One of our high rep users has recently asked several questions based around the OED's "public appeal for help in tracing the history of some English words."

Though EL&U is an appropriate site for questions about word history, several users have raised the question of whether these kind of questions about word history are appropriate here.

Etymology questions are generally interesting and on topic. The questions and the answers demonstrate a thoughtful amount of research, but because the histories are in contention, it is questionable whether there is a definitive answer that can be given.

I have no strong feeling one way or the other about these questions, but as I mentioned, some users have questioned their existence on the site. So I leave it to the community to discuss and decide.

  • 1
    What's surprised me is not so much the reprise of OED's appeal here, but that it can apparently be conclusively answered by an internet search.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Nov 1, 2012 at 16:44
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach I was disturbed at the lack of rigor in some answers provided directly to the OED site. IIRC, someone claimed that "email" had first been used in the 17th century (probably based on an erroneous Google Books search)!
    – Zairja
    Nov 1, 2012 at 17:04
  • I don't mind it (though I had considered posting about it on Meta, as well). I just wish I was quicker on the draw to get that precious rep from copy-and-pasting the question from the OED site. I aim to take credit on the OED site, as well. I'm devious in that respect.
    – Zairja
    Nov 1, 2012 at 17:06
  • 1
    @Zairja: I don't see any 17th century email claims, perhaps they were deleted. Email meaning "enamel" goes back to the 16th century, but that's clearly not the same thing! / There's plenty more OED Appeal questions you can post over here.
    – Hugo
    Nov 5, 2012 at 13:21

2 Answers 2


I found these questions interesting, and I regarded the OED's call for public help as rather intriguing as well.

The only exception I had with these four questions is that they seemed repetitious. Essentially, anyone could have posted a link in meta, with a comment that said, "The OED is looking for help in determining the history of a handful of words. To read more about this initiative, or to contribute, click here." (The questions on ELU, especially spread out over a series of questions, made ELU seem like some kind of "middleman.")

Did that bother me, though? I thought it was a bit unusual. However, the OED has helped many of us, so I didn't see much harm in posting the questions in this forum. After all, the questions are on-topic.

It's not the way I would have relayed the information, but, in my opinion, that's not grounds for calling their legitimacy into question.


Stack Exchange encourages self-answered questions, but they are normally questions about a problem for which users were searching a solution/answer they finally found. As finding the answer was not so easy, users can post the question and the answer because they think it could help other users, avoiding they repeat the same research they did.

The FAQ says:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

I take it as meaning not to ask questions merely for asking questions, which also means not asking questions merely for the fact they have been found on other sites. Otherwise, it would be quite easy to fill the site with many questions.

In this case, it doesn't seem the question was prompted by a practical problem the user was trying to resolve. The user is showing the answer he found for a request done from somebody else.

To make a comparison, it would be like if I go to some Drupal forums looking for questions asked from some users, I find a solution for some of the questions, and I post both the question, and the answer on Drupal Answers.
It would be unfair, as I am posting a question for which I already know the answer, while other users should look for a solution.

As I am writing both the answer and the question, they should be exceptionally good. I should not write a question for which the answer I give is simply "It is not possible," or "There isn't such a word."

Suppose the words for which the OED is looking the etymology are 20. Is that user going to write 20 questions for which he immediately adds his own answer without giving time to other users to look for an answer? If that is the case, it is not even a challenge; it's a monologue the user does with himself.

  • 1
    I think that so long as the question immediately follows the answer (which can be done by checking "Answer your own question") that it's OK. Assuming it meets the site scope / guidelines (stays open), then if other ELU users are interested in the Q&A and find it useful, then they'll vote accordingly. The Q&As so far have received more upvotes than downvotes and weren't closed, so it seems they have a place on this site. I'm not a big fan of these questions and understand the point you're making, but I think the questions are on topic.
    – Zairja
    Nov 4, 2012 at 5:12
  • Had all of these questions followed the I'll-ask-a-question, now I'll-give-an-answer format, I might have thought they were rather self-serving. However, at least one of them remains unanswered, which makes leads me to believe that the motives were probably more altruistic, and the O.P. was trying to enhance the community by passing along interesting questions.
    – J.R.
    Nov 5, 2012 at 12:11
  • @J.R. Out of four questions, only one is without answer; for the other three questions, the answer was written together the question (using the "Answer your own question" checkbox). It could be just me, but I prefer when the answer is not immediately written, giving the opportunity to write an answer to somebody else. Writing the answer like that has probably the effect of stopping other users from writing an answer.
    – apaderno
    Nov 5, 2012 at 12:55
  • @J.R.: I posted these. Those I answered are those I'd already written an answer for the OED site, and I would definitely like to see others answer them with even earlier evidence.
    – Hugo
    Nov 5, 2012 at 12:55
  • 3
    @Zairja I didn't say they weren't off-topic. I am just saying that when a question is asked from somebody who knows already the answer, both the question and the answer should be exceptionally good.
    – apaderno
    Nov 5, 2012 at 12:57
  • 1
    @kiamlaluno: "It could be just me, but I prefer when the answer is not given immediately, giving the opportunity to write an answer to somebody else." Fair enough. Because I've answered some, that certainly doesn't mean it's the only answer or the best answer. With etymology questions, there's usually earlier evidence that can be found, somewhere, and with similar questions someone else often has.
    – Hugo
    Nov 5, 2012 at 13:01
  • @Hugo Clearly there are other possible answers. The fact you wrote an answer right after you asked the question, and you accepted it, would probably stop other users from doing the same research, and write their own answer. It means you already did you research, and other users probably will not do any further research without a reason, or an incentive (e.g. a bounty).
    – apaderno
    Nov 5, 2012 at 15:54
  • 1
    @hugo: It seems weird to get upvotes and an acceptance your own question. You can't upvote your own question or answer, but do you get the 15 accept bonus? Anyway, for questions I've asked and answered myself, on principle I don't accept my own and I make it 'community wiki', so that people will feel inclined to answer also.
    – Mitch
    Nov 5, 2012 at 16:13
  • 2
    @Zairja You don't get the +2 (nor a +15) for accepting your own answer. I know, as I accepted some of my own answers, but I have never gotten a +2 for that.
    – apaderno
    Nov 5, 2012 at 16:45
  • 1
    @Mitch: Nope, no points for accepting your own answer. Earlier, I un-accepted the 1 of 3 I'd accepted. (I was a bit wary of accepting my own, but remembered other sites complain if your acceptance rate is low and say you won't get answers, but in this case it's probably better not to.)
    – Hugo
    Nov 5, 2012 at 20:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .