# The titling of “Proving […] no matter your initial choices”

Recently, this question appeared on the site, which has, at the moment once had the title of "Proving you're always an asshole, no matter your initial choices" - which has essentially no bearing to the mathematical content of the question and seems more designed to provoke people to click it than to describe what the question is. Given the discussion in this previous meta thread, which suggested that replacing titles like "Beautiful Geometry Problem" with more descriptive titles, it would seem clear that the author's choice of titling conflicts with community standards. However, there have already been two revisions improving the title, which the author undid. I do not think that the author's intent can be taken to override other standards, but the question itself is not deserving of closure and further edits are unlikely to do anything but start an edit war.

This is not the only time I've seen authors cling to bad titles - though it's far from a common issue, it is not unheard of for authors to deliberately use a nondescriptive title because they think it makes the question more enticing.

What should one do when the author rejects edits which make the titling more descriptive of the mathematical content?

• Blatant clickbait titles with no descriptive content are destructive to the community. If a post author is engaging in an edit war to revert edits that improve the post, the post should be locked as content dispute. However, in this case, the edit war has stopped so a lock is not necessary. – bjb568 Jun 21 '15 at 16:52
• that's a great title. it refers to the joke. the question is about the joke. the joke defines the mathematical problem. – dbliss Jun 21 '15 at 16:53
• This question can, and should, be cleaned up of that silly origin. It simply asks why the sum of digits of a question divisible by $9$ is $9$ again. – Asaf Karagila Jun 21 '15 at 17:03
• @AsafKaragila which makes it a duplicate of this one – user147263 Jun 21 '15 at 17:03
• I agree, @I disagree. – Asaf Karagila Jun 21 '15 at 17:04
• @AsafKaragila, so which is it, do you agree or do you disagree? – Joel Reyes Noche Jun 22 '15 at 0:58
• @Joel: I agree it's ambiguous, I disagree about clarifying. Let's agree to disagree about whether I agree or I disagree. – Asaf Karagila Jun 22 '15 at 3:22
• Wouldn't be deliciously ironic if this question's title was click bait? I was certainly enticed by the title ;) – Zach466920 Jun 23 '15 at 21:41
• The joke has no relevance to the core of the mathematical problem. Maybe if wanted the joke could be posted as a comment, but it should definitely be left out of the main problem statement. – 1110101001 Jun 27 '15 at 23:34
• I'd like to mention that the title of this question has been bothering me. If the whole point is to have a discussion about whether such titles are acceptable, then we shouldn't give it a title which essentially begs the question, at least to some extent. – Sir Jective Jun 30 '15 at 23:19

not the only time I've seen authors cling to bad titles

At the time of writing, there was exactly 1 question with "asshole" in the title: the one you mentioned. I do think the number must be $0$ rather than anything positive.

If we are okay with such titles, we should be prepared for "Look at this problem my asshole calc prof assigned, lol" later on. It's a broken window.

I've less concern about vague titles that are clean. I'll edit those but won't insist if the OP rolls back; it's their loss. With the title in question, it'd be the site's loss of standards if the title is allowed to stand.

• "If we are okay with such titles, we should be prepared for . . ." no. the use of asshole in the post in question is totally distinct from the use of asshole in your example. – dbliss Jun 21 '15 at 16:54
• The difference between 'asshole' and asshole is miles wide. One is just a string and can not be taken literally (even if its content is used for a secondary tongue in cheek joke) whilst the other is just a derogatory term. – David Mulder Jun 21 '15 at 17:10
• However you want to parse it, site users are going to see it and think it's always acceptable behavior, or, worse, use it as justification for their own title. Your "figurative" "string" has no use in the title and therefore should be removed as noise. – bjb568 Jun 21 '15 at 17:22
• I agree with most the post, but not so much with the last paragraph. I'd assume that clickbait titles gain the OP more attention, but decrease the quality of the question for the rest of the site as its content will be harder to find by searching. It also means answerers may have more difficulty recognizing the question as one they can/cannot answer. In general, it strikes me that enforcing good titling and tagging benefits the community, even if it conflicts with the author's intent. (But that there is no obvious way to have an edit "stick" when an author dislikes it) – Milo Brandt Jun 21 '15 at 17:50

Rude or offensive content is proscribed. Is there ever a case where a word can in context be unoffensive, despite being so in normal conversation? I'm willing to think it might, so generally cases are handled by community moderation, not by programmatic embargo. This means that if the first edit to remove offensive/rude content gets rolled back by the OP, then we flag for moderator attention with a note explaining the circumstance.

This particular A-word here has an interesting history as a synonym for jerk (and the J-word we do use in the Help Center FAQ linked above). See Geoffrey Nunberg's Ascent of the A-Word, which title itself presents a euphemistic treatment for those cases where the body of a Question might need a more explicit reference.

IMHO, the body of a Question bears the burden of posing a problem in reasonably self-contained fashion. The title of a Question should be something that attracts interest of suitable Readers without rickrolling them. The search features (e.g. list of "related" items beside a Question) seem to give extra weight to words in titles as well tags. With appropriate tags I don't see a problem with a title like "A Riddle of Three Doors". Content is community editable, so if it can be improved, great. If not, it might well serve the purpose of attracting interested Readers. (Hey, is that the Monty Hall paradox again??)

• I was expecting that the link for "without rickrolling them" would be an actual link to the video. – Asaf Karagila Jun 22 '15 at 12:56
• @AsafKaragila: I'm saving that prank for when I Disagree eventually changes names to Rick Roll. – hardmath Jun 22 '15 at 13:10

In the following I speak to requiring titles to contain mathematical content.

If we as a community agree as to change this title to have mathematical content, should we not also change the following (popular) titles: The Three Princesses, Albert, Bernard and Cheryl popular question (Please comment on my theory), Six Frogs - Puzzle, A riddle with a witch and some gnomes, and Chicken Problem from Terry Tao's blog?

While not mathematically descriptive, these titles are vital to the identification of their questions. Suppose I find a puzzle and desire to ask the internet for a solution. I'm not going to first distill the mathematical content, rather I will just search for key words and phrases.

What's the point of mathematical titles if most interested parties don't recognize the question? Casually reading the 'always asshole' puzzle, I wouldn't know enlightenment lies in a question titled: "The sum of digits of $3(3x+3)$ is always $9$ for any $x$ between $1$ and $9$." Indeed, the act of writing the question in this form basically solves it.

In conclusion, we should keep nonmathematical phrasing when the source material is so phrased.

Please note: In this case there is a separate issue that the original title used profanity. This answer does not attempt to discuss that.

• Some of the titles you cited could use work. "(Please comment on my theory)" doesn't really belong in a title. "The Three Princesses"... is there just one puzzle in the world involving three princesses? I doubt that. A few more words there would help recognize the content. Also, please note that votes do not necessarily represent the preferences of the users of this site. Questions with clickbait titles get a large number of upvotes from casual visitors (mostly from Stack Overflow) who upvote for entertainment value. – user147263 Jun 21 '15 at 22:14
• I edited the titles, a little. I couldn't see what to do with Albert-Bernard-Cheryl to make it more informative without making it very, very long. – Gerry Myerson Jun 22 '15 at 0:37
• I was very pleased with myself when I retitled “Maximizing efficiency puzzle question” to “Maximizing fire-breathing power of multi-headed dragons”, which I still think was a huge improvement. – MJD Jun 25 '15 at 10:54

Honestly, there are two things that are central here I guess:

1. No meta discussion was linked at any point stating that descriptive titles like that are not allowed.
2. I did link other questions that use titles like this and it was pointed out that even the highest voted question on the entire site uses a tongue-in-cheek title.

Additionally on all of SE it's quite common to see slightly more creative titles, as long as they do describe the question. The title in this case directly and literally described the question, whilst at the same time having a tongue-in-cheek layer with which I do not see any problem. If anything it seems there is a knee-jerk response to the word 'asshole' which I from the beginning placed between ' to ensure that it was clear that I was not literally asking to prove that everyone is an asshole.

Lastly and most importantly the title was:

• Memorable
• And even more important: Google-able. If somebody encounters this puzzle and searches for a mathematical analysis of it the original answer is significantly better. As this is one of the main goals of SE I think the value of this can not be understated.
• Not to belabor the point, but the original title was not descriptive. – Asaf Karagila Jun 21 '15 at 17:10
• @AsafKaragila It's not descriptive of the mathematical problem: Yes. It is however quite descriptive of the question. – David Mulder Jun 21 '15 at 17:13
• So similarly "I have a problem with my homework" is not descriptive in the sense that it reveals the mathematical content of the question, but it does in fact describes the question. Do you see why "I have a problem with my homework" is not going to be a good title on this site? – Asaf Karagila Jun 21 '15 at 17:14
• I'd think that since you're posting on a math stack exchange site (i.e. not reddit), your title should reflect that your question is about, well, math. – bjb568 Jun 21 '15 at 17:14
• The topic of this site is not the discussion of funny puzzles found on the internet. It is mathematics. If seeing a funny puzzle leads you to a mathematical question, fine: pose that mathematical question. Anything else is off-topic, no matter how funny and Google-able. – user147263 Jun 21 '15 at 17:18
• @bjb568 Math is used to describe many different things in the real world. It's the most abstract model in all of the sciences. If I thus ask about a real world thing which I want to figure out using mathematics, then the question itself will not be about mathematics. I am simply using the mathematics as a tool to solve an actual problem. – David Mulder Jun 21 '15 at 17:18
• @Idisagree If you argue that we should rip out all the non-mathematical parts of questions in all questions and you get the community to agree and enforce that policy: Yes, then that indeed makes perfect sense and I wouldn't even mind. Gotta say, right now I do tend to visit math.SE from time to time, in that case I probably wouldn't come at all (similar to MO which is just too hardcore and boring for my lurker understanding :P). – David Mulder Jun 21 '15 at 17:19
• I think you could make a much stronger case if you focussed on that last point: the first two only address what you knew of community standards - but, looking forwards, that's not really relevant to how we ought to apply standards. Not all questions have their titles improved, though I think ones like "How Can I Use My Powers for Good?" are reasonably descriptive of the actual question. A title which was descriptive of the mathematical question and served to be easy to find from the original image would be better - but I think mathematical descriptiveness wins out if we only get one. – Milo Brandt Jun 21 '15 at 17:29
• "tongue-in-cheek" may be an unfortunate choice of words to describe the title under discussion. – Gerry Myerson Jun 22 '15 at 0:18