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This user posted this answer in October 2018.

I have an issue with the link they have provided.

The user has provided a definition from the OED and a link that takes you to the OED's homepage.

The problem is, you have to pay £/$90 or 7.50/month to access the OED's definitions. I raised this issue in the comments, stating it wasn't a commonly-available reference since it's paywalled.

Apparently, the user thinks that the OED is a commonly-available reference, mentioning that s/he could find "7.50 a month down the back of my sofa" etc. I then informed him/her that this is an unnecessary addition that could be considered offensive by some.

Then they call me out for 'trolling' and subsequently delete their comments, but the chat transcript can be found here.

  • Is it right to call the OED a commonly-available reference?

  • Was I wrong to call this out?

  • They could've easily linked the free Merriam-Webster instead.

  • This is what I feel is wrong:
    1) They have quoted the OED and linked the homepage (?)
    2) They picked the OED over Merriam-Webster (easily-accessible)
    3) After I mention this, they edit the question but deliberately ignore my suggestion and leave the OED homepage sitting there.

(FWIW, I do have access to the OED)

  • @Mitch Is the OED home the correct link to use? This does seem to exclude a lot of people globally. And should I expect this comment-realise-delete andbehaviour from a 30k'er? – Lordology Mar 17 at 21:46
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    Oh. Just the home page of OED? Uh... sure, it shows the source (which is just a general life skill so that you aren't plagiarizing. It doesn't really help with reducing clicks, like a direct link. But it's fine. Re: comment deleting, I can't say. I don't think they were covering up bad behavior, they probably thought it wasn't relevant anymore. – Mitch Mar 17 at 21:53
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    I’m not sure I understand your issue with the answer (perhaps in part because it’s been edited and comments have been deleted). The OED is definitely not a commonly-available resource, but sources in answers don’t have to be commonly-available resources. We expect askers to look in CRs before posting, and questions that can be answered by doing so alone are off-topic; but that doesn’t mean answers are limited to them. It’s common enough to link to a paywalled source and simply add “(paywalled)” after the link. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 17 at 22:18
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I haven't mentioned this, but they could've easily linked Merriam-Webster instead. This is my problem. – Lordology Mar 18 at 6:48
  • @JanusBahsJacquet This is what I feel is wrong: 1) They have quoted the OED and linked the homepage (?) 2) They picked the OED over Merriam-Webster (easily-accessible) 3) After I mention this, they edit the question but deliberately ignore my suggestion and leave the OED homepage sitting there. – Lordology Mar 18 at 7:18
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The OED is paywalled, but many people in the US and UK can get access to the OED for free through their local public libraries. This unfortunately leaves out quite a few people of the world. However it is a strong ELU guideline that if something like the OED is used or likewise any free on-line services, that both a quote and a link is given.

I can't say you're wrong to point out that the OED is paywalled but that's more a complaint to OED, not to the OP.

It's a hard call. The OED is the absolute best reference for multiple entries, obscurities, etymology, subtleties. pretty much all the others are missing something or don't provide the detail that OED does.

My recommendation is if you can't get a link somehow to the OED (I do through my local public library; I have to jump through some hoops (clicking a bunch of times, hoping I typed in my library ID number correctly), but it's worth the few moments of trouble), you should google for the definition and read all the definitions. Assuming the first definition that proves your first point is walking a wobbly tightrope.

  • I haven't mentioned this, but they could've easily linked Merriam-Webster instead. This is my problem. You may want to consider editing. (up to you) – Lordology Mar 18 at 7:14
  • Did I mention not all dictionaries have the same definitions? – Mitch Mar 18 at 13:21
  • What do you mean? – Lordology Mar 18 at 15:47
  • @Lordology, if all dictionaries had exactly the same definitions, there would be only one dictionary and English would be a lot less nuanced (probably)! Language isn't static, and they all update differently, too. OED is often looked on as the authority among dictionaries, and a very good source, even if it is paywalled. FWIW, I would have provided the Merriam-Webster link and definition in a comment if I thought it would add to the answer (or suggested an edit). – Pam Mar 25 at 15:04
  • @Pam Also, there are fallible people writing these things. There's no guarantee that someone would write the same definition from one day to the next, even with both correct. – Mitch Mar 25 at 15:07
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I don't see a problem with quoting from non-free resources if all the rules are followed. Specifically, we require answers provide enough content in the answer that it doesn't matter if the link works, to prevent link rot. It's not even required to link to the source as long as the source is named and there's enough information to find it (after all, we do allow people to quote dead trees—aka books). In any case, the linked answer is following the rules.

There's also nothing wrong with suggesting another source for an answer but you shouldn't get into an argument. One comment should be enough.

Fun fact: I do have access to the OED, but usually the links don't work for me and vice versa. I use a URL like www.oed.com.some.long.link.uni.edu provided by my school... except when I'm at school and I'm redirected to the URLs everyone else uses because of the IP. This is why I quote from the OED but rarely link to it. The same goes for some of the other sources I use.


It's also worth mentioning that on ELU "commonly-available reference" has a specific meaning used in this close reason:

Please include the research you've done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic.

While the "commonly-available references" link lists the OED, I would not consider it one because it is not freely available. Questions should not be closed simply because the OED has the answer.

  • I forgot to mention this, but they could've easily linked Merriam-Webster instead. This is my problem. You may want to consider editing. (up to you) – Lordology Mar 18 at 7:14

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