This is pure speculation and discussion for egotistical purposes. Do you think that EL&U will become an unofficial authority on the English language? As in, will be given the trust to coin new phrases or words? Will our research be strong enough to be the first and last stop for people pondering certain phrases and meanings?

For example, here are some interesting borderline cases already occurring (heavily tilted toward Q/As I belong to since those are the ones I remember):

The followup questions that really matter in this discussion:

  • Should EL&U become such an authority?
  • What can we do as a community to strive toward or steer away from this end?
  • Whatever end we desire, where are we currently heading?

Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that English needs authorities. I am more referring to the idea that EL&U may become the place people go for the real answers, just as we currently go to our own lists of resources.

  • "Real" in this context means "we trump other conflicting answers found on the internet." As in, our word means more than Wikipedia.
    – MrHen
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 23:59
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    English.se is one of the SE sites I browse most frequently even when I'm not working. (SE is taking over my life!). I used to Google my questions, but I'd get these forum based sites where the correct answer may be buried several pages down. I've started looking on English.se first now. I simply love the format where the signal to noise ratio is so great. I think the best way to get the site more popular is to tell your friends about it. Gosh that sounded like a sales pitch but I really mean it sincerely!
    – Jin
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 15:23
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    don't listen to @jin he is biased. Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 7:52

2 Answers 2


It's been 2.5 years since I posted this question and I think I finally have enough data to produce an answer. The short answer is, simply, Never.

Should EL&U become such an authority?

There does not appear to be a need for such an authority. Language lives and evolves at its own pace and it will do so in spite of EL&U's middling interest in its progress. The particular purposes of EL&U are significantly smaller in scope. Our job is to help others use English most effectively — not change it or define it.

What can we do as a community to strive toward or steer away from this end?

What we have done to steer away from this end is ceased posting the deep, thought provoking questions I remember from 2.5 years ago. It now feels extremely difficult to encounter examples such as the ones I linked to in my question above. This could be due to where I spend my time on the site but I have a suspicion that we have lost a great number of the in-depth contributors to the site.

This is acceptable in the sense that no one should be shackled to EL&U in order to entertain the masses but I think the years have answered more questions about our direction than any amount of baseless guessing could have.

Whatever end we desire, where are we currently heading?

I think this question is still relevant and should be continually reassessed. Where will we be in another 2.5 years? Are we satisfied with the current direction of the site? Do we long for the culture and community we had 2.5 years ago?

In any case, it should be clear at this point that EL&U is decidedly not heading toward a direction that awards us with any particular authority on the English language.


I think this is a really interesting question. Another area where this site has been producing some original research is in what Erin McKean termed "the competitive sport of 'antedating'." With a good number of users familiar with Google's Ngram and the finer points of Google Books searches, questions involving origins and "first usages" of words and phrases are getting correct answers not found anywhere else. Assuming this trend will continue and this site may accumulate a collection of such "findings," what should be done with this, if anything?

I guess a related question would be whether or not it would make sense to have a tag system for answers, like the ones you highlighted, that provide authoritative answers, possibly involving original research, that can't be readily found elsewhere online, or that appeared here first.

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    I don't get your point are you saying that "getting correct answers not found anywhere else" makes Googles Ngrams and Books the source for correctness, or are you saying that the Google results are not confirmable elsewhere and so are suspect?
    – Mitch
    Commented May 1, 2011 at 23:56
  • @Mitch: That is poorly worded, sorry. I don't really mean either. I mean that by properly using the powerful tools at Google, several users here are "publishing" antedatings that are not listed in any dictionary or on any etymology sites. Commented May 3, 2011 at 3:59

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