In a comment to What term can I use to express the delay between two connecting flights?, it is suggested that the entry for a description of a word in wiktionary be modified to be more in accordance with ... well, that it should be modified.

I do think the entry at wiktionary is wrong, but I hesitate to encourage modification of it because of a discussion made here. I feel it is too circular, using data here to help justify creating an authority (the wikitionary entry) that eventually is used to support a declaration back here at SE.

(this isn't particular to ELU, but I'm starting the question here to see how it flies.)

So, the question is, should we use entries here to justify changes elsewhere? (with the primary issue being that it could result in erroneous self-supporting authority)

  • 3
    I updated the Wiktionary entry. It was wrong, and I said so on the talk page there with plenty of citations supporting me. No need to reference this discussion.
    – nohat Mod
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 19:03
  • @Nohat: Thanks! I'm like the cat i'the adage, so thanks for just doing it. It's nice having people around who actually -know- things.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 19:23

2 Answers 2


I see your problem. I think there are two underlying issues here.

  1. Our trust in authority. Just because, for example, the Encyclopaedia Britannica says something, we take that as a strong argument. Perhaps we should be more critical and take any source only as an argument in so far as we understand and approve of the methods it uses to arrive at a statement. The mere fact that a word is in a dictionary doesn't mean that it is an acceptable word to many speakers, unless we know the dictionary has actually tested this or bases its entries on fully representative corpus research. Or if we know there is some group of people behind it whom we trust, perhaps.

  2. Neither we nor Wiktionary should be considered top resources. At least we have transparent voting; but Wiktionary and Wikipedia are a bit more random, and certainly not transparent. However, even on Stack Exchange the right answer doesn't always end up on top, nor is the best answer always very good or complete. Therefore anyone trusting a SE answer that quotes Wiktionary, with no sources mentioned that possess more authority, is foolish.

If we take both websites for what they are, I don't think it is a real problem if we edit Wiktionary based on consensus here. That is, this referential loop should not give a false pretence of increased reliability, because there shouldn't be that much reliability in the first place if one considered how both websites work.

  • Certainly not transparent? There is a very clear history where it's easy to see the origin of every comma and there are rules on how to decide how to place even commas, plus a public discussion place (the talk page) to discuss every single thing. Everyone is accountable for the content of a wiki page, while a StackExchange post only reflects its author's view and nobody else is responsible for it.
    – Nemo
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 8:22
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    @Nemo Stackexchange allows viewing an edit history just like wikimedia. SE has restrictions on edits. Anybody can suggest an edit, which then gets overseen (approved or denied) by someone with enough rep. Those with high enough rep have their edits reflected immediately.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 14:08
  • @Mitch I know there is history, I didn't say the opposite. But edits are not supposed to be total alterations of a post, for instance.
    – Nemo
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 14:27
  • Who said edits are supposed to be total alterations? That's not the case for SE, and I expect not for wiktionary. Anyway, you said that SE only reflects its author's view/responsibility, but that's not true. Everybody who edited it is responsible just like wikimedia. I am just correcting a false impression you have of SE.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 14:38
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    @Nemo: Have you heard of the saying, if everyone is accountable, then nobody is accountable? Wikipaedia is indeed more transparent than if it hadn't had a History. However, there are often thousands of versions, and it can be very hard and time-consuming to find out which user added a certain word. Earlier this year, I wanted to find out who had added to the article about Hirohito that he had attended the YMCA, because that seemed highly unlikely to me for the emperor of Japan. The edit was done years ago, and it took me quite some time. Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 18:07
  • So by less transparent I mean you often can't easily tell who is responsible for a certain statement on Wikipaedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 18:07

Comparison of ELU.SE and Wiktionary policies

Votes and opinions on StackExchange are definitely not the basis for any edit to Wiktionary, just like the mere existence of a definition on Wiktionary does not make said definition a good answer on StackExchange. So, in principle, no circularity is possible.

However, Wiktionary and StackExchange have matching goals: respectively they aim to be based on references (plus NPOV) and objective. They might differ in how lax their criteria for inclusion and attestation, but if there is a severe mismatch in definitions and so on then something probably went wrong on either site. So, in case of conflict between Wiktionary and SE entries, it's fine to use the best curated of the two to improve the other. (Here I linked the English Wiktionary policies, but the principles are the same on all Wiktionary subdomains.)

StackExchange process for mistakes found via Wiktionary

If you find a mistaken StackExchange post, you can add a correct answer, mentioning your sources, and hope to eventually get enough popularity and upvotes to reach the top. Do kindly comment the other answers to point out why you think they are wrong, and so on.

Wiktionary process for mistakes found via StackExchange

If you find a mistaken or otherwise improvable Wiktionary entry, do edit it yourself, or encourage to edit it, in compliance with the Wiktionary policies above.

  • Make sure to reference your sources and explain your rational arguments.
  • If the matter is particularly complex or controversial, remember to use the history page and talk page to find out why the entry was that way and to explain your reasons. The more solid your references, the bigger the changes you can make. Wiktionary consensus is based on rationality and discussion, not votes.
  • Do link the StackExchange post for context and transparency, especially if there is more content into it than the source you mentioned; but add such links in the edit summary or talk page, because StackEchange is not a valid source in itself.

Legal obligations when using Wiktionary on StackExchange or vice versa

If you quote or reference Wiktionary material, make sure to link the Wiktionary entry, both for attribution and so that the user can reach the most recent and better version (the entry might even be improved by you or other StackEchange users, per above!). I'd even argue that a link is more informative than a quotation, given Wiktionary revisions are going to stay there forever and no information loss is possible, while quotations can quickly get outdated. An exception is when the Wiktionary entry is very big or in rapid flux, making it hard to understand what part of it you are referring to (think of the entries with dozens of meanings).

Unlike StackExchange, Wikimedia is very strict on copyright and copyleft, to ensure all entries are perfectly legal, so this is important; however the terms of use are very reasonable, so it's easy to comply. If you add to Wiktionary an original definition or other copyrightable material from a StackExchange post, link the StackExchange post in the edit summary as I suggested above is also required for copyright attribution; you should also mention the cc by-sa 3.0 license, which is the same Wiktionary uses.

  • 1
    It's not clear but this sounds like you're a Wiktionary editor and you're telling the SE community what to do. Can you edit your answer and make very explicit and separate what you suggest to do in Wiktionary and what you suggest us to do in SE?
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 14:11
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    @Mitch I made separate paragraphs for things to do in Wiktionary and things to do in SE, isn't that enough? Structure seems quite clear to me.
    – Nemo
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 14:29
  • You should write for others, not yourself. The fact that I've read it over and over and it's still not clear to me means that (even though I may be deficient) a hint that you might need to make it clear to others. Maybe section headings? Or an intro phrase, eg 'The current culture at Wiktionary', 'What I suggest for SE'. I had trouble understanding the whole thing because I expect an answer here to be consistently from the point of view of an SE user, but it seems to go back and forth from SE POV to WM POV. (or maybe its always in WM POV and so is difficult to shoehorn into an SE POV).
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 14:41
  • There is no such thing as a SE POV and WM POV when it comes to respecting law, for instance. You are trying to see something that simply doesn't exist, that might be why you are unable to find it. However let me edit further.
    – Nemo
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 17:53
  • If a Stack Exchange answer relies on a quote, then the quote must appear in the answer (with attribution in plain text, and a link if possible). It's not enough to rely on just a link to another site. An answer here must be self-contained. This applies even if the quoted material changes, because the answer is based on the referenced work as it was at the time of the answer. Merely referencing an external work, like your Terms of Use link above, doesn't require a quote.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 7:16

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