I've already raised flags on it - it has -4 votes, but isn't deleted.

The question is by a high reputation user here.

  • 1
    We only delete answers that don’t attempt to answer the question. That is: non-answers, things like commentary or follow-up questions. That’s a bad answer, dispensing bad advice — and thus should be and is downvoted — but it’s still an answer, so it isn’t subject to deletion.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 11:46
  • @DanBron - I can't see that it attempts to answer the question.
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 15:14
  • 3
    It suggests thing as a gender-neutral alternative to sir or madam as a salutation; that is the answer the user proposed (as opposed, to, say, discussing the price of tea in China or asking where he can buy a fairly-priced pair of rain boots, ie not proposing an answer).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 23:20
  • As a counterexample: here’s an answer that doesn’t attempt to answer the question, and so should be deleted: english.stackexchange.com/a/530730/55623 .
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 18:01
  • 'My dear old thing'... was/is a perfectly acceptable (if eccentric) and very friendly mode of address, famously used by the ex cricket commentator, Henry Blofeld [Google This may not be at all intended to sound abusive. How judicious the answer is is another matter. Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 13:29

3 Answers 3


The question asks for a "Gender neutral alternative to Sir/Madam" and the answer suggests one. It's even backed up with a citation, an example of a use.

Thus it is an answer. If you don't think it's a useful answer, and the asker should really disregard it, then downvote it.

The "rude or abusive" flag is primarily intended for posts which are directly abusive of a particular person [an ad hominem attack*], or abusive of the system (thus cocking a snook at the entire community). The answer given does not fit either of those criteria. The fact that in certain circumstances using the answer might cause you to abuse someone by calling them "Thing" does not make the answer itself abusive. It's merely not useful.

A flag on the answer was declined in November 2019: "a moderator reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it." That's a canned response available to moderators with a radio button, as it's usually self-explanatory. However, perhaps this answer explains the lack of evidence found.

*For example, the various snide comments made against various American presidents, which I for one flag and remove on sight.

  • 3
    But the question clearly about people, not the fictional beings of Dr Seuss. The answer provides no evidence "thing" is used for real people. Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 7:46
  • Cocking a snook? Oh, I’m holding on to that one!
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 16:45
  • @DanBron It's probably peculiarly British. Even "thumbing one's nose" is not something done very much these days.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 9:06
  • 3
    It seems to me that suggesting that we refer to people for whom we cannot immediately identify their gender as "thing" is quite abusive towards people who were not born with the benefit of a clear gender identity. As @curiousdannii pointed out, the literaly reference did not show a person identified by this word, but rather non-human entities whose species is not given. Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 18:24
  • 1
    @Ted That doesn't make it "Not an answer" not is it abusive by the criteria SE uses. If you don't like the answer and don't think it's useful, vote it down (and/or vote to delete). At some point the community will delete it or the author will. It's not for moderators to do it when the criteria for flags are not met.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 18:31
  • So, if I understand what you are saying, it's that the abusive flag is not for the abuse of an entire group of people, but instead one specific person? e.g. "The proper term for the president is <insert derogatory statement here>" is not ok, but "the proper term for republicans is <insert derogatory statement here>" is ok? That's the thing I'm having trouble understanding. Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 21:47
  • 2
    No: both of those identify specific people (or a group of them). There is nothing in the answer which does that. It suggests replacing the generic "Dear Sir/Madam" with "Dear Thing", which does not single out anyone for disrespect — or at least, no more than "Sir/Madam" does in the first place.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 21:55
  • 3
    So, androgynous people aren't actually a group of people, and it's not horribly offensive to refer to them as "Thing". Got it. I'm done, you either choose not to understand what I'm saying or I'm not communicating properly. Either way there's no point in continuing this line of discourse. Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 22:42

I've deleted this answer.

It's not about whether it's correct or incorrect, it's downright offensive. We don't allow offensive content on this site (with a very few specific exemptions for discussion of offensive things).

It seems that there's some disagreement of whether this is offensive or not - which... I don't agree with but I accept that it exists. To that end, I will offer that there is no value in retaining an answer that some consider offensive and that's downvoted so much and that lacks an actual example of usage - characters in a book named "Thing 1" and "Thing 2" is not the same as referring to an actual person on the phone or in person or in an email.

So, if you don't consider it offensive, it is, at minimum, not an answer.

Following that open interpretation, I've deleted it the normal way, not flag deleted it.


Looking at the comments, I assume that the answer was posted as a joke and not to make anyone feel bad.

However, the wording of the answer, when looked at in the context of the question, gives the impression that it’s making fun of (ie mocking) OP, people who want to be politically correct, or perhaps even people with gender-neutral voices. And the core of the answer (being a joke) isn’t a good answer to the question, so it’s not really worth trying to reword it.

That’s why I think it should be deleted (as has been done).

If the question was looking for an insult, the answer may have been ok—with additional references. Such a question should be worded as to avoid bigotry though.

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