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.
There are at least two reasons why I sometimes post answers as comments...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
- It looked as if the senior members of the community were making their own decisions on which laws should be obeyed.
- 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.”
“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.
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
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.