For example: Etymology of "to coin a phrase"

I have seen this several times on this site, and it seems to be a departure from how things are done on other sites in the SE network and how the system is designed to work.

  • 25
    A GenRef or LMGTFY type answer is not a desirable formal answer on SE but might be worth a comment.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 19:36
  • For a Q. that rightly merits a crisp, to-the-point answer, "Human Verification" proves tortuous -- no exaggeration there. And if it eventually says "Oops ...", well, your answer is gONe. Happens at least once everyday to me.
    – Kris
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 12:52
  • 1
    This isn't just this site where this happens. I see this a lot in all the stack exchange sites. It's rather annoying. I wish there were a way to convert question comments into answers. I suppose the best way is to ask the commenter to add a real answer, and if he doesn't, to just answer yourself with the contents of the comment.
    – asmeurer
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 10:30
  • I posted a similar question which has been closed as a duplicate. However I think it is still relevant to raise this question as it is still something that is being practised. I have just seen an example. Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 17:49
  • 16
    @Mitch +1 for answering this question in the comments.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 17:18
  • 3
    I've just been rebuked by @Drew for putting a commenty-type thing in Answers. It's a fair cop, guv. But it makes me want to enquire why so many people, including nestors, systematically post answers in comments. Is it because they have so much rep they don't need any more, or for some other reason? Newbie he no savvy the culture here.
    – David Pugh
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 17:16
  • 6
    In many cases, the time and effort required to "document" an answer (in the fashion deemed appropriate by TPTB) is simply too much for the answerer to be expected to expend. In other cases, even though the answer is undoubtedly correct, it's likely that no "acceptable" references can be identified, at least not without a trip to a college library or some such. A lot of people tire of the burdensome requirements placed on "answers" (and the malicious downvotes that often result from the "wrong right answer") and choose to instead do comments.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 21:01

6 Answers 6


There are at least two reasons why I sometimes post answers as comments...

  1. I voted to close the question. Perhaps I consider it "off-topic", so I don't want to see multiple answers being voted on. But if I think I know the answer and can easily express it in a comment, I often do this.

  2. I don't have the time/inclination/knowledge to provide a full answer, so I put down something in a brief comment, hoping someone else will pick up the ball and run with it.

  • 2
    I agree on both counts. In fact, the only reason I didn't do it on at least one occasion is that for some reason, somebody decided that I needed more reputation to comment than I did to answer.
    – user19589
    Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 5:58
  • @shinyspoongod: To be honest, I'm not sure of the rationale for that, but I'm prepared to believe it's a policy born out of either experience or knowledge of the issues. Perhaps TPTB think (or have discovered) that new users should be forced to focus on Answers initially, lest they come to see the site as primarily a "talking shop". Like I say, I really don't know. Anyway - you're obviously able to comment now, so it wasn't an enduring restriction. Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 16:30
  • You're probably correct. I think perhaps if there were a secondary feature of the SE sites that allowed certain types of discussion off-page, perhaps this would be less of an issue. Perhaps you could toss a message in that the comment thread branches or forks to a discussion area, instead of having to worry that a 30-comment thread detracts from the purpose of the Q&A page itself.
    – user19589
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 6:25
  • 4
    1. Even if you know the answer to a question you wish to close, you should not give any answer - even as a comment. If the question does not belong on the site for any reason, you should not give any intensive to keep it in it's current form. Posting answer in a comment gives impression that it is worth answering.
    – awe
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 10:24
  • 4
    2. Post what you have as an answer (even if it is just a quick one as the one you say you want to just give as comment). If someone can give more depth to your answer, they can comment on your answer, or edit it directly. You can come back later and edit in some more quality to it when you got more time.
    – awe
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 10:25
  • 6
    You say “I put down something in a brief comment, hoping someone else will pick up the ball and run with it”. I see that as misguided. In general I'm not willing to answer a question with an answer that's in a comment already, and imagine most people feel the same. Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 18:43
  • @awe - I assume you meant to put 'incentive', not 'intensive'.
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 20:14
  • 5
    @ErikKowal Yes, and this makes another point here. Comments can not be edited after 5 minutes, so I can no longer fix what I wrote. For short comments, this is not any problem, but for long comments that is in the form of an answer, this can very easily be an issue.
    – awe
    Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 6:34

As far as I'm concerned, I sometimes keep away from supplying a full answer because, even though I think I know it, I'm sure that my "wording" is not perfect and I prefer not to lose reputation points as a consequence of being downvoted by people who are better than me and much more proficient at linguistics. This has already happened a few times and I'd rather avoid it for the future.

  • 5
    I downvoted one of your answers recently (then reversed it) because it contained an admonition to the OP that I thought would have been better left in comment form. I apologize if this caused you to be more timid in answering questions. That wasn't my intent. Commented May 17, 2012 at 3:37
  • 7
    +1 for a really good reason - people on the english.stackexchange.com site are really picky about language (no surprise there, to be honest) - more so than on other SE sites - which has the potential to drive people to add an answer as a comment for fear of downvoting due to bad use of language in their reply. I would imagine this affects people for whom English is not their native language most.
    – m-smith
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 16:02
  • 13
    This answer hints at another major difference to other SE sites. On StackOverflow, contributors are actively encouraged to post incomplete answers that can be improved upon by others. The best, most complete and most scholarly answers answers rise to the top. This site, it appears to this casual visitor, values the contributions of experts over the wisdom of the crowd and, consequently, keeps the crowd at bay. Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 18:13
  • 6
    If the wording that is not directly part of the solution suggestion of the answer is not good English, it should not be down-voted, but edited. If it is the context of the answer itself that is directly related to what is asked, it should be down-voted if specifically wrong, or just not up-voted if it is not a good solution.
    – awe
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 10:36
  • 2
    @awe That may be the way it should be, but it's often not what actually happens.
    – Nicole
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 15:18

Many if not most questions posted here contain false presuppositions, and therefore can't be answered as stated. Generally one has to correct those before addressing the information that's actually needed; that's best done in a comment, rather than an official Answer. As for points, it's not worth worrying about them.

In any event, a topic like "English Grammar and Usage" does not lend itself to a simple Q/A format -- it appears that everybody has their own ideas about what terminology is correct and assumes it's universal, so they rarely give useful context, presuming there are Rules that cover everything.

Since nothing could be further from the truth, we end up with the usual mishmosh.

  • 5
    In those cases there are correct to ask back as a comment to ask the OP of more detail on what he asks, but the issue here is the comments that are really a direct answer to the question, which I have seen very frequently on this site, in much more degree than other SE sites.
    – awe
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 10:42
  • 1
    That's because English grammar and usage is not a matter of facts for the most part, but of opinion. The software and its Q/A format were designed originally for computer-related topics, where it's a good fit. But for grammar it's not. There are facts, but they're mostly avoided as "too hard", and mythology is preferred; this is a peculiarly Anglophone cultural attitude about language. Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 14:25
  • 5
    If everything is just true and false we only need one answer per question. This site fits good with multiple possible answers where good answers are voted up, and less good answers don't get that many votes. Directly wrong answers are voted down. It's a perfect model for English language where there might be several answers that can be correct. Accepted answer does not necessarily mean the only right answer. It means that it is the most helpful answer for the OP. Quality of the other answers is shown very clearly by number of votes.
    – awe
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 17:17
  • 3
    Unfortunately, as I said, there are facts about language, but people prefer to make up their own. This wouldn't work in computing, where such answers can be tested, and mythology is not welcome. Here, however, all sorts of contradictory theories are given equal opportunity to bewilder questioners, and there's no way to test them. So chaos reigns, pretty much. Trying to find a definitive answer to anything is impossible, so pointing to "duplicate" questions doesn't solve anything and starts arguments instead. Bad match. Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 17:50
  • 1
    "so I put down something in a brief comment, hoping someone else will pick up the ball and run with it." But would it not seen seen as bad form to co-opt somebody else´s comment? I have seen people complain about this. Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 22:14
  • 3
    "Generally one has to correct those before addressing the information that's actually needed" - can that not go at the start of an answer? "Q: What kind of verb is Banana; A: Banana isn't a verb, it's a noun. The type of noun is what is called a 'common noun'" Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 12:58


Because many on this site follow a widely accepted, but to me unacceptable, practice of breaking the rules of the Stack Exchange network.

Motivation for a late answer

As a relative newcomer to English Language & Usage Stack Exchange (although not to other SEs) I have been surprised and annoyed at the way some members of high reputation ignore the general SE rules on comments. On three occasions I have expressed these feelings in comments addressed to those making the offending comments, but it became obvious that a more appropriate place to do this was in ‘Meta’. As the question has already been raised, and new post would be classified as a duplicate, I feel obliged to use an answer to this original question to express my views. I don’t particularly wish to get involved in an argument: I just wish to state objectively what the rules are, explain how their violation struck me subjectively, and give notice of how I intend to proceed.

The rule is clear and immutable

Each Stack Exchange community has its own particular rules, together with rules that are common to all members of the SE network. For the most part the particular rules deal with which types of question are suitable, and which unsuitable, and what is required in an answer. These are formulated when a SE community is set up, and presumably can be modified should the need arise and a majority of high-reputation members with the appropriate privilege agree.

The common rules are those involving the scoring system and dealing with aspects of questions answers and comments, and the procedure for dealing with those that are inappropriate in some way (duplicates, off-topic, spam, offensive etc.). Individual SE communities do not have the power to change them.

The rule on commenting on questions is quite clear, and it has been felt important enough that it appears in grey every time one opens a comment box. I quote:

“Use comments to ask for more information or suggest improvements. Avoid answering questions in comments”

There are good reasons for this rule, as for the other general rules, and in any case SE has the power to impose them because it set up the network of SE sites and finances it. However, if people do not like the rules then they are free to leave the club and set up their own with different rules.

The bad impression caused when high-reputation members violate the rule

When I first ventured into English Language & Usage Stack Exchange (as light relief from more technical SEs) I did read (or skim through) the introductory page. However I leapt into answering a few questions on topics I thought I knew about, often questions tagged as ‘single-word-requests’. My answers were often a phrase or sentence, as it seemed to me that this was a suitable response. I was soon told off and voted down by senior community members (those with a high reputation), and it was pointed out to me that the rules demanded that answers provide evidence/sources for their assertions. Although irked by this, I went and read the rules in full, after which I had to admit I had (probably) been in the wrong. Anyway I have changed how I answer questions and now take the time and trouble to consult and quote dictionaries and the like.

However subsequently, on following up (often unanswered) questions, I discovered that people were answering questions as comments — clearly against the rules — and the worst offenders were long-standing members with very high reputations, the same sort of people who had slapped my wrist when I broke their rules.

How did this appear to me?

  1. It looked as if the senior members of the community were making their own decisions on which laws should be obeyed.
  2. It looked as if they were too lazy to answer questions properly, but nevertheless could not resist showing off their own knowledge, and so used the comment facility to do this (where nobody could embarass them by pointing out their answers lacked citations etc.).

I know that everyone is contributing to the site on a voluntary basis but, in any community, if you set yourself up as a judge, you must apply the laws equally and obey them yourself. If you do not you forfeit all respect.

Making things worse

The situation is clearly black and white, so that attempts to defend the use of comments to answer questions only made things worse. The sort of arguments I a received included

“Thats the general practice in this community.”

— So if everyone breaks the rules it’s OK?

“The question was off-topic and I have flagged it as such. I was only being kind to the questioner.”

or similarly

“The question was low quality and I’m voting for it to be closed."

— It’s still against the rules to use comments in this way. Your comment should have been to the poster that the question was off-topic/low-quality with information about rectifying the situation.

“It wasn’t an answer… I was making an uneducated guess… to get the ball rolling”

— The word ‘causistry’ comes to mind. But regardless, where does it say that comments can be used to make educated guesses or get the ball rolling?

What is to be done?

Ideally, on being told that what was common practice was actually breaking the rules, people would admit their mistake and change their behaviour (like I did).

However, bad habits are hard to break, and I have been told that I am “flogging a dead horse”, so I intend to adopt the only remedy that appears open, although this depends on the integrity of members of high reputation, some of whom may well be unkindly disposed towards me. This is to:

Flag instances of the misuse of comments to the moderators for removal.

So far I have done this twice and one comment has been removed. I shall continue to do this from time to time and see what transpires. I encourage others who wish to improve this site to do likewise.

  • 2
    Nice and thoughtful answer +1. I basically agree with your points, however, as you mentioned, old habits are very hard to break. And there are worse habits, e.g., upvoting blatantly off-topic questions and answers and providing dictionary service to a general reference question, to name a few on ELU than posting an answer as a comment. Good luck.
    – user140086
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 13:01
  • 8
    What's this 'rule' thing I keep hearing about? Avoid != Never. There are very good reasons for intentionally addressing the OPs needs in a comment. Also, what's to stop you from making a full answer out of a comment that you think is an answer? Is there a 'rule' against that?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 13:44
  • 2
    @Mitch It is natural and understandable why some users could find the action objectionable because, if they posted the same answer as the comment, they might be seen plagiarizing it and this worry might discourage some users from posting an answer. That's the biggest problem. If that's the case, it harms ELU as it discourages users. And the comment box clearly asks users not to do that. I think the best way is post the comments and delete them in a few hours voluntarily, but how would it work? Who checks their comment regularly. This issue is one of the least important issues.
    – user140086
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 15:39
  • 1
    See the comments and the answer of @Dan Bron on this question english.stackexchange.com/questions/314812/…
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 21:56
  • 1
    I agree with your point. Here everybody (myself included sometimes, mainly for the fear to be sanctioned) is using the comments to post answers. In my opinion that's why: 1)They don't have to fear to be sanctioned, expecially if they they don't want their high reputation to be stained 2)They can receive upvotes in the comments without exposing 3) They can guess a lot without giving much thinking 4) Their comments-answers cannot be used after by others to give an answers for it may result a plagiarism. The result of all of that, for someone who wants to give and answer is frustration.
    – ealy
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 7:47

We are having a very similar discussion on Meta Cross Validated SE a.k.a. statistics. It might be helpful to view the answers, and numerous comments on the question there, as the issue is much like ours, despite the difference in underlying subject matter.

I would normally have posted this as a comment on the question, as I sometimes feel similar sentiments to those expressed in this answer by @Paola (well, less so on EL&U SE, but I did feel that way initially). Most of the time, it is due to this:

I don't have the time/inclination/knowledge to provide a full answer, so I put down something in a brief comment

  • 2
    Even if it is really a "comment" rather than an "answer", I've just got to give you +1 for this! Firstly for Cross Validated.SE (which is probably way over my head, but I'll mooch about there a bit anyway), and secondly because now I can see how to associate "hover text" with a link! Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 23:19

This cannot be explained completely by the reasons stated above. My question about life preservers didn't get any close votes and does not appear to require anything other than a very short answer from a native speaker, so even a very short answer will be a full answer.

I did get my answers, so as an asker I do not have a major issue with that. But it looks messy and odd. Perhaps a "promote comment to answer" feature is in order, especially if it can carry over the upvotes.

  • 1
    Did you see this comment? It explains your situation perfectly. Oh, the irony.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 1:34
  • @DanBron I dunno, I have never been able to Google this one. I suppose I can ask separately on Meta, but does this community prefer not to be asked questions like this one? If so, seriously, my question should have been closed by a moderator or at least voted to be closed. Otherwise might as well post full answers.
    – RomanSt
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 18:11
  • It's not exactly an EL&U question, so it doesn't necessarily fit here. Sorta. I mean, on the other hand, this is a dumping ground for reverse dictionary and etymology, so ... maybe it does fit, even if it had no indication of how it relates to English Language and Usage.
    – SrJoven
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 1:22

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