This question from a new user asked if 'MSc holder in psychology' was grammatically correct. She noted, "This is for my personal statement for my cv", so it was of no trivial importance to the OP.

This comment said "Yes, it is as perfectly grammatical as "colorless green ideas sleep furiously". It is also just as funny." I thought this was somewhere between mockingly insensitive and downright rude, so I flagged it. I am very surprised to find that my flag has been declined.

This leaves me in a dilemma. Am I seriously misunderstanding the Code of Conduct, and in particular our obligation to take special care to provide a welcoming environment for new users? Have I misunderstood the injunction "No subtle put-downs"?

If I've correctly understood the Code of Conduct, could I have misread the comment? I dunno - I'd have thought that describing as "funny" an inexperienced speaker's attempt to describe their qualifications is not merely a subtle putdown, it's blatantly insulting. The only thing that isn't clear is whether they were being mocked for their poor language skills, or it was the actual qualification that was being laughed at. My heart goes out to poor Jana. What a brutally insensitive response.

Now, if I've correctly understood the Code of Conduct, and the comment itself can reasonably be seen as a "subtle putdown", then it would seem that the problem is one of enforcement. The Code of Conduct encourages us to report unacceptable behaviour, and says "We take your reports seriously." Yet my flag was declined, and the nasty comment has not been removed. Why?

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    That's not how I read it. In any event, wouldn't you say that the obligation is to avoid posting comments that could easily be interpreted as unfriendly? Isn't there an added onus to take into account a person's apparent language skills? Nov 5, 2018 at 4:10
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    It is sarcastic, as well as being blunt and to the point. I doubt the new contributor actually read it, and if she did, she probably wouldn't have understood the Chomsky reference in any case. Which, come to think of it, probably lends the comment an even more supercilious tone. Of course, one would hope better from a moderator, but it's certainly not the first time, and neither will it be the last (sadly).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 5, 2018 at 5:12
  • Reg has been a longtime mod on ELU, and he probably didn’t mean to be rude. It is probably just a joke gone wrong. But one might ask: had that comment not been posted by a mod, would the flag have been declined?
    – user 66974
    Nov 5, 2018 at 7:29
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    @user240918 I've been visiting EL&U since 2011 so I'm aware of people's experience and styles. My beef is not with the comment per se - I'm sure I've lapsed myself when my patience with endless unresearched learner questions has worn thin - but with the refusal to remove it when a user has flagged that it's unfriendly. Nov 5, 2018 at 7:39
  • What are the consequences of the "unfriendly or unkind" flag to the commenter? My understanding is that "rude or abusive" automatically goes on your record in some way, whereas "no longer needed" generally doesn't have any effect on the user (unless there's a pattern), but I'm unclear whether the new flag has any automatic effect on the user. I'm thinking maybe it does, which might make mods more likely to decline it in cases they consider borderline.
    – 1006a
    Nov 5, 2018 at 10:42
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    @1006a but here's the rub, the person who left the comment is a mod... Do the mods mod themselves? The deletion of the comment is the consequence. If a comment was particularly vulgar, offensive, sexist or racist, I would hope there would be no need for the mods to keep a record but to issue an immediate suspension.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 5, 2018 at 12:31
  • Rudeness and sarcasm is in the eye of the beholder. On MSM someone asked if this comment "And where's your input data? And what's the error you are getting?" was unkind, and worthy of flagging. Interestingly, the user argues that the repeated use of "and" indicates sarcasm, and I can see where he's coming from. I wouldn't ever be offended b/c I am guilty of being blunt (terse?) myself, so I wish he'd post it as a question on EL&U, it's quite fascinating.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 5, 2018 at 16:49
  • @Mari-LouA That's kind of my point. If approving the flag leaves a permanent mark of some sort, I imagine it would be more likely with a mod (or otherwise known) commenter that the reviewing mod would think "well, I know this person, they're generally good people, I'm sure they didn't mean to be unfriendly, I'd hate to have them get dinged for something inadvertent, maybe it's not such a bad comment anyway..." Whereas if the only consequence is the comment disappearing, I would expect/hope the commenter's identity would make less difference in the reviewer's emotional reaction to the flag.
    – 1006a
    Nov 5, 2018 at 19:33
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    To be clear, I'm not justifying having different standards based on the commenter's identity; my original comment was really just more in the way of something I've been wondering about that seems like it might be relevant to the discussion. Overall there's always the "who watches the watchers" problem.
    – 1006a
    Nov 5, 2018 at 19:35
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    Jana's sentence was awkward, and she knew it might be awkward: that is why she asked the question. The second part of the comment made fun of her question, and was unnecessary. Some users here are not as scintillating as they think they are.
    – ab2
    Nov 5, 2018 at 20:18
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    @1006a So, bottom line: if there's an unfriendly comment posted by a mod, and the best outcome for the site is its removal, what's the most effective course of action to achieve its removal? Is it the type of flag raised that causes the repercussions (e.g. the broad "moderator intervention" flag might be better), or is it the actual intervention in deleting the comment? Nov 5, 2018 at 22:27
  • @Chappo I don't know. I don't know whether there's any functional difference between the types of flags, so I don't know whether it's plausible that the type of flag would make any difference. Thus my question.
    – 1006a
    Nov 6, 2018 at 1:18

2 Answers 2


The comment was flagged a few hours ago – I presume it came as a reaction to this meta post. This time the flag came to my attention and I deleted the comment. I didn't see the original flag and don't know why it was declined.

Always feel free to ping me if there is a problem. Most weekdays I can be found in the main English Language & Usage Chat room.


I think the only conclusion is that the moderators of this site don't interpret the Code of Conduct the same way as you. Subtle put-downs seem to be OK, as long as they can be interpreted as educational or informative. I guess some people may think of this kind of tone as just being blunt and not rude. As JJJ said, a lot of this kind of stuff is "open to interpretation".

I had a similar experience a while back when I raised an "unfriendly or unkind" flag on a comment in thread that contained wording like "You wouldn't say any of these things. And if you did you'd just sound helpless for not knowing that this is such a common and specific thing in literature that it has a dedicated term..." and "If only you would read my answer: "no, you wouldn't say that". We are offering alternatives because what you have is no good. If it were fine, nobody would say you must use something else instead." Apparently, this is sufficiently kind and friendly for the moderators of this site: my flag was declined.

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