I usually copy the google definition for common words, or link it if I'm using a specific dictionary.

But do all word definition answers need to have a dictionary reference link?

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    It's a user looking for easy rep. Each edit approved by the community is rewarded with 2 points. The fact is, the suggested edits are ugly,(long links) and arguably deface users' posts. A post of mine was targeted too, I checked the review queue and that's how I know.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 5:39
  • The user is referring to this Meta post What to do about missing source attributions
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 5:43
  • @Mari-LouA They all seem to be done by one user (an anonymous user at that). I don't think it's for reputation points.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 7:19
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    The attribution needn't be (and probably shouldn't be) a long, ugly, naked link. For instance, it's more appropriate to write "Oxford Online Dictionary defines...as..." and embed the link to OOD than it is to paste a naked link.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 11:02
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    Note that usually there's no such thing as "the google definition," what you see is quoted from the ODO or another online source. One probably cannot attribute that to Google.
    – Kris
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 5:59

2 Answers 2


If you have copy/pasted a definition from somewhere, or simply copied it from a printed book, you must reference where you got the definition as well as providing a link back to the source where applicable.

Google definitions all come from a dictionary. Not always the same dictionary. That Google do not properly reference their sources is simply bad practice on their part. Luckily it is usually the first hit in the same set of search results.

For more information see What to do about missing source attributions?

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    "Must"? Most dictionary quotations do not need any citation: your reference will have more or less credibility depending on where it came from, and probably very little if unattributed. But anyone who defaces my posts by adding unwanted links will start an edit war. Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 10:38
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    In the same way as Google's 'instant definition of a word' doesn't attribute the source, etymonline.com doesn't provide attributions either. Is attributing content to etymonline.com also 'wrong'?
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 10:41
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    @Frank: No. Etymonline's research is not a copy paste from another source. Attributing your quotation to Etymonline is fine. Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 10:51
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    @TimLymington All copy/pastes need a reference. A link to the source is common decency. Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 10:52
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    Etymonline doesn't give a reference for every item. It has a section on its references which is mostly OED.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 11:08
  • @Mitch - That was sort of what I meant. If you copy paste from etymonline.com you don't know if you are just copy pasting from OED (or where ever). There's no question that a substantial amount of etymonline.com is directly from OED2 - they say that is one of their sources - Presumably they have a copyright agreement with OUP to reproduce that information, but if someone here copy pastes from etymonline.com you can't give credit to the original author. I'm not too sure about the legality of copy/paste from any site with a copyright notice but that's a different issue altogether.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 26, 2014 at 13:16
  • @Mitch: The Online Etymology Dictionary doesn't reference each individual item, but every page links to a long list of source.
    – Hugo
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 9:38
  • I believe Google has licensed the NOAD/ODE from Oxford and can legitimately reproduce their definitions without crediting the original source. I'd prefer if they didn't (I think it causes unnecessary confusion), but I don't think Google is doing anything wrong.
    – user28567
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 9:15
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    @TimLymington The link is not mandatory, just useful where feasible. It is the actual textual citation itself, the one that says “Collins/ODO/M–W/OED/&c say. . . .” which is obligatory. So yes, it’s enough just to name that source without adding a link, though the link is a nice extra when available; often it is not, though. The chief problem here is those folks who mistakenly believe a link alone somehow magically absolves them of their scholarly duty to actively cite their sources which puts (the “collective”) us at grave risk of being labelled plagiarists — and worse. Take-downs bad.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 0:30
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    @tchrist: It's not that folks believe that a link alone "somehow magically absolves them" of anything. It's that folks believe that, in this day and age, in this medium, the link alone IS the citation. The principle is the same as footnotes. You have a tiny, nondisruptive indicator (in old print days, this would be a small superscript symbol; in today's thoroughly Web-based world, this is an underline and a different color) which points people to the rest. It's not that people are lazy or trying to "get away with" anything. People think they are doing a good thing.
    – John Y
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 20:02
  • @JohnY Why would they think such? We have been specifically told otherwise, and not just once alone. It is in official SE Help Center directives on How to reference material written by others. It is repeated in our moderator team’s answer to “What to do about missing source attributions?”, and it’s in the current answer this comment is attached to. Uncited references are close enough to plagiarism to risk summary deletion.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 20:38
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    @tchrist: Come on. As noted in several places in the missing source attributions question, including comments by you, the help center and official policy were only recently clarified. In fact, they were clarified after that question was posted. Until then, the help center itself was reinforcing by example the established practice of providing the link as the citation. You are coming across as extremely disingenuous at best for criticizing people now, just because they've been following the standard, which has only recently changed.
    – John Y
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 21:04
  • @JohnY I am only making note of those postings that were posted after the position was re-re-clarified. Just do what needs to be done.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 21:05
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    @tchrist: I get what needs to be done. I think you could go about things in a way that isn't as antagonistic or condescending. Don't imply that people are idiots or that they are willfully going against policy. Acknowledge that their position is understandable, given that they were following the example that was in the help center; and that the link-only citation was popular with both answerers and readers. And then explain the reasons we can't accept links alone (your "A link can and will be lost under certain sorts of reuse permitted by the SE licensing terms" was a good one).
    – John Y
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 22:12

If you copy something you must reference it.

Here's a moderator's comment to an answer deleted earlier this month:

This entire answer seems to be a verbatim quote from Cambridge Dictionaries. Mods are instructed to delete on sight without further warning any content that is not properly attributed. Moreover, if a question is sufficiently answered by a dictionary definition, it should not be answered in the first place, as it is off-topic as general reference. — RegDwigнt ♦ 13 secs ago

And in chat:

Do not edit. Delete on sight. Network-wide policy. If we get hit with a DMCA takedown notice, you are showing prior knowledge.

A link back is not mandatory, but it's recommended and helpful for online sources, especially as it allows others to follow up if they want more detail or to verify the source (for example, Google Books often reports incorrect metadata).

  • There seems to be some question here about unattributed versus attributed quotes.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 11:23
  • People are failing to follow the directive that all citations must be credited in actual text, and furthermore failing to understand that this is much more important than a link itself. A link can and will be lost under certain sorts of reuse permitted by the SE licensing terms, which leaves us in the very bad position of looking like plagiarists. I cannot get (all) the users to all see this, but TPTB take this very position. We can’t let it look like we’re promoting plagiarism.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 0:24
  • Is there anything on this site that defines the correct format and content of the reference? Exactly what information should be presented and what is the order of that information? Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 14:20
  • It's none to helpful that the linked answer was to a question that also been removed (although I'm not sure why as it seems like a reasonable question) - here's a cache link webcache.googleusercontent.com/…
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 16:03
  • @Gary'sStudent I find that most sources have a cite link or button or whatever, they do all the work for you and you know the citation contains all the information required to be cited by the source, it's a simple copy and paste job.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 16:09
  • @Frank _____________Thank you! ________ Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 16:53
  • So this answer and this comment (both links from ELL) should be deleted because they do not explicitly mention the source in plain text? That is, as a normal user, I should flag these for deletion?
    – oerkelens
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 7:21
  • @oerkelens: As a normal user, I reckon it's up to you. A mod, however, would have to delete on sight according to SE policy.
    – Hugo
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 12:51
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    @Hugo That is interesting... I once was under the impression that SE was moderated by the community, but now we are basically saying that if the community deems an answer useful they should hope a moderator does not see it...
    – oerkelens
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 13:06

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