I asked a basic phrase origin here - What is the oldest trick in the book?

I flagged the answers because they weren't answers. Susan actually did a better job of adding to the discussion but that is what it was - a long comment.

If no one on the site knows where the oldest trick in the book phrase originated it seems that it is acceptable to just google the phrase and put up the top things on a google search. I looked it up before asking the question and I find the answers demeaning to any user.

And then I find the tone of some of the users as rude after they answer. Just because you spent 20 minutes formatting readily available sources that don't answer the question, doesn't mean that it should be accepted right? Also should answers that don't answer the question stay under the question?

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    Flagging is for seriously wrong things (like spam, obscenity, incoherence). Those answers may not be to your liking, but they're all sincere attempts at answers.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 22:02
  • I believe I have found several sources, very different from Susan's more thoughtful answer and Davids M's opinion, which may shed light on when, where, and ultimately why the idiom is used in the first place. I can't post an answer because the question is closed. It's nothing earth shattering, but it takes a different slant.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 16, 2014 at 11:24
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    By the way, I disagree that Susan's post was only a long comment, and neither hers nor David M's answers are demeaning in any form or shape.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 16, 2014 at 11:28
  • @Mari-LouA - This is exactly what I am talking about. First if the moderators don't like someone then things get closed on here quickly. Like I give a rat's ass if english stack moderators like me. Second these flub answers cloud up the whole site - these answers would be deleted quickly on stackoverflow. I read answers to questions on a consistent basis that are 20 lines long to find that they don't contain an answer but they are sourced. Whatever... Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 15:08
  • @Mitch - I normally don't flag answers even if they are poor. However I felt that these were not answers and they would keep others from answering with a real answer. They weren't answers. If you ask me what 5 + 4 is and I don't care to do the math and say "6" is that an answer? That is why I asked on meta. We have a lot of "6" answers on the site. Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 15:12
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    @Ryebread, yes, "6" is an answer. It is an incorrect answer, but nevertheless it is an attempt to provide an actual informative response to your question. As such it deserves a downvote, not a "this is not an answer" flag.
    – Hellion
    Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 20:46

2 Answers 2


Please note this moderator feedback from a flag I raised a while back:

moderators do not determine the validity, accuracy, or quality of answers

Incomplete, speculative, superficial, redundant, and incorrect answers are still answers. StackExchange offers several ways to offer feedback for such answers and improve them: don't accept, leave comments, edit, down-vote. However, the “not an answer” flag is isn't a good way to deal with low-quality answers. Emphasis mine:

This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether.

This flag is not for reporting poor attempts at an answer. It's for reporting cases where somebody has mistakenly posted a followup question or comment in the answer box. When you post that a good-faith answer should have been a comment instead, it's actually a bit insulting, as it suggests that the poster has not even attempted to give an answer and has possibly made a newbie mistake.

Some StackExchange sites (like Skeptics) ban partial or unsourced answers, but English Language & Usage is not one of them. Etymology in particular is often unknown or obscured by folk etymology, and in those cases we do our best to present the available evidence, often by citing the earliest known usage in print. It's unfortunate that we can't always provide a definitive answer, but calling people out for posting “comments” as answers is non-constructive and rude.

In a few cases, you have actually pressed people to dig up better evidence, which is awesome. However, the way you've gone about that has struck me as abrasive, downright rude sometimes. Please be more sensitive about eliciting better answers, rather than chiding people for posting “long comments” as answers and similar tactics.

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    +1. Just because an answer isn't what you wanted doesn't necessarily mean it isn't what you asked for. Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 14:37

I just have to put my two cents in here.

And then I find the tone of some of the users as rude after they answer.

What??? If this isn't the pot calling the kettle black, then the idiom is totally wasted on me.

I answer questions for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I just want to help someone who seems sincere (I'm a doc. Docs are helper-types.) Sometimes I'm nudged to think of my native tongue more analytically. Sometimes the questions are in an area I like (I've always liked idioms). There are lots of reasons.

I happened to think your question was interesting. So I put in some time trying to answer it. It was fun. I learned a few things (I almost always do). I really wouldn't have cared if it got no votes at all. I got something out of it.

Then you post this comment:

No offense - your answer was thorough but not my question.


The question was the origin of the phrase. I completely understand what the phrase means and actually stated that in the question. Just because you can't find the original use or anything that is beyond 10 seconds of googling doesn't mean no one knows this.

and here on meta,

I looked it up before asking the question and I find the answers demeaning to any user.

If you want people to be courteous towards you, try modelling it yourself. It was your question. I can't be held responsible for your inability to ask for the results you actually want. We are not mind-readers. When multiple commenters tell you the same thing, it's not time to lash out at the community; it's time to look at your own behavior.

And, just so you don't whine about this being nothing but another long comment, I'll propose an answer to your question.

The baseline for an etymology question is first: ask an etymology question. Second: the best outcome you can hope for is that someone (voluntarily) will actually find a source from which an answer can be obtained. You get, however, what you get. You don't get much by demanding better answers.

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    Unfortunately, I don't think RyeBread understands how insulting it is to constantly post that good-faith answers are just “long comments” or just “formatting the first page of google hits” (as he posted in a comment to the linked question). Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 23:40
  • @BraddSzonye - I am not trying to insult anyone. Susan has very well laid out answers. I think this particular one is more research than an answer. Unfortunately the site does not have an area for well constructed research into a topic, hence my question on meta. I personally like a good name origin story, so I often click on etymology based questions. Most don't have a real answer but are heavily upvoted/accepted. Did not mean to point out Susan at all - just an example. Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 20:53
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    @RyeBread I've said it before and I'll repeat it: You idea of “not an answer” does not match the community consensus (as evidenced by all of those up votes and accepts, and the response to this meta post, and the help text, and moderator feedback). And when you write things like “that's just a long comment,” it does sound dismissive and insulting, so if that's not what you mean you should stop saying it. Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 21:23

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