive or explanatory, and so it can potentially include content which is not owned by the OP.
Thus, the simple proposed "canonical Delphicity" test is this:
If an OP is clearly using a borrowed term from Swift, or Roddenberry, or Lovecraft, or Stoker, or Shakespeare for the purpose of clarity, brevity, and to describe their problem, then there is no harm or foul. This term is just as suitable for an on-topic question as an image of the same item would be. The OP retains the burden to focus the problem on specific features of the "wookie" or "elf" or "vampire," lest they earn the "needs more focus" VTC.
If, in an expert opinion, the canon originating a borrowed term in a query explains the problem, or in fact, any third party canon not owned by the OP explains the problem, then WBSE can not offer an explanation to the problem.
The line for WBSE suitability rests on ownership of the world and not the descriptors. The line for descriptor suitability rests on its explanitory power rather than its descriptive power. Informationally dense terms are encouraged; explanatory terms with origins outside the OP world are off-topic. Queries with words having both explanatory and descriptive power must actively distinguish themselves from canonical sources (they must establish canonical Delphicity within any coincident canon).
Burden of canonical intrusion lies with the claimant
To charge a question as offending any canon is to proclaim yourself as expert in that canon, because your downvote implies that: the answer or question is incorrect; and you are honest about that assessment. This can only mean you are an expert in the matter. If a question intrudes on worlds of Roddenberry or Swift or Lovecraft or the Incas, the civil thing to do is state where the intrusion lay.
FAQ (comment responses)
Q: Won't this create more work for the people responsible to keep WBSE clear of third party violations?
A: No one has the responsibility to secure the site against third-party content. Moderation starts with the community itself. The moderator agreement places no burden at all on them to keep WBSE clear of 3P world infringements, and in fact indemnifies Stack Exchange and the moderators against any damages due to any infringement.
Q: Aren't 'ideas' also 3rd party content? Isn't a world with an engine 'like a warp drive,' a city 'like Cloud City,' or a creature 'like a Mi-Go' automatically owned by someone else because they came up with it? Aren't you only changing the name?
**A: No, ideas are never third party and in fact they are very rarely original. The Orville is a knock-off of Star Trek. Put a "Sky-city-like" city in your world and it is still YOUR world. Put a light-sabre-like sword in your world and it is still YOUR world. Put a Predator-like creature in your world and it is still YOUR world. Put a Mi-Go like creature into your world and it is still YOUR world.
Q: Shouldn't Borrowed terms close a question simply because they are too broad?
A: No. True, a creature "Like Dracula" has entirely too much definition for one single question. However, a creature "that doesn't cast a reflection, like Dracula" is perfectly fine for this site, as long as your world defines the science/magic that makes such a quality possible. The example above of the light-sabre which cuts a tree is a suitable question because the science is defined.
- Canonical Dephicity A problem is canonically Delphic if an answer can not be provided by a canonical authority. It does not mean an answer does not exist in another canon, but that a valid solution cannot be had if a canonical authority (or third-party world oracle) were consulted, because the authority of the intellectual property is outside of that canon.
Example problem: "Could a 2000 Watt plasma light-sabre cut down a 2-foot thick tree in one swipe, if the blade were long enough?" Test: Can an authority in canon provide an answer?
- Canonical reference: Light sabre
- Canon source: Star Wars / George Lucas
- Canon opinion: The functional operation of a light sabre have no definition within Star Wars canon, and they do not have Watts as a unit. The question can have no answer from an authority of Star Wars canon.
- Conclusion: This question is canonically Delphic, and therefore is not off-topic under the third-party world rule.
Example problem: "Would a personal time machine be possible with only a 1 JiggaWatt flux capacitor, since the Delorean is much larger and has a 2-JiggaWatt flux capacitor?" Test: Could a canonical authority provide an answer?
- Canonical reference: Flux capacitor, JiggaWatt, Delorean time machine
- Canon source: Back To The Future franchise
- Canon opinion: An authority in BTTF canon could form an explanatory answer to this question, even if they never have or chose not to, because the elements of the question occupy the BTTF world.
- Conclusion: This problem fails the canonical Delphicity test, it does not occupy an original world owned by the OP.
Related post: Policy Clarification: Asking about commercial or third-party worlds.
invade some third-party property rights-1 just for saying that. This has never been about the legality of working with someone else's property. The goal of this site has always been focused on helping someone build a world of their own creation - not somebody else's world. Just because you're taking somebody else's idea and inserting it into your world doesn't change the fact that it's not your idea. The issue isn't that someone might hold the rights to Lovecraft's work. The issue is that it's not your work. $\endgroup$