# Is it offensive to use someone's comment as a basis of another question on its own?

I'm surprised. I did this without any intention to be offensive. Yet I was told I was deeply offensive.

Long story short: @RobbieGoodwin posted an anecdotal comment under my question, saying that he has failed to show native Korean and Japanese people the difference between sounds L and R. He also said that specialists suggest foreign sounds may be impossible for adults to learn. I appreciated the comment and found the problem interesting.

Since the comment was an anecdotal one and did not provide citations, I felt that I can only "dig deeper" in this problem if I ask a separate question, which this problem mandates. I asked this question on Language Learning SE. I quoted @RobbieGoodwin's comment there. I felt that, while asking a question, I was supposed to explain the basis of my doubts ("share your research") and also that posting a valid anecdotal story can help attract better answers (since, I felt, the prevailing opinion on LLSE was that it was a myth that adults couldn't learn foreign languages well enough, I thought people would think twice before simply restating this opinion when faced with a valid story of grave difficulties in this regard).

I felt in right to quote @RobbieGoodwin's comment there since: (a) this comment, as everything on this site, is public anyway; I'd never publicly quote a PM; (b) I thought the quote added value to my LLSE question; (c) I've done something similar before and the author of the quoted comment hadn't taken offense; (d) I did this in good faith, not meaning be offensive in any way to @RobbieGoodwin, but only meaning to dig deeper into the issue.

Sadly, unfortunately, @RobbieGoodwin took offense. He said that what I had done had been an "offensive disgrace"; suggested to take the issue to the Moderation; asked me to, IIUC, delete my question on LLSE and promise the whole community to never do anything like that in the future.

Now I must say I'm kind of an... interpersonal relationships oaf. It's by far not the first time I'm doing something in good faith, only to see (to my surprise) other people very angry at me. For this reason I'm asking this question... to learn if I've indeed gravely run afoul of etiquette. I'm deeply sorry if anyone takes even more offense from this question – it is, again, not my intention to offend anyone – but I'm figuring that asking this question is the only way to learn if I've indeed done something wrong.

Of course, if it turns out that I indeed was offensive, I'm going to delete my question on LLSE.

Final note: I'm not sure if I should ask this question on English SE meta or LL SE meta. I chose this site, (though I'm not sure if this is the correct choice), because if I did anything wrong, I did so against English SE folks and not against LLSE folks; so if I am to apologize and ask if I have indeed wronged; I should do so before English SE and not LLSE.

• Your intention was good, it was not mean-spirited at all. But before citing another user, even if we're on the same site, I will ask users' permission, or just make the citation look "anonymous", it's called being polite and respecting someone's privacy. This is especially true if I disagree with the statement I am quoting. Unfortunately, even if you left out the username, finding the author of the aforementioned comment is googleable (I think) – Mari-Lou A May 3 '18 at 8:25
• Hmm, does the user in question know you have posted on meta? And that you are quoting him again? You've mentioned the username five times... how do you feel now? – Mari-Lou A May 3 '18 at 8:42
• @Mari-LouA "Hmm, does the user in question know you have posted on meta?" - I've linked him to this post. "And that you are quoting him again? You've mentioned the username five times... how do you feel now?" - I'm aware of the awkwardness. And I'm sorry for that. As I said in my post, thought, I figured it's my only way to learn what did I really do. "or just make the citation look "anonymous"" - that's surprising to me, as far as I was aware, citing someone without attribution was against etiquette. – gaazkam May 3 '18 at 14:05
• I don’t think that you can ping a person by writing @username in the text of a question or answer. – AmE speaker May 3 '18 at 15:49
• Sadly, without meaning to cause any offence, you put your foot in your mouth (idiom) @gaazkam. It happens to the best of us and I done it many a times myself! What I really appreciate is that you were very forthright in this post and also made sure to edit your question on LL.SE to remove any cause for offence. – English Student May 3 '18 at 16:10
• You cite someone after you ask their permission. You don't need to cite them if it is only an opinion and a simple anecdote. The user in question,–note nobody is mentioning his name in the comments–is not an authority, but it sounds like they're using their real name. Consequently, he or she shouldn't have a finger pointed at them. Now. I read the question and I didn't see ill intention on your part but that user did, and that is all that counts. [cont'd] – Mari-Lou A May 3 '18 at 16:33
• [cont'd] In your position, I would delete the Question and start afresh, and make the observation more general. Someone once said / I once heard that *blah, blah, blah* Perfectly fine if you ask me. You get to write your question, and if users want to know the author you can tell them that the user did not want to be attributed. – Mari-Lou A May 3 '18 at 16:34
• Thanks for pointing out this landmine. I thought one of the main points of comments was that they did not need the evidence of research that answers did. Moreover, I thought anything posted on the Internet was fair game for quoting(with proper attribution). I think your mistake was saying "sadly" which could sound like an accusation if one's day has gone badly. – ab2 May 3 '18 at 20:56
• You don't have to cite anyone without asking their permission. But it is nice etiquette to tell someone you have cited them. – AmE speaker May 3 '18 at 22:16
• @JJJ all the comments have been deleted. So what of the attribution? It was just a story about one person's experience. I could tell you many Italians confuse "thirty" with "forty" in moderate to fast speech, but if they can see the person's lips that difficulty disappears. You might find that tidbit interesting, nd ask permission (I care not one iota about SE policy) to quote me. I might agree or I might say "leave my name out". Two days later I delete the comment. What do you do? Demand that the mods undelete my comment? Who would care about an anecdote? – Mari-Lou A May 4 '18 at 20:17
• I've quoted users who consented and left users' names out when they refused. Did anyone from the SE high tower come down and demanded to know the author of statement? No, nobody did. See this old question of mine: english.stackexchange.com/questions/324568/… – Mari-Lou A May 4 '18 at 20:24
• @JJJ Don't compare the utterances and tweets of a US president, whose every word is recorded for posterity with an anonymous user on some website, who's just looking to occupy their free time. The two are not the same. – Mari-Lou A May 4 '18 at 20:27
• I think that quoting any piece of a conversation without context is risky at best and often sophistry. Many discussions come from within a hypothetical context but not every response or sentence must reasert that hypothetical context. A quote without attribution would at least avoid putting words in another person's mouth more broadly than they meant and 'plagiarism' is overused - all art, philosophy is derivative - the courtesy of attribution is nice, perhaps necessary for coined terms or longer passages, but not for a plainly worded thought many others have had. – Tom22 May 11 '18 at 17:29

Objectively, what you did seems to be above board.

Subjectively, the use of the word "Sadly" in your new question may have been taken to have cast aspersions on the commenter:

Sadly, this comment comes without a proper citation, even though it cites "developmental (whatsit)ologists".

The primary reason for offense given by the commenter seems to be explained by this comment:

That’s hardly the point. You appear to have taken a Comment posted here in good faith, transferred it to a different Stack - where it seems to have garnered 3 upvotes - and then attempted to disparage it as though it had been intended as an Answer. Shame on you! Further, you attempted to transliterate a guarded suggestion into a contentious statement, then disparage that by irrelevant comparisons. Please, don't do that again, to me or to anyone else.

It may be worthwhile to note to the commenter that your 'sadness' was related to your desire to research the topic further, rather than a reflection of the commenter's lack of citation per se.

Removing the 'sadly' aside (quoted above) from your new question doesn't obscure what you're asking in that question, but it does help remove the appearance of mocking the commenter.

Of course it is ok to quote a comment or part of an answer.

What is bad about your LL question is the framing. You're disparaging the contents of the quote. You're coming across like the commenter has done a terrible thing by not providing a reference.

All you needed to say was that you're looking for references for the contents.

Clearly the person you quoted was offended, as I take from this quote from this comment:

gaazkam, what you seem to have done there appears very deeply offensive. You need both to rectract it and to apologise and more usefully please, promise the community you will never again do anything like that. More

The offended user (I will refrain from naming because I don't mean to aggravate te situation) explained in subsequent comments why they felt offended (they actually used for than two comments, but I think these comments sum it up well).

First comment I cite on this:

That’s hardly the point. You appear to have taken a Comment posted here in good faith, transferred it to a different Stack - where it seems to have garnered 3 upvotes - and then attempted to disparage it as though it had been intended as an Answer. Shame on you! Further, you attempted to transliterate a guarded suggestion into a contentious statement, then disparage that by irrelevant comparisons. Please, don't do that again, to me or to anyone else.

You alone suggested a “consensus among specialists”; wholly fair if you alone take the criticism. You alone introduced both “completely unrelated languages” and “never heard before”. Quite how you thought “recognize them in hearing” differed from “hear them” is for you to explain… You alone added to Korean or Japanese and English for example English, Persian or anything else derived from Proto-Indo-European.

### My opinion

When first reading your question on LL, I didn't think it was particularly offensive, you quote the comment with attribution (which you are allowed to do under the cc-by-sa 3.0 licence the comment was provided under).

Even after reading the offended user's explanatory comments, I don't think you did anything wrong necessarily, given that ELU is (advertised as) a site for English language professionals and the user presented their comment as a fact, even using the term "Developmental (whatsit)ologists", which they later explained was an "obvious, hopefully humorous attempt" but initially that might not have come across that way to you.

### What you might change

I suggest that you change your question a bit. Firstly, you could be less suggestive in your question, for example phrase it like this:

Is there any truth to the statement I quoted?

Secondly you might replace the sadly (in your LL question), I don't think it's particularly offensive personally, but some people here seem to think it is. Therefore, you could self-censor by rephrasing it a bit nicer, for example like this:

The cited comment might have been anecdotal, but I'm wondering if there might be any truth to it, after all.

• You will like to note that OP took your advice and edited the Q, removing the "sadly" and "lacks any citation" and also including "The cited comment might have been anecdotal, but I'm wondering if there might be any truth to it, after all" thus correcting any cause for offence @JJJ. – English Student May 3 '18 at 14:49

Is it offensive to use someone's comment as a basis of another question on its own?

It is sad but true[1] that a member cannot really object if their comment is quoted with proper attribution anywhere on the Stack Exchange network, and is made the basis of a new question, answer or comment. Jeff Atwood's canonical blog post on attribution makes it clear that

all the content contributed to Stack Overflow or other Stack Exchange sites is cc-wiki (aka cc-by-sa) licensed, intended to be shared and remixed. We even provide all our data as a convenient data dump, seeded by us.

But our cc-wiki licensing, while intentionally permissive, does require attribution.

You should always provide the link to the original content and if it is a comment, try to quote the full text of the comment within your own post, because the original comment can get deleted or moved to chat.

The standard guidelines for attribution when other sites reuse material originally generated on Stack Exchange reflect our expectations of appropriate practice and could just as well guide us when we quote others:

In other words, this is considered "fair use" by Stack Exchange rules and etiquette as long as you don't misquote the author, and there are many examples of such usage, at least one of which involved my own comment, which I was very pleased to see was turned creatively with attribution into a very well-received question on another SE site:

https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/39758/is-it-illegal-to-own-a-rabbit-in-queensland-unless-youre-a-magician

However, it is considered good manners to inform the author yourself in a comment, before or after the event, as the user kindly did in the "rabbits" case. Since you did that as well then you are all right here. If they take offence at the content or tone of your post, as occurred here, then you can only apologize and assure them that you meant no harm. You can also try to correct the defects perceived by the author. That doesn't mean that using someone's post with correct attribution is in any way against the etiquette of Stack Exchange websites.

[1] It is sad but true that expressions like "sadly" and "sad but true" can create dire interpretations not intended by the writer. They are not important expressions but only "typical" terms and readers should not read meanings not made explicit by the writer, but you can consider avoiding such "controversial" expressions in future posts on Stack Exchange.