I've seen a few questions dotted around, which require references to dictionaries or such-like (etymonline, wiktionary, OE dictionary, the Chicago Manual of Style), to make clear why a word or correction you're submitted as an answer is correct.

Is there any preference on which of these to go for? I've seen definitions citing wiktionary be both sufficient and severely lacking. As well as this I worry that people constantly referencing the Chicago Manual of Style it might give incorrect answers to people looking for British English style help.

Obviously a well phrased question, stating how much detail and accuracy is required, as well as a well researched answer should circumvent this issue. Is there any official guideline on this matter? I have seen this post, which is quite helpful, but it seems that it outlines a preference. Wiktionary is the 4th (?) answer given, and whilst I prefer it, I don't count it as a legitimate source in the same way most academics cringe at the idea of referencing wikipedia in their papers.

Perhaps a well written, "How to reference your answers" would make a good addition to the FAQ? That is if I haven't missed this sort of guideline that is there already.


1 Answer 1


I think this question starts from a mistaken premise, that there is a 'correct set of references' for English, as there is for (most) computer languages; English has so many dialects and registers that a list of approved references is as likely to be harmful as helpful. For example, I would answer "Is this a word?" with "Yes, it's in the OED." Other users would say "Yes,it's in Merriam-Webster", "Yes, I've heard it several times in New York, California and New Zealand", or "Yes, a Google NGram shows several hits". All these are valid replies: what weight you attach to each is up to you. I do think the tags american-english and so on should be used more, to obtain more specialised results, (I would even support the creation of 'formal-english' and 'informal-english'); but nobody has the right to say what is an approved source, whether for a community-moderated site or for English as a whole.

And yes, this is just my opinion; that's kind of the point.

  • I think it's more the case of, some references in Wiktionary are just plain poor, others exemplary. I've had questions answered by someone quoting etymonline, but that entry on there wasn't really sufficient. I'm not really after 'correct', just something worth using as a reference. Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 16:50
  • So, in short what I'm asking as more to do with unreliable sources. I guess mentioning OED wasn't too relevant as they're almost always on the mark. Wiktionary is the prime example, though I'm sure there are others. Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 21:19
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    @Pureferret; yes, there's a spectrum of reliability in resources, and how far down you accept is up to you. But it's very like the spectrum of users here: high-rep users are generally more reliable, but there are several whose answers I am deeply sceptical about (and vice versa, no doubt) either because of philosophical differences or different dialects (in the technical sense). If you want an ordered list, you could start a CW question saying 'which of these resources is most reliable?' [Myself, I think that question too subjective to be properly answered, as you may have gathered.] Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 12:41

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