0

From time to time, people come to this site to seek confirmation of something that they already believe about some aspect of English language. That is, they post questions of the following kind:

I have noticed this linguistic phenomenon: . . . . I think that the explanation of this phenomenon is . . . . Am I right?

Now, if the hypothesis that is proposed within the question is wrong, an answer can be given that explains why it is wrong. If the hypothesis is incomplete in some way, an answer can be given that develops it. If the question is off topic, it can be closed.

But what is to be done if the question is on topic, the hypothesis proposed within it is true, and it fully explains the phenomenon? In such a case, the correct answer would be ‘Yes, you are right’, but such a short, simple answer would be below the standards of this site.

Leaving the question without a posted answer creates an impression that it is somehow unanswerable or extraordinarily difficult, which may not be the case. More importantly, the absence of an answer that confirms the questioner’s hypothesis creates a vacuum, which sometimes ends up being filled with wrong, misleading, or otherwise unhelpful answers.

| |
  • 1
    If somebody's really looking for confirmation and is in fact correct, a comment to that effect is generally good enough. Why go to a full-blown Solemn High Answer just to answer a yes/no question? Formalities are for machines. – John Lawler Nov 23 '19 at 21:55
  • @JohnLawler, I know that the prevailing view among the regular contributors to this site is that the proper thing to do in such cases is to post something like 'yes, you are right' in a comment. I understand very well the reasons behind that view. What seems to me problematic about that practice is what is described in the last paragraph of the question. One should remember that many visitors to a particular page come to it from a search engine and are unfamiliar with the culture of the site; they may be misled by the misleading stuff posted as answers in such cases. – jsw29 Nov 24 '19 at 3:08
  • Then we shouldn't post misleading answers, nu? Or we should delete nonsense questions and answers once every purple moon or so. – John Lawler Nov 24 '19 at 19:13
  • @JohnLawler, of course, nobody should post wrong answers, but somebody will post them, and they will not all be bad enough to be deleted. An assumption behind sites like this one is that wrong answers can't do much damage, because correct answers will be posted too, and then voting will make it clear which answers are regarded as correct by the community as a whole. That mechanism, however, fails when the correct answer is simply 'yes, you are right', which is something that nobody wants to post because it is too simple. – jsw29 Nov 24 '19 at 19:50
  • 1
    So, how's that assumption holding up after a hundred thousand questions? I would say the evidence is clear that it's not correct. It's impossible to find answers here because the questions are mostly irrelevant to one another. And it's easier to simply post a question. I would automatically delete any question dealing with a textbook exercise, for instance. – John Lawler Nov 24 '19 at 20:03
9

“Yes you’re right” isn’t a good answer but “yes you’re right and here’s some evidence...” usually is.

There’s almost always a way to get evidence for an answer, be it etymology/history, ngram statistics, or expert opinions. (The exact course of action, of course, depends on the specific question.)

| |
  • Or, yes you are right in most cases, but.... There is almost always a but. – ab2 Nov 25 '19 at 19:59
  • 1
    The Principia Mathematica is a 3-volume work by Bertrand Russell and Alfred Whitehead that, in oversimplistic terms, explains why 2+2=4. – Jason Bassford Nov 25 '19 at 19:59
  • Yes! Yep, yep, yep. Absolutely. [A short comment might look like it answers the question, but provide no evidence, (and might be wrong)]. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 3 '19 at 21:43
  • @JasonBassfordSupportsMonica Erm, tries to explain why 2+2=4! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 3 '19 at 21:48
  • @Araucaria Possible duplicate of Prove that 2+2=4 – Laurel Dec 3 '19 at 21:56
  • @Laurel Sorry, should have said "Logical proof" :) I don't fully understand it, but I was referring to Russel & Whitehead's attempt to reduce mathematics to a few logical principles--which was apparently not straightforwardly successful. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 3 '19 at 22:49
  • @Laurel Note the "I don't fully understand it" bit there! It has been described to me (accurately or not, and I couldn't possibly say) as not being able to prove, in the end, that 1=1. For the avoidance of doubt as they like to say, I have an infinite respect for Bertrand Russell! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 3 '19 at 23:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .