I need to share my heart. Maybe this is a therapy post, but I really mean it.

I don't like Dictionary-only answers

I don't want to single out any users as examples, because that's not my point.

I want to celebrate users' wisdom

I'm not grandstanding. I'm not trying to seem smart. If you think I'm wrong, please tell me why so I can understand. I love forums so we can understand!

But, I see answers with only/mainly this and my blood curdles...

plagiarize (Merriam-Webster)

transitive verb

: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source

intransitive verb

: to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

I want to learn from the users I see and read across the site and the network. Many of them banter with me in the comments, which is part of why I love seeing their Answers!

When I see an answer from, say pseudonymously, Jane Doe who got into it with me from the comments, I always expect brilliance.

So, an Answer like above is a great start, but then I look forward to reading something like this:

I like how the intransitive definition reads. You might use both in sentences like these:

Never plagiarize. You don't want the meat of your hard work to be found in an encyclopedia because then someone might think that the encyclopedia plagiarized you.

On EL&U, I learn from the witty and creative minds who craft great answers. So, please...

If you ever answer a Question, don't rob me of the joy you offer. Quote your source, then add your own thoughts so I can enjoy them more than what I read elsewhere.

  • 4
    I'm not sure if telling people how they can please you is a good starting point for a discussion about whether these are the sorts of answers we want to discourage as a community. It would be better to look at how these posts impact the site. I understand why you probably took the approach you did, but I don't think it is effective.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 18 at 17:32
  • @ColleenV Thank you. That is remarkably informative and helpful. I don’t see that often enough. Could it be possible for you to do a 4 minute edit to demonstrate what might be better? If not, maybe I’ll delete it. Mar 18 at 17:35
  • 3
    I don't really care if people write answers that consist solely of copy pasta. I just don't upvote them. I'm not sure how I can write this post for you. The problem isn't how you worded something, it's your rationale for why we should discourage "dictionary" answers.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 18 at 17:40
  • 1
    Did you have a specific type of question in mind when you wrote this? Mention of dictionary answers, to me, brings to mind [single-word-requests], though you can also find them on questions about expression meaning. And even etymology questions get their fair share of quotes from what might as well be etymology dictionaries (oed.com, Etymonline).
    – Laurel Mod
    Mar 18 at 17:40
  • @Laurel & ColleenV I suppose my thought process started negative (not liking dictionary-only answers), but then I really discovered it was my desire to hear from users like you specifically, and Mari-LouA and others, that I want. I would love an answer with 90% dictionary, but I want to see how any of you would use the word. I’m a wordsmith myself, but you all outshine me. Dictionary-only answers seem to miss the best part the site offers, which is you all. Mar 18 at 17:48
  • 3
    @JesseSteele I understand your desire, but, and I know this is going to sound harsher than I intend it, why should we care about your particular likes and dislikes? I like reading things written from a perspective I've never encountered before; I'm not going to ask folks here to write their answer from a more unusual perspective so that I can be entertained. The site has a purpose, and it's not (primarily) to entertain. I think you are getting a negative reaction because your post is focused on you instead of what is good for ELU.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 18 at 19:38
  • 1
    I'm guilty of dictionarying the heck out of my answers, lol. And I've looked at ways to write in my own words but I have found it difficult to beat the definitions and examples provided by the experts in a dictionary. Besides, for SWR questions, the FGITW issue exists and most people wouldn't bother writing more.
    – NVZ Mod
    Mar 18 at 19:54
  • @ColleenV Seriously and honestly, I really liked your term "copy pasta". Wow! And, I wrote a Question about it. And, I'd love an Answer from you and others. I think it would be useful for many on this site. Mar 21 at 2:59
  • @MichaelHarvey perhaps you could answer my question and tell me how to recognize it. Mar 21 at 12:45
  • 4
    Your question is already sufficiently answered elsewhere, in my opinion. Mar 21 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


When writing a question, above all, it should be your own question, and when writing an answer, it should be your own expert answer. Do not post questions or answers from elsewhere on the Internet.
A post that contains no original work at all (a paste-only post) is often a sign of a non-expert answer, and may have no value, but this is not always true. Examples of quote-only posts that nevertheless have value might include a quotation that required in-depth research to locate, or that was laboriously reproduced from a print-only source. […]
@MetaEd Oct 25, 2016

There has long been a series of objections to answers consisting only of copied dictionary definitions or texts, even instances when they have been correctly formatted and attributed, from outside sources. It is an age-old argument across the Stack Exchange network. The main crux being that these answers are unoriginal and lack the answerer's personal interpretation and insight. That is a fair criticism, but on EL&U we have many users whose first or second language is not English. Their understanding of the finer points in grammar may exceed that of an ordinary native speaker but the confidence to expose their written efforts for inspection can be intimidating. Sometimes the resulting typos and minor errors can be ridiculed in public. We have evidence of this behaviour (Your capitalisation is rather eccentric and You pored over it? Or are you a dog?) beneath the OP's post even though the OP is an American English speaker with ten years of teaching English as a foreign language under their belt.

In single-word requests, sometimes a single word is the answer, the fact that a non-native speaker may get there first and add a dictionary definition, as long as it is properly attributed, should not be discouraged. Ever. If someone disapproves of the effort they can either ignore or downvote the answer.

The OP appears to label posts that contain copied definitions or extracts as examples of plagiarism, but if the sources are clearly attributed and a link is provided, it is not. The OP has confused unoriginality with theft.

Original Answer

Plagiarize verb

transitive verb
: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source

intransitive verb
: to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.


The above looks like it is copied from a dictionary and despite the definition being extremely succinct, one would be hard pressed to find a discordant voice. Plagiarism, in my view, is the act of kidnapping a unique string of words created by someone else but passing them off as one's own.

Would my explanation be preferable? Unlike Merriam-Webster, I am not an authority and I do not have 191 years of standing. Some people prefer to cite a dictionary entry to support their answer, and there is nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, it is commendable because a dictionary has authority and we generally trust its impartiality. Quoting a dictionary in an answer shows that the author has at least made a sincere genuine effort.

To be clear, if a user on EL&U properly formats a quotation and attributes the source–as we have done in our posts–it is never plagiarism.

  • I have two questions about this. Firstly, as an ESL teacher, I never ridicule people for Second-language mistakes. Do you think I have done that somewhere? If not, what comment does your Answer refer to as an example of this? Do I misunderstand. I'm with you on supporting ESL students. Mar 20 at 3:34
  • 1
    Secondly, I agree and understand, even when I wrote this OP, about what you emphasized in your Dictionary quote, that it is without citing. However, this specific argument will not hold in court: "I gave credit to Merriam-Webster on every page that I photocopied from their entire dictionary in my copied dictionary I sell." I can't tell if you support dictionary-only answers or not from this Answer. Quoting is allowed in some places by courts under "fair use", but that always requires that it be a commentary. Where do you sit with this? Mar 20 at 3:38
  • 1
    And, I'm glad you answered. I always love your thoughts. Mar 20 at 3:38

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