Please let me know if this question belongs here to the meta page.

Why do many people not refer to reliable dictionaries of standard English language? Of course I know you should cite the reference properly as mentioned to a previous question but that is not what I mean. What's up with all these dictionary reference edits?

I regularly see strange reference citations which are definitely not part of what was mentioned in What good reference works on English are available? with platforms that people here on ELU.SE suggest.

In my humble opinion there should be some common agreement, e.g. if a definition of "cameltarian" in NY Times is a valuable resource. https://english.stackexchange.com/a/345465

Or what do people think about citing newspapers et al?

  • Excellent meat question. Totally belongs here.
    – Mitch
    Mar 14, 2018 at 19:54
  • Can you clarify though? Are you looking for an 'official' list of 'acceptable 'references (whatever you want those to mean)?
    – Mitch
    Mar 14, 2018 at 19:56
  • Re: reliable - most online and paper dictionaries are pretty reliable (with varying degrees of depth) even the google 'definition' method. They all have some problems. But not Wiktionary or Urban Dictionary: wiktionary is too 'under construction' and Urban Dictionary is too informal. They both have lots of good stuff, but reliability is not their strength at this point.
    – Mitch
    Mar 14, 2018 at 20:00
  • @Mitch: The last comment about Wiktionary and Urban Dictionary was what I wanted to hear but the answers below are quite convincing.
    – strpeter
    Mar 15, 2018 at 14:58
  • Possible duplicate of What to reference when answering a question? Jun 14, 2019 at 12:02

2 Answers 2


The OneLook Dictionary Search indicates that none of the commonly cited online dictionaries contains the word "cameltarian", so citing something like Oxford Dictionaries or Merriam-Webster was not an option in that case. I'd say that some kind of citation is almost always better than nothing, unless the source is extremely low quality. Even an Urban Dictionary citation, or citations from miscellaneous blog posts or forum comments, may provide some support to a post in that they show that the suggested word was not just invented by the person who posted the answer.

But there is a separate issue that I think you have indirectly brought up. For any kind of word-request question, answers are expected to suggest words that are appropriate and useful. Even if the information in an answer is accurate, if it suggests a word that you think is inappropriate, you can downvote it to indicate that you don't think the answer is helpful.

That is, just because an answer shows that the word "cameltarian" exists, in the sense that it has been used by English speakers (something that I think that citation does an adequate job of demonstrating) doesn't mean that "cameltarian" is a good answer to the question "Is there a word in-between "vegetarian" and "non-vegetarian"? Is there a different type of style of eating? I want to know the word in English."

An answer with relevant citations generally meets the bar for "should not be deleted". That doesn't automatically make it a good answer. That's for the voters of this site to judge.


While it's preferable in most cases to cite a reputable dictionary over other sources, I don't think it should be a requirement. It's up to the reader to decide if the answer and, by extension, its sources are any good or not. (As sumelic says, even a perfectly good dictionary doesn't stop wrong answers.)

The problem is that even the most reputable dictionaries are not exhaustive. I've run into several occasions where regular dictionaries don't have a word (or if they have the word, they may not cite that particular use of the word). Other times, there is no definition anywhere, and you have to rely on citing examples of the word being used. I call this the "descriptivist approach" (to see some examples of this in action, see my answers here and here).

As you can see, in the latter example, I cited Amazon, eBay, and a random auction site. There's nothing special about any of these sites except for the fact that they help illustrate different phrases in action.

Even if a dictionary defines a word, you might also decide to use a different source (e.g. a blog post or a niche dictionary) if it gives a better definition.

  • I agree - users justify their own answers however they wish, and the rest vote and possibly comment on them accordingly.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 17, 2018 at 13:54

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