...was with the question What is the origin of the word "Blackmail"?. It was asked by a user who appeared to be new to EL&U and who framed it as a simple etymological question—one that a readily available online reference (the Online Etymology Dictionary) appeared to answer decisively.

On the strength of those particulars (I suspect), five civic-minded users of this site voted to put the question on hold, pending a reformulation of the question to make it more appropriate to EL&U.

Before any of that happened, though, I had consulted a reference book that gave a different account of the first usage of the word from the Online Etymology Dictionary's, so I put together an answer that offered that alternative explanation of how the word came to mean what it means today. Then, when the question actually went on hold, I did some additional and more extensive research to see what other sources had to say about the question, and added an account of them to my answer.

My concern was that, having reasonably concluded from a quick check of the Online Etymology Dictionary that there was nothing complicated or controversial about the derivation of blackmail, advanced users of this site would decline to reconsider the "put on hold" decision when further information on the subject appeared only from an answerer and not from the original questioner.

Even more disturbingly, I feared that those users might take the view that—since the original poster showed no signs of having done any research before submitting his question—the accident of his having stumbled on something that happened to be unexpectedly interesting ought not be viewed as a factor in his favor. Indeed, if he had checked the Online Etymology Dictionary, he would probably have supposed that the incomplete information there was thorough and definitive, and he wouldn't have raised the question on EL&U. But that line of thinking would have led to burying an interesting question because it wasn't asked after an appropriate amount of preliminary effort.

My concerns to the contrary, what I found in the event was that the "on hold" process worked admirably, leading to a reversal of the hold decision, and giving the question (and my answer, along with any others that may be submitted) normal status on the site.

I want to thank everyone who took the time to read my interminable answer, and especially the users who subsequently voted to reopen the question. I would also like to thank the users who originally put the question on hold. As I noted earlier, their decision under the original circumstances was completely reasonable; and the tremendous amount of (usually) thankless work they do in filtering junk and trivia from this site inspires my respect and awe. You guardians are certainly better citizens of this site than I am.

Thanks again.

  • 1
    As in this case, a fuller answer is more interesting than the brief etymonline.com entry The latter can of course be wrong and the author admits it will never be complete (and how can it with an ever-evolving language?). Feel free to email the author with corrections or extra evidence, he often updates entries.
    – Hugo
    Jan 17, 2014 at 7:54
  • 5
    Thanks for the post - while our sites regularly impress me with individual's willingness to help their fellow man (or woman), it's still rare that someone takes the time to make a detailed writeup... of what went right. Kudos.
    – Jaydles
    Jan 18, 2014 at 4:26
  • 1
    I almost want to close-vote this question as “Unclear what you’re asking” … but I’m not going to, just because it’s so nice. ;-) Jan 19, 2014 at 19:08
  • 1
    I'm new to meta and just getting a feel for its purpose and usage after answering a few things on ELU. So far I have mainly seen griping about consistent annoyances in lazy or inappropriate questions - until I read this. Thanks for giving me a more nuanced insight into how this, and the associated ELU wiki, work.
    – naughtilus
    Jul 9, 2014 at 11:24


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