I was recently informed by one of our moderators that:

We're looking for answers from experts in the field, not experts at Googling. :) "You have to write an actual answer, in your own words. A post that consists only of copied text … is not your work”.

I usually answer word requests in the following manner.


Definition of the suggested word from a reputable source.

[Source Link] - Source URL spelled out

Is this type of answer not up to community standards? I feel like adding "my own words" will just be adding fluff to what should otherwise be a straightforward answer.

EDIT: I understand that this is a passionate topic for some, but please try to be respectful, especially to those whose opinion you may not share. Please don't forget to be nice.


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    The problem here is with SWRs, and old controversial issue on ELU: english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1654/… – user 66974 Aug 20 '18 at 12:19
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    Related – tchrist Aug 20 '18 at 13:18
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    Related – Lumberjack Aug 20 '18 at 16:32
  • By the way, has the question where you posted the "dictionary + definition" answer to, been deleted? – Mari-Lou A Aug 21 '18 at 22:58
  • @Mari-LouA Yes, ma'am. Shortly after I posted this question it was deleted. – Lumberjack Aug 21 '18 at 23:05
  • Oh, you called me ma'am, wow. Does that mean I'm old? :) Deleted, yes I thought so. Do you remember the title of the question? Users with 10K rep can see deleted questions and answers. – Mari-Lou A Aug 21 '18 at 23:08
  • @mari-louA I'm sorry. No disrespect intended. The answer I provided was Disruptive Technology or Disruptive Innovation. I can't recall the title exactly, but OP was looking for a word to characterize a "game changer" technology that would change a market. His example was the way that video on demand has irrevocably changed the cable industry. Sorry I can't recall the title. – Lumberjack Aug 21 '18 at 23:14
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    I found it in my history. Here is a link english.stackexchange.com/questions/460669/… – Lumberjack Aug 21 '18 at 23:15
  • Correction. On hold, not deleted. Sorry for the inaccuracy. – Lumberjack Aug 21 '18 at 23:16
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    On hold, better! Thanks for the link. It's cool being called ma'am, I'm quite tickled :) – Mari-Lou A Aug 21 '18 at 23:19
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    On a side note, there is nothing wrong with being an expert at Googling. Google is a very valuable tool, and knowing how to search and what to cite are valuable skills that have made a demonstrable contribution to this site. – Lumberjack Aug 22 '18 at 1:44

10 Answers 10


SWRs are here to stay (for the time being). We've had this discussion a zillion times before. SWRs are not banned. Most users like SWRs. SWRs are often the plague/joy of HNQs, they often attract huge visitors because everyone likes games, and very often the people making a single-word-request learn something new. And sometimes hundreds of casual visitors learn something new from an answer posted on a SWR.

Next time

I suggest that the OP cites from the venerable OED, otherwise known as the Oxford English Dictionary. Whenever I have seen answers that are only copied and pasted directly in the answer, I have not seen any finger-wagging by any moderator. The OED is a fine book, it is a masterpiece but not everyone has access to it. Personally, I cannot afford the absurd annual subscription fee. I live in Italy, and there are no more libraries in the town where I live.

So, I shall continue to provide answers with links and full quotations from a varied and vast selection of online dictionaries. Sometimes I pad out the answer, and sometimes I take a break and just quote the definitions.

I don't think anyone has ever accused me of being lazy i.e. “copypasta”, but in the past I have accused regular users whose answers only consisted of dictionary links and definitions. That rarely happens now. I think things have greatly improved in the last three years.

There's a significant difference between finding the best solution and posting it along with a link and its definitions, and someone who posts and quotes from only dictionary and Wikipedia links ad infinitum.

Please mods, give contributors a break if they don't feel the urge to write a treatise each and every time. Sometimes, a short answer does the job fine.

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    One-liner dictionary-spam answers without explanation are not answers. They often get autoflagged. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed. – tchrist Aug 21 '18 at 11:22
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    @tchrist fair dues, I dislike one line answers too. But if there's a link, and the definition is included that's a pretty good start. I'd wait a bit to see if that becomes a fixed habit and if it does, I might explain what a good answer looks like. The smart users usually figure it out by themselves. – Mari-Lou A Aug 21 '18 at 11:39
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    I’ve been called a “rep whore” for answering SWRs. Oh, but a new COC is coming. Thanks God. – user 66974 Aug 21 '18 at 12:59
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    That was when you had something like a 140k rep. Sometimes high rep users should let the small fish have a nibble first. It's the CoC, and it's already here. – Mari-Lou A Aug 21 '18 at 13:44
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    @Mari-LouA - well, that happened well before the 140k. Hope that the new CoC will be very severe with those who call names, for whatever reason. – user 66974 Aug 21 '18 at 13:48
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    @JJJ - Mari-Lou was just joking :). I know about flagging, but the problem is what happens after flagging. Usually not much. That’s why offensive, harassing and inappropriate comments keep on being posted. – user 66974 Aug 21 '18 at 16:12
  • @JJJ - that course of action is going to be long and sort of complicated, and probably ineffective. But you touched a fine point. What does it mean to “deal properly with a flagged comment”? Maybe the new CoC will help in that respect. – user 66974 Aug 21 '18 at 16:32
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    Few people, even on ELU, have access to the OED, except for the outdated pubic domain editions – Arm the good guys in America Aug 21 '18 at 17:19
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    @Knotell et al., a bet I missed for too long: during OED's birthday year, that is, until March 31, 2019, an annual subscription is 90 USD or £90. That works out to about 13 USD per month for the seven months remaining in their birthday. Compare to the cost of a television channel on Amazon Prime, for example. – JEL Aug 21 '18 at 18:31
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    @JEL Thank you for letting us know! The normal cost is almost $300. I shall need to consider that fee. It irks me somewhat that the subscription expires after 12 months and I am left with nothing. P.S. I don't watch TV. Ever. – Mari-Lou A Aug 21 '18 at 18:45
  • @Mari-LouA, you're welcome. I was irked that I didn't discover the birthday subscription until > 5 months into its tenancy. It remains unclear to me whether or not the 'annual' birthday subscription expires March 31st, but since I'll continue to subscribe in any event, the question is immaterial. – JEL Aug 21 '18 at 19:06
  • @Mari-LouA, oddly (for such an esteemed language reference) the marketing language is unclear. Since it is marketing language, I would assume the worst (that the annual birthday subscription expires March 31st). If you get clarification, and the subscription does extend a full year from when you subscribe, the thing to do would be to get an annual subscription March 30th, bringing the per month cost down to 7.50 USD. I wish that was the usual price.... – JEL Aug 21 '18 at 19:22
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    @JEL In fact, I am sure of it. The e-mail I got from OED after subscribing a week or so ago says: "Your subscription expires on: 31-AUG-19." – ab2 Aug 22 '18 at 1:13
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    @Knotell I've been here for much longer than you have. There's a post of mine, somewhere, where I list all the questions about the SWRs on meta. Result: SWRs are still here despite some users complaining about them since 2011. – Mari-Lou A Aug 23 '18 at 8:49
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    Thank you Mari-Lou and everyone. It seems to me that a pretty clear consensus can be established from all of the answers to this question. A number of users have expressed their support for this format as satisfying the minimum requirements to be an acceptable answer by community standards. There are a number of ways in which my answer format could be improved, but those suggestions are representative of enhancements, as opposed to essential requirements for a worthy answer. – Lumberjack Aug 28 '18 at 18:11

You know the parable of the mechanic's hammer? I kinda feel like single word answers are the same sorta thing: it's not how much effort it takes to produce the answer so much as knowing the perfect answer in the first place.

However . . . in the parable, the ship owner can immediately evaluate whether the fix was effective. The story is powerful because even someone with no experience in ship repair can evaluate the difference between a functional engine and an engine that isn't working at all. The mechanic's process might be obscure, but not his results. That's not at all true for single word answers.

To put it another way, if you read SWRs with 2 or more answers how do you know which answer is best? Well, if you already have a masterful grasp of English vocabulary, it may be that the best word will lock into place like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. But what if you don't know what the words mean? Or what if the perfect word fits because of the way it's been used in literature not everyone has read? Or what if the word is perfect because someone imported it from some other language where it has that special je ne sais quoi?

So the dictionary definition might help sometimes, but not always. Adding a definition that doesn't explain why you picked the word is busywork, devalues your answer and doesn't help the asker or future readers. If you picked the word because of some obscure meaning, by all means quote the dictionary. But don't use the dictionary to provide cover for an answer that would otherwise be pure opinion.

Words are powerful

It's always bugged me that the mechanic in the story didn't look for root causes. In fact, nearly the same thing happened to me a few years ago. My truck wouldn't start so I called AAA. The tow truck driver asked me about the symptoms so that he could decide whether to jumpstart or tow. After I explained, he went into his toolbox, pulled out a hammer and started banging on my fuel tank. (He also rocked the truck back and forth for good measure, but that breaks the parallelism.) Then I started the engine and he told me to drive to a mechanic's shop right away.

You see, the teeth on the plastic gears in the fuel pump had sheared off in one spot. If I got lucky, they would line up properly the next time I shut the engine. But if I got unlucky, I'd need to hope the hammer trick worked again. I might have kept a hammer in the bed of the truck or I could just fix the problem. Since the tow truck driver was good at his job, I had the information to make that choice. (I got the pump replaced, if you were wondering.)

My point is, handing someone a hammer word might help their immediate problem, but won't solve the deeper question of how meaning is expressed in our wonderful, complex, sometimes-confounding language. If you suggest a Latin phrase and I try to use it in my country western song, it's possible there was something missing in the answer. (It's also possible I have no business being a songwriter, but that's a different story.) Tell me, in general terms, when your word choice is appropriate so I won't get booed off the honky-tonk stage.

Ultimately, word choice is subjective. Maybe that's why popular quotations are so often misquoted. If the original doesn't quite fit our need, we change it. (Whether knowingly or not is unimportant.) But allow me to (accurately) quote from a useful treatise on subjective questions:

Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”. The best subjective questions invite explanation. If you’re asking for a product recommendation of some kind, you want answers to contain detailed information about the features and how they can be used, and why you might want to choose one over the other. “How?” and “Why?” has more lasting value than a bunch of product-feature bullet points or a giant enumerated list, no matter how extensive. In contrast, the bad subjective questions let answerers get away with hit-and-run answers that maybe provide a name and a link—but fail to provide any sort of adequate explanation, context, or background.

Show your work and encourage others to do the same

When I read the title of a SWR, I often think of a word straight from my gut. It just feels right, you know? I want to quickly type an answer and get the glory that comes from having exactly the right word for a situation. But then I read some of the answers and see how they argue for their word choice. And as often as not, there are better words than mine and the explanation opens my eyes. Or, there are words that work better in situations I hadn't considered. Other times, the explanation fails to convince me, which is better than no explanation at all. If I were to answer, I'd want to dig a bit more to find out why I like one particular word.

If you see an answer that doesn't back up its opinion, there are several choices:

  • Downvote (or at least don't upvote).
  • Ask a probing question in the comments: "How did you pick this word?"
  • Vote to delete.
  • If you feel generous, edit the answer.
  • If not, write your own answer explaining why the word fits. (And please don't suggest that reusing a single word is plagiarism! If you don't want someone to steal your work, back up your answer.)

And sometimes it's a sign the question itself needs edits or deletion.

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    I think I've taken some of the criticism too personally to give your answer the consideration it rightly deserves. The backhanded comments from some moderators on this stack have hardened my perspective such that I can't read your answer without looking for some rebuttal or argument. Your response is clearly very thoughtful and I think you have made some good points. I feel compelled to argue against some of them, but at this point I feel like that would be a disservice to both of us. – Lumberjack Sep 14 '18 at 18:02
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    @Lumberjack: I appreciate that. Please take your time; I'll be here. I tried to answer without digging into the arguments and controversy here. For what it's worth, I will be looking more deeply at what happened and see if there's anything we can learn/do better/correct. – Jon Ericson Sep 14 '18 at 18:16
  • I have downvoted because this answer is being used to justify harassing users who post answers that are supported by references. Can you please justify why this answer is better than an answer, which was supported but self-deleted, please? – Mari-Lou A Jan 6 '19 at 12:22
  • @Mari-LouA: Excellent example. Neither answer is particularly useful. The advantage of the accepted answer is that at least helps the person who has never heard of "verdant" before. It's a fine word, but I can't see how the question and its answers are useful. But I'm confused why you think Tom's comments are harassing? I suppose I'm somewhat biased? – Jon Ericson Jan 7 '19 at 1:03
  • Well, what I see is the deleted and better-supported answer has now been undeleted and re-accepted by the OP. – Mari-Lou A Jan 7 '19 at 1:06

I learn best from examples, and here is an example of a good answer to a SWR. Of course there are many other answers that could serve as examples of good SWR answers, but this one was easy for me to find because it was mine.

The answer proposes icon to describe Rosa Parks, and gives the dictionary definition of the word. It then briefly discusses the history of icon, and explains why the religious origin of the word makes it suitable to apply to Rosa Parks. The answer goes on to give other, completely secular, meanings of icon in modern life, and then returns to the applicability of the word to Rosa Parks.

If the answer had given only a dictionary definition, it would have been a poor answer.


Unfortunately, this meta question seems mired in contentiousness, as if the community as a whole should either embrace and welcome such answers, or else reject them outright.

But perhaps we are simply dealing with a loaded question about a controversial subject:

Is this type of answer not up to community standards?

Perhaps a better, more constructive question would be:

Could this type of answer stand to be improved?

(If so, what are some ways to improve it?)

I can think of a few different ways a answer could go beyond the word-definition-link trio you've described. For example, one might:

  • include some example usages by credible sources, such as news articles or published books

  • comment about how obscure or familiar a word might be (or how regional, colloquial, formal, antiquated, dated, etc.)

  • explain how or when the word is typically heard conversation, or caution about when it might be inappropriate

  • add some notes about the word's etymology or history

  • use multiple definitions, instead of just one, thereby providing a richer definition of the word itself

  • suggest multiple words, instead of just one, and then discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and appropriateness of each

  • think outside the box; that is, suggest an apt idiom (even if the OP originally requested a single word), or give a two-for-the-price-of-one answer, where one answer is more playful or humorous, while the other is more serious (I tried doing that here, e.g.)

I don't think there's any need to wrangle over whether or not every SWR answer needs to have such supplementary information, but I think most of us would at least agree that including some extra information some of the time would be better than refusing to paste anything more than one definition from a single dictionary.

I'm guessing that the moderator's original comment was intended to exhort you to do better, and thereby help make the site better. I think that's a worthy goal.

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    I agree that the things that you listed could be seen as useful supplementary information. Different users will have different opinions about which exactly would be useful for answers to particular questions. E.g. some people don't like it when multiple words are suggested in a single post because it makes it harder for votes to be used to rank suggestions relative to each other. – herisson Aug 21 '18 at 22:24
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    +1 I really appreciate the spirit and content of this answer. – Lumberjack Aug 21 '18 at 22:28
  • @sumelic - I agree, and that's why I specified "...and then discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and appropriateness of each." The vote, therefore, could be based primarily on that analysis, rather than on the suggested words themselves. I also agree that "different users will have different opinions about which exactly would be useful for answers to particular questions." It would be rare indeed to see all that information included in a single answer, but those are the kinds of things that could make just about any answer more useful. – J.R. Aug 21 '18 at 22:28
  • Yes. I think it should be up to the author of the answer to decide which of these (if any) to include, though. The consistent thread in discussions about SWR answers on this Meta has been the need for answers to be backed up (preferably by citations), not the need for extra discussion about the suggested word. – herisson Aug 21 '18 at 22:30
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    When a moderator posts a comment to the effect that the answer is not what would be expected from an "expert in the field", but a mere "expert at Googling" (smiley face) and links to a post about plagiarism, there's a strong implication that every SWR does indeed need to have such supplementary implication, or it might be threatened with deletion. Note that tchrist chose to cite, bold and super-size the words "Answers that don't include explanations may be removed" in his own answer to this question. – herisson Aug 21 '18 at 22:30
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    That's why I don't agree with the tone of your "I don't think there's any need to wrangle over whether or not every SWR answer needs to have such supplementary information..." paragraph. If a moderator is pushing the issue, I think it is indeed important to clarify this point. Describing Lumberjack's reaction as "refusing to paste anything more than one definition from a single dictionary" also seems to me like a loaded way of discussing the matter. – herisson Aug 21 '18 at 22:32
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    @sumelic The plagiarism link is because it says that even once you've properly attributed the text you've copied in from elsewhere, you still need to write an answer in your own words. Somebody else's text is not your own words. The large print in my answer is the official Stack Exchange post-notice text about this issue, not my own. I'm sorry that these network-wide policies bother people who don't want to include any of their own words or explanation, but they are not policies that moderators have a say about. – tchrist Aug 21 '18 at 22:40
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    @tchrist: Show me the place where SE has officially said that moderators are mandated to threaten word-quote-link SWR answers with deletion unless they are expanded. The post-text notice says "Don't just give a one-line answer" and "Answers that don't include explanations may be removed". It doesn't say "answers that don't include explanations written in your own words may be removed". In fact, it encourages the use of citations to explain why an answer is right. – herisson Aug 21 '18 at 22:48
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    @sumelic If there are no words of your own, there is no explanation. If you look at the review queue and follow the links, you'll find the community at large has indeed deleted quite a few of those marked that way in the past few days. Others have been improved by the owner, which is what the post notice is aiming for. So I judge that the system is working. – tchrist Aug 21 '18 at 22:54
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    I don't like multiple suggestions in a single answer, as you don't know which word was chosen, if your post is chosen as the answer post. – WendyG Sep 3 '18 at 12:12
  • @WendyG - That could be easily rectified with a comment. Besides, sometimes it's not a matter of "choosing" a single "best" word, but acknowledging that all the suggestions are collectively helpful together (see this answer, e.g.; I think the usefulness of that answer surpasses most of the one-off suggestions found below it). – J.R. Sep 3 '18 at 15:22

I agree with you. You have made your own contribution to the answer by selecting the word to suggest. I don't agree with having an absolute requirement for including more explanation than a quotation from a dictionary.

When you can, it's good to use your own words to explain why the suggested word would fit into the example sentence(s) given in the question, or the specific scenario described in the question.

"Remember, you still have to write an actual answer, in your own words. A post that consists only of copied text, even when attributed, is not your work either. Use quotes sparingly, to support your own words" is a quote originating from a 2016 revision of an old community wiki answer to a Meta Stack Exchange Meta question about (how to avoid) "plagiarism". It was not originally written as a policy for answers to SWR questions on this site.

I am aware of prior discussion on this site's Meta about when mods should delete one-line SWR answers without adequate citations (On deleting low quality single-word-request answers).

There's a difference between a "good" and an acceptable answer

I don't disagree with the examples given in ab2's answer, Mitch's answer or
J.R.'s answer of how additional explanation can improve an answer. I just think that the value of various types of additional explanation, beyond suggesting a word and citing a definition, is subjective enough that it should be up to the author of the question to decide which other components to include in a SWR answer.

My reading of tchrist's comment and answer is that he is not just saying that an answer with a word, definition and link "could be improved" or "is not a good answer". He's implying that it is unacceptable for the site and that it is subject to deletion at the discretion of site moderators. This is what I am trying to push back against with this answer. I don't have anything against encouraging people to put more thought into their answers to SWRs: I'm against the imposition of a standard for "minimally acceptable" SWR answers that I don't think has been established by the consensus of this site.

Quoted material must always be put in quotation marks/block quotes

One piece of advice from the Meta SE "plagiarism" post that is definitely applicable to SWR answers is that quotes should have special formatting, either with quotation marks (" " or ' ') for short snippets of text, or with block quote formatting for longer quotes:

block quotes

Even when you have attribution and a link, you shouldn't just copy and paste text without any quotation formatting. Using formatting to separate your quotes from the rest of the post makes it easier for readers to distinguish the parts of the post that were written by you from the parts that were written by other people.

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    I disagree that copypasta counts as explanation, or your own words. Neither does the act of choosing which copypasta. – tchrist Aug 21 '18 at 1:05
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    @tchrist: A side point: I find it a bit rude to continually use the word "copypasta" in your explanations of why you think a quotation alone is not sufficient explanation for an answer to a SWR question. Opinions may vary, but to me, it comes across as dismissive or derogatory.--Of course a quote is not "your own words"; what I was saying is that I think the act of selecting which word to suggest is a substantial contribution by the answer's author. This is not just a matter of choosing which dictionary to cite; it's a matter of choosing the word that the author thinks is the best fit. – herisson Aug 21 '18 at 1:06
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    @JJJ Something that has the answerer’s own words in it. Those that do not are not answers. – tchrist Aug 21 '18 at 13:21
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    @tchrist I don't see how that applies here. I answered the question with my word(s) and provided a citation with a source. You keep shifting between two seemingly contradictory arguments. – Lumberjack Aug 21 '18 at 17:01
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    Surely, if the question can be answered by simply googling a definition and pasting it in whatever format, the question should be closed as being easily answerable from commonly available resources? – Roaring Fish Aug 30 '18 at 2:45

That is a good start to an answer and probably what should be necessary for a SWR. A suggestion, a quote of a respected resource plus a link to it.

But it's not sufficient for a good answer. Anybody can do a dictionary or thesaurus lookup to answer an SWR. It's simply cut and paste and is only a good answer if everyone else blinks at your answer to satisfy an expert's confirmation bias. Also it shows that, if that reference has a link, the answer was easily googlable.

A good answer is one that explains things, tells why a suggestion is good, adds more than the existing dictionary entry or thesaurus list gives. The readers, whether native or non-native speakers, may not be aware of nuances or even the major denotation.

It is secondary, but not unimportant, the point about 'is not your work'. Your answer, while quoting a dictionary in fair use, is not talking about copy-pasting an explanation. That is bordering on plagiarism, or if referenced, empty googling.

Answers should add to knowledge, not just repeat it.

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    Not my downvote, but I feel the boilermaker story is relevant. Looking up the dictionary entry is easy. Knowing which entry to look up - that's the trick. :) – Lawrence Aug 20 '18 at 13:46
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    @Mitch I feel like the definition of the word is a suitable explanation a lot of the time. – Lumberjack Aug 20 '18 at 15:30
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    @Lumberjack You may well feel that way, but I don't believe the SE model is suited to those answers. If that's what people want as answers, then I don't think these questions should be allowed. – tchrist Aug 20 '18 at 15:57
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    @tchrist Could you expand on that? In what way do you feel that the SE model isn't suited to an answer of the sort I have detailed here? – Lumberjack Aug 20 '18 at 16:34
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    @Lumberjack Yes, do two things. First read this. Now go through this page and try to find even one good question. Yes, you'll find one, but it will take you a while and while you're doing that you'll notice how miserable at least 95% (19 out of 20) of the answers are. These aren’t good questions, and not expert answers that will ever help anybody else: they are useless oneliners that drag down the site quality while being reputation lightning rods. – tchrist Aug 20 '18 at 20:39
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    @tchrist it is obvious that you don't like word requests, but I would prefer to discuss this issue within the context of my original question. You criticised the way in which I answered, and I'm still trying to understand why. I'm sorry, but your responses here haven't yet helped shed any light on the subject for me. – Lumberjack Aug 20 '18 at 22:07
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    Because we're 100% pure crap now. I refuse to pretend otherwise. I used to not care, caught up in the hunt for gaming the system. Now that I don't game the system, I can't stand what it looks like. It doesn't matter if it's "helpful". It will never help anybody else, and it is not an expert answer. It's crapola. It is just a proofwriting request. We don't do writing requests. That hole has no bottom. Nor does this one, for it is the same blooping hole. – tchrist Aug 20 '18 at 22:39
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    @tchrist: You know, you can just put single-word-requests on your ignored tags list. That's what I do. I realize that as a moderator, you may feel some responsibility for the quality of posts on this site, but there are other moderators who don't seem to have so much of a negative reaction to SWRs as a class. Since the community has expressed that they still want SWRs on this site, I don't think it's appropriate to wage war on this category of questions. – herisson Aug 20 '18 at 23:33
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    @tchrist I just looked at the reopen review and saw this english.stackexchange.com/review/reopen/302807 this is intolerable. You have singlehandedly closed the reopen review queue. You didn't even wait for two users to cast their votes. Seriously, I'm flabbergasted. – Mari-Lou A Aug 21 '18 at 20:07
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    @Mari-LouA I just cast the final vote to reopen the question. Anybody asking a question should be given more than an hour to clarify what they mean . . . – Jason Bassford Aug 21 '18 at 20:13
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    @Mari-LouA True, it takes one moderator's vote on an item in the review queue for the action to be taken. SE gives moderators that privilege, and expects them to use it. Moderators are not supposed to shrink from voting, or wait until they see how other people vote. They are expected to go ahead now and do the right thing. So when a moderator marks a question "leave closed" and it goes off the queue, that's normal. – MetaEd Aug 21 '18 at 21:12
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    @Mari-LouA If you feel a moderator has made a mistake, or used poor judgment, you can flag the question for review by the whole mod team, and you can contact the SE support team. Speaking as a moderator, oversight is always welcome. – MetaEd Aug 21 '18 at 21:12
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    @MetaEd Tomorrow will be interesting. And I'm so disappointed because I do like and respect tchrist. But this is too much. – Mari-Lou A Aug 21 '18 at 21:17
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    @MetaEd Just to be clear, a mod (almost immediately) put on hold a question, the question was subsequently improved and the essential requirements met. To show goodwill I voted to reopen it. The same mod who had put the original post on hold then visited the reopen queue and voted to keep it closed thereby preventing experienced users, who were more emotionally detached, to formally assess whether the question could be reopened. The only avenue available was completely dependent on the front page activity. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '18 at 7:32
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    I don't feel that the mod made a mistake in putting the question on hold in the first place, in fact he made a good call but I do know his aversion to SWRs clouded his judgement when the OP fixed the problem(s) which led him to abuse his privilege. Regardless, I could overlook something like that, the question was reopened after all but, unfortunately, that's not the worst part. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '18 at 7:34

We should leave plagiarism, or intimations of plagiarism, out of this discussion. Plaigiarism is something else entirely than writing a dictionary (or other source) definition, and properly attributing the source.

From the OED (Emphasis added):

plagiarism is: The action or practice of taking someone else's work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one's own; literary theft.

Plagiarism is far, far more serious than writing a poor answer. I would be livid if even tangentially accused of plagiarism if I had written a copypasta answer, with proper attribution.

And let's keep in mind that people make mistakes, and inadvertently leave out the attribution. (I did, but remembered it several hours later.) In such cases, point the error out in a polite comment.

Plagiariam has no place in this discussion.

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    Abso-[effing]-lutely. :) – Lambie Sep 17 '18 at 19:54

The idea behind SE is to get experts to answer questions, and an expert in English should be able to explain why the word they've chosen is better than all of the other choices out there. Anyone with a little skill with Google and/or a thesaurus can figure out a word and link a dictionary definition. I don't find the definition-only "guesses" at what the author is looking for very valuable.

I think an acceptable answer has some explanation of why the author chose to offer that word as an answer. How does it fit the criteria? Are there any of the criteria it doesn't meet very well? Is it a common word? Are there any connotations? Is there an alternative for it if you don't want those connotations?


I completely agree with you.

If one-word requests shouldn't be on the site, then set that as a policy.

But I believe that providing a word with a citation and its dictionary definition is a completely acceptable answer for this type of question.

Sometimes, the dictionary definition is, on its own, insufficient to explain why you thought it was good. In that case, exposition is definitely needed. But, at other times, the definition itself is clear and concise—and anything else would just be taking up space. The person asking the question, and voters, will determine the worth of the answer beyond that.

I also find the phrase "not experts at Googling :)" to be misleading and subtly demeaning. The smiley symbol afterwards does nothing to dismiss that message—it might even make it worse.

Personally, I rarely ever use Google to find a word. I spend time thinking about it and coming up with one from my own vocabulary. After which, I cite it and sometimes expand on it. It comes from my own "expert" knowledge of English and is unrelated to Google.

To dismiss these efforts in such a way is a hasty generalization and unhelpful.


Your response contained nothing of your own words. That's the problem. You have to write a real answer, not just copy others' text. We are not a pasta factory: we expect original content. You didn't provide any.

The SE model is about building up a library of expert answers to real problems that people have so that others with the same problem will be able to save time by finding the answer here.

There is nothing "expert" in being able to Google. Without original content, you haven't answered. And if that's all a question draws, it should have been closed.

From Meta Stack Exchange, emphasis mine:

“Remember, you still have to write an actual answer, in your own words. A post that consists only of copied text, even when attributed, is not your work either. Use quotes sparingly, to support your own words.”

Therefore, SWR responses with only copied-in text, howsoever duly attributed, are not actual answers anywhere in Stack Exchange. You haven’t written anything, so you were given notice of this in order that you might have the opportunity to do something to fix.

Posts without original content risk being deleted.

Our official guidance from Stack Exchange management about this matter is:

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    We have always had the policy that answers that provide no explanation are subject to deletion by the community or its moderators. This may be from the review queue or by mods responding to quality or NAA flags. If you did not provide any original text and explanation, it is Not An Answer. The entire mod team and TPTB agree on this. Feel free to start a new site proposal on Area51 if you would like such. – tchrist Aug 20 '18 at 22:58
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    @tchrist I think it is disingenuous to claim that an answer to a word request, which includes the dictionary definition "provides no explanation." You clearly didn't feel it was an issue when you answered a question the same way. The community responded with 57 upvotes. – Lumberjack Aug 20 '18 at 23:05
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    @JJJ Then you need to get yourself a new moderation team, and a new site. The policy remains that these lame copypasta DICTONARY SPAM without explanations will get flagged, thrown into the queues, and may be deleted for not being answers. This site has a serious community moderation problems: notice the 300 pending close votes. You guys have to be a part of this. Relying on moderators to do all the needed community policing doesn't scale. – tchrist Aug 20 '18 at 23:20
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    Please don't delete your answers to SWRs, tchrist. I am not a fan of SWR questions, but they are an integral part of the EL&U universe, and the answers you have submitted—even when they consist of only a word suggestion and a dictionary definition—are generally a cut above most other suggestions that this type of question draws. I respect your wish not to be seen as inconsistent on this issue, but the reality is that these questions aren't going away, and (in my view) you have every right to criticize definition-only SWR answers now regardless of whether you sometimes posted them in the past. – Sven Yargs Aug 20 '18 at 23:31
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    I disagree. The citation and source provide the explanation. These types of answers are accepted by the community as countless examples will demonstrate. – Lumberjack Aug 21 '18 at 0:25
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    @Lumberjack That isn't what moderators have been directed to adhere to according to Stack Exchange management's policy note: “We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.” If you do not agree with them, you may wish to post your disagreement to Meta Stack Exchange. – tchrist Aug 21 '18 at 0:48
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    I'm not sure how the citation you quoted is relevant. My answer in my own words was one line. That one line was followed up by a citation and a source. The answer did not lack an explanation. – Lumberjack Aug 21 '18 at 0:56
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    @Lumberjack Remove the stuff that isn't yours and what are you left with, eh? – tchrist Aug 21 '18 at 1:03
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    I imagine the process most people go through when answering a SWR is the same. You consider the question, background, and example, then decide what word fits your own usage, based on everything you have heard and read throughout your life. I always make sure to include a citation and a source to backup my suggestion. In my opinion, adding a bunch of additional prose detracts from the answer in many cases. I was taught to "keep it brief" by my college professors. I can accept that not everyone shares my viewpoint, but to characterize my answer as plagiarism is outrageous. – Lumberjack Aug 21 '18 at 2:08
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    I want my SWRs to stay. They're my bread and butter. – NVZ Aug 21 '18 at 8:42
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    FWIW tchrist was right to delete that question. It was an example of a terrible SWR. – Matt E. Эллен Aug 21 '18 at 11:14
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    I don’t think that demonizing Google is a constructive approach. Google, the way I use it for ELU, is like a huge library. It is an incredible way to have access to information, from which answers to ELU questions can be derived. – user 66974 Aug 21 '18 at 13:06
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    So, being good at googling to me means be good at finding the relevant information, which include access to books or dictionaries not easily available online. I’m not sure it is just a no-brainer game. – user 66974 Aug 21 '18 at 13:17
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    I scanned nearly a year's worth of the SWR list you posted and what is a polite single word for "ugh"? But you need to clarify what you judge to be a short answer without any explanation. For example, there is an answer (pleached allee) which has two quotations from one source and a picture from another source (all properly credited) but no "original material". The originality in this answer was in knowing the correct term (which would have been hard to find by Googling) (continued) – ab2 Aug 21 '18 at 21:15
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    continued: then choosing what to quote, and finally synthesizing the source material and picture into a concise but complete answer. I think you overlook the "originality" in identifying the correct word or phrase from one's own knowledge, choosing what to quote and presenting the material in a logical order: i.e., synthesis. (As for an answer being hard to Google, of course anything can be found by Googling, but if everybody Googled to solution, there would be no questions, and no ELU and few other SE sites.) – ab2 Aug 21 '18 at 21:21

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