Has anyone noticed that some correct answers on current usage of a particular English word are down-marked in favor of later comments and answers that simply show off historical research, but do not answer the question?

There are certainly plenty of questions that warrant all of the historical information and it is always welcome, but not at the expense of failing to answer the question. For example:

Question: "What does phrase X actually mean?"

Answer: "The phrase means Y. Explanations, references, interesting and relevant information..."

So the point here is that the question has an answer which the OP wanted. A marker-downer comes along to show that 100 years ago the phrase meant something else and that the answer is wrong because of it. I would certainly argue that the question warrants current usage over historic usage - ideally both, in which case adding information to comments is good, but not trying to "win" a contest by trampling on useful answers.

It does not stop there, sometimes the marker-downer, the harbinger of doom writes an eloquent answer showing all of the research and history. This gets marked up by some people, yet it does not even answer the question.

The net result is that the non-answer rises to the top of the page so for future generations of users, they may simply find the page less useful than the answered question they were looking for.

Thoughts? I guess I/we can just spend time flagging such answers as inappropriate due to not answering the question, but even then you cannot flag many. Perhaps it is simply the online culture of one-upmanship and we have to accept that questions are forgotten and they are simply a launchpad for other peoples' brilliance?

  • 3
    Please link to several actual answers that you think illustrate this problem. – MetaEd May 24 '13 at 13:40
  • What Ed says; in addition, how do you know those commenters are the down-voters, what with votes being anonymous? – Cerberus May 24 '13 at 13:42
  • Ok, maybe down-voters and down-commenters being separate, but that strengthens the point - people want to down-vote answers and also support non-answers if it looks clever. I have avoided specifics for now because I have asked if anyone has noticed this behavior. I am not here for starting a flame war on individuals. Trying to keep it general and not to attack any individuals at this point :) – user44617 May 24 '13 at 13:50
  • 1
    Let's assume you're right. SE provides a voting system, and you've just pointed out that you disagree with a majority of votes. But you're also allowed to post here at meta explaining how that majority may be voting in appropriately. Excellent. That's all there is. – Mitch May 24 '13 at 13:58
  • 3
    I agree with OP. There are far too many situations where someone asks whether "such-and-such" is acceptable English, but neglect to say that they mean "acceptable today". Then all the smartasses upvote the guy who points out that Shakespeare used it, even if all subsequent usages are just "quoting" the original. If ELU doesn't get a grip on this, it will never have a clear purpose. At bottom, of course, is the fact that the site is gradually sinking to the level of TEFL + Lit Crit. – FumbleFingers May 25 '13 at 2:20
  • This kind of discussion is strictly Catch 22. If you don't point a finger, you're disingenuously (as if the denizens here don't notice this kind of behavior on EL&U) accused of being too general, but if you do, then you're accused of making ad hominem attacks. As I constantly point out, usage Qs ask primarily for personal opinions because, as our professional linguists tell us, usage varies by dialect, region, occasion, & user. Some (but few) Qs can be answered with objective yeses and noes. Still, there are plenty of know-it-alls here who assume that because they don't use X, nobody does. – user21497 May 26 '13 at 3:41
  • The only "cultures" motivating the offenders are the cultures of ego, arrogance, condescension, & pretension. But nobody wants to deal with that. Comments might become overtly instead of covertly rude, crude, nasty, & (horrors!) hurtful. (You'll understand & pardon my cynicism, I'm sure. In online communities in which the only weapons are words, one still has to rely on the cyber-police to prevent lexical littering. The crowd mentality [Le Bon, 1895] rules the streets, & it just may be the price we ultrasocial animals have to pay if we want to play.) – user21497 May 26 '13 at 3:53
  • 1
    Historical usages are fine for answers to questions of the type "Has ABC ever been acceptable English?", but just because Shakespeare used a word, phrase, or grammatical form doesn't make it acceptable English in 2013. All that does is disprove false "prescriptivist" claims that "ABC isn't English": there are plenty of those. Stare decisis, however, is a legal concept, not a linguistic notion. – user21497 May 26 '13 at 5:25
  • 2
    I'd say, when in doubt, follow the rules. (1) Add a comment stating your position, "This answer doesn't answer the OP's question", then state your reasons. (2) Downvote the answer. (3) Post your own, more correct answer. (4) Query the OP on their question if it's too ambiguous or vague. This community is very smart and industrious but we're also human, fallible and capable of making...*and* learning from our mistakes. Spend more time here and you'll see more of the best this community has to offer! :-) – Kristina Lopez May 28 '13 at 1:58

You must log in to answer this question.