From time time to time I take a break from this site, and in one of those more-recent breaks, I 'discovered' Reddit.

After a couple of months, and one unjustified ban, I came to the realization that the site was not really worth my time, as it is mostly peopled with trolls, loud-mouths, and other uneducated people. That is not to say that all users there are idiots; some are really cool and knowledgeable personages (such as Anthony Bourdain).

Not all was bad; in fact, one site feature was interesting:

User/Answer tags

i.e. tags that express the answerer's POV as a header before they even post an answer.

Here on EL&U, we quite often have discussions/disagreements in comments and answers as well, in which the POV depends totally on the user's preferences for a grammar which might not be obvious for the uninitiated.

This is confusing for new contributors, and may actually drive them away from the site.

When we are contentious over obscure details that the new user does not understand, we are undercutting and undermining the 'helpful aspects' of the site. After all, who wants to go to an English information site offering "Get Help for practical detailed questions" and end up in the middle of an internal culture war?

I am suggesting some kind of declaration, such as if one belonged to a political party.

Some suggestions for User Tags



Generative Semanticist (*in Honor of John L)

I am open to suggestions...

...but the point is:

We need more transparency, especially on the part of users who continually insist that their POV is the only acceptable and possible one.

  • 2
    (re Reddit -- I agree with your description, but I reached it faster, and it still sends me several spam a day) What kind of tags were you thinking of? I try to make my presuppositions clear, and distinguish them from facts. As for theories, I don't mind being called a Generative Semanticist; perhaps I'm the last one, in fact. Though the tag system on ELU is so awful that I can't imagine anything involving it would be an improvement; the best thing to do with tags here is ignore them, in my experience. May 11 at 16:45
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    Perhaps we need an over-all revision. May 11 at 16:47
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    @JohnLawler Why aren't tags useful to you? You at least probably know what things are called to add the right tags. Meanwhile, I'm like: Left disjunction, that thing definitely is called something like that...
    – Laurel Mod
    May 12 at 0:08
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    Can you elaborate? Are these tags chosen by the a person for themselves? Are you suggesting a finite list or can people create them just like tags are created for questions? What about text in the user profile doe not suffice for what your user tags would do?
    – Mitch
    May 12 at 1:48
  • @JohnLawler The last one? Did I miss Lakoff’s funeral?
    – Dan Bron
    May 12 at 2:26
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    @DanBron No, George is still going strong; but he's a cognitive scientist now, not a syntactician as such. May 12 at 15:12
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    @JohnLawler I don't know what the general consensus is on Stackoverflow's implementation of tags is, but I share your disdain for it, at least here on ELU (poor UI, poor engagement, poor curation). Lots of systems use tags successfully, I'm pretty sure. So I don't think it is totally hopeless. Maybe just strongly in the hopeless direction. sigh
    – Mitch
    May 12 at 16:00
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    @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ Would the user profile be an alternate place to put information about a user, but instead of tags, just narrative text? Or do you think on the profile page there should be a place for tags? Is that what you're proposing? Where would these tags be edited? (presumably the user profile) Where would they appear? Just the profile page or on every answer and question?
    – Mitch
    May 12 at 16:03
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    @JohnLawler The SE model does not require there to be one true 'right answer' and an accepted mark does not make it the right one. But I understand the essence of your text.
    – NVZ Mod
    May 12 at 18:03
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    @Mitch vis a vis "Would the user profile be an alternate place to put information about a user, but instead of tags, just narrative text? " I am thinking on that as a solution; it was also a possible solution to a previous Q on meta. That said...who the f ever looks at user bios? Certainly not new users. Not gonna work. May 12 at 19:53
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    @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ there may already be some question there already. Search a bit first but yeah I suppose it's appropriate for Meta.SE. The desire for answer or user tags may not work for the general SE culture (and we haven't really figured out if it's appropriate for ELU yet)
    – Mitch
    May 12 at 21:51
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    @JohnLawler well... actually... there used to be a counter on one's profile page that said 'visited X times' and 1) I'm sure yours was in the thousands, and 2) if that's not convincing, then just the fact that everyone is aware that you are an academic linguist should be convincing enough that people do check out other people's profile pages (at least yours).
    – Mitch
    May 12 at 21:57
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    @Mitch Exactly! I don't know how many times I have had to advise new contributors to treat old hands here with better respect...some of the stuff I have heard directed at John is sometimes scandalous. May 12 at 21:58
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    @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ There is something to be said for guild smashing too. But 'appeal to authority' is not a fallacy when the person is actually an authority in the field.
    – Mitch
    May 12 at 22:05
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    @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ Oh, really? Good thing we don't have a message system, then. I never find out this stuff because I don't gossip. I figure everybody else is just as weird as I am, but they don't show it. May 12 at 22:06

4 Answers 4


I think most of this information is best handled by being included either in the post (or comment) itself or in your user profile, if at all.

I can't really think of a single descriptor for myself that would be relevant across all my posts, much less comments. I'm an American who speaks American English, which I'll mention when I know that my answer may not hold true for native speakers from other regions. It will never be relevant when I'm writing about early Middle English, not least because America was filled with people who hadn't even heard of English. And an honest evaluation of my answers would show that I can't choose between being descriptivist and prescriptivist (if it's even possible to be only one except as a generalizing label). But you can see that from what sources I'm citing (usage vs style).

There is also a feature "in the early phase" that seems like it could possibly be relevant: Version labels for answers. Maybe, it depends on a lot of factors that haven't been decided on. I haven't heard anything about this idea lately so it's probably on the back burner right now in terms of development. I'm not really sure what it would give us, especially when not all answers would be tagged and it would be far more natural to include any keywords in the text of the post itself.

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    When answering questions and adding tags, why would a single descriptor fit anyone? Can't we change the hat we wear to match a particular answer, as opposed to ourselves?
    – Lambie
    May 12 at 17:45
  • @Lambie That is actually a very good idea and alternative suggestion. May 12 at 19:27
  • @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ The truth? I can't tell whether I am going or coming on questions like these.
    – Lambie
    May 12 at 19:31

It's perfectly possible to prefix answers with tags: you can even make them up as I've done here. Actual existing tags can be used which will provide a link to questions with that tag, which might or might not be useful. You do that with the standard [tag:answer] syntax.

So if you want to tag a particular answer as coming from a particular viewpoint or limited application like then that's already possible.

Tags or other labels applied to people are actually meta-tags akin to the deprecated tag. We don't need to know someone is a fan of CGEL; that will become obvious from their answers — which could be labelled with a relevant tag if they choose to do that.

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    +1 for We don't need to know someone is a fan of CGEL; that will become obvious from their answers very obvious, I might add.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 12 at 11:50
  • @Mari-LouA It is possible that you are not actually catching the point of the post? It is not about "what is obvious"...it is about transparency for new contributors. May 12 at 19:31
  • @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ No, I understood. I am commenting on Andrew Leach's answer because it tickled me :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 12 at 19:33
  • Hello Andrew, so if we as editors were to edit and start tagging answers the way we do questions, would that be unseemly? May 12 at 19:34
  • @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ Yes. It will bump posts for little purpose. I would say that if such a tag at the head of an answer is a good idea then it should be done as the answer is being written or very shortly afterwards. And for someone else to edit it in, the right tag would need to be obvious from the text — which would render the tag superfluous at best. All I'm saying is that it can be done. There are a few answers here where it has been; possibly more on Law.se to indicate which jurisdictions an answer applies to.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    May 13 at 6:55
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    It's not just that 'we don't need to know someone is a fan of CGEL', but that one's labelling oneself as such could distract the readers from appreciating the point of a particular post. One may generally be a fan of CGEL and still reserve the right to criticise its approach to a particular matter.
    – jsw29
    May 13 at 16:42
  • I agree with @jsw. If someone wants to advertise a particular leaning, their profile is the right place for it. An answer tag would be relevant to the answer, and an answer could even present two differing points of view, each with their own distinguishing "tag" marker to make that distinction clearer.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    May 15 at 7:09

There have long been desires to have information on questions and answers that says things about the author: what their native language is, some other indication of authority, context, etc.

Here on EL&U, we quite often have discussions/disagreements in comments and answers as well, in which the POV depends totally on the user's preferences for a grammar which might not be obvious for the uninitiated.

I don't think tags will fix that. Promoting a culture of clarity ("I'm being descriptive at the moment" or "I grew up in Newcastle but spent 5 years in a teenage motorcycle gang in Perth") should be enough.

You may want to list out more explicitly what other tags you think people will label themselves with. That will give you a better idea if tags will be a thing that other people will desire.

But whether it is an extra sentence or an extra tag, whether it is in one's bio (easy to reach in one click!) or some abbreviated version on every question and answer that everyone makes, making it mandatory is most likely going to be extremely unpopular and making it optional will render it universally ignored except for the rare slightly heated moments when some hidden cross-ocean difference becomes apparent and people add hesitantly "... and this is from a speaker of upper Midwest urban teenager".

But adding the UI feature of tags to answers... it'll be way way towards the end of the queue for the SE developers. It's kind of a lot for little return (and that little return can be gotten from user bios (which, yes, nobody reads, and frankly few write with the idea of what you have in mind).


For my own part, I resist any effort to categorize or label me in a way that planes off all nuance. I am not a This or a That, but in certain circumstances I may partake of some aspect of Thisness or Thatness. I may even prize some Thisness, while abhorring almost everything else about it.

So how would you express that in a tag? Assign it a numerical value, so that when you mouse over the tag it shows a 9% value? And who decides such a thing?

I agree with Mitch that the game is not really worth the candle. Going further, however, I believe that all such labeling will do is to give people a spectacularly unnuanced view of a human being, and a reason to denounce or support them without thinking too much about any argument they might be making.

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