This is a response to Moderators’ policy on hectoring, a response itself to Moderators' policy on bullying.

This post takes issue with zingers, or observations (usually witty, humorous, or exaggerated) about a post's flaws. If I asked a question titled "Question about the word Ecomony", some examples of zingers about my misspelling of economy would be the comments:

  1. "It's the economy, stupid."
  2. I have a similar question about cimmanon.
  3. Is ecomony the study of the production and consumption of nomey?

It's an observation that might make the poster feel foolish, when a differently worded comment (or other course of action) could avoid any embarrassment. In the above case, editing my post's typo with a neutrally worded (or default) edit history remark would have improved the question without drawing too much attention to my mistake. There are some examples below where another course of action would have been not to comment at all.

These zingers can be fun to read and fun to write. And my intent is not to spoil anyone's fun. After all, as Jeff Atwood said in his post Stack Overflow: Where We Hate Fun about off-topic questions: "A world without fun is like a world without waffles and ponies. And what kind of monster would want that?"

Some posts use wit in a funny and charming way. An example that comes to mind is the alliteration in an answer to Word for a body of water that is sufficiently populated with fish and worthy of fishing in:

...it is always possible that some petty pissants hearing such words will perceive them as presenting the pissants not with a piscary but with a pissoir, and perforce pitch a personal pot of puissant poison into your pretty poisson pond in a puerile act of piscicide instead of fishing it per your preference.

I, for one, wonder if it was loosely inspired by this popular movie quote! :)

But I think wit can also be used poorly. The point I wish to make is that zinging is a lot like hectoring.

Zinging and Hectoring "Go Off On Tangents"

The question about hectoring defines it as

...when some user acts as though it were their God-given right and point of personal privilege to hector and harangue every user in sight about anything even vaguely tangential to their posting.

A comment to the question Is there a single word for "not pregnant"? says:

Language is about the combination of words in infinitely many permutations. This constant search for single words for everything is silly.

While I don't see myself using unpregnant, I still feel this zinger is not helpful. The help text to comments says "[use] comments to ask for more information or suggest improvements." This comment isn't asking for more information. And any suggestion made is implicit; the one I read is "Avoid asking single-word-requests." Further, it calls the content and intention of this question (and others like it) silly. The comment has 5 upvotes, compared to the question's 2. There is a case that, like hectoring, this zinger is tangential to the post: The comment is about single-word-requests in general; the question is about a particular single-word, one meaning "not pregnant."

Zinging and Hectoring Are Rude

Hectoring is also said to be rude. One comment to the question "become a President" or "become President" is:

you Have Bad Caps.

It's a short post. It wouldn't have taken much longer to edit the post than to make that comment. It would have been even faster to leave the question alone than do either. And I think both those suggestions would've been politer than what was done instead.

Zinging and Hectoring Can Be Mistaken for Trolling

The linked post also compares hectoring to trolling:

At worst, it is trolling whose only intent is to bully individual users into pointless argument and debate.

To me trolling is epitomized in the infamous spider correspondence. Trolling, as I see it, is largely about pretense. Here, the troll pretends he can pay a debt with an image of a spider, that he no longer has possession of his image, that the re-sent image is not really his, that he is time-travelling, etc. Isn't something similar happening in this comment exchange to the question What's a better word for "vegetable food products"?

Poster 1: What’s a vegetable? Do tomatoes and mushrooms count? What about honey?

OP: Exactly. Here I'm talking about agricultural products. Honey is not excluded, although it wouldn't be the top of my list. Here I mean vegetable as opposed to mineral or animal.

Poster 1: No, what does vegetable mean? Suppose a carrot is a vegetable. It is a plant which is not a fruit. A banana is a plant which is a fruit; is it a vegetable? A tomato is also a plant which is a fruit; is it a vegetable? A mushroom is neither plant nor animal. Honey is not a plant, not an animal, and not a fungus. What does vegetable mean???

OP: Are you trying to bring an answer here? Why are you getting so intense? There are many definitions of vegetable, here, as already stated above, I mean vegetable in a broad sense: i.e. as opposed to mineral or animal. So that would include fruits and fungus and non-artificially processed vegetable products such as honey.

Poster 2: @OP The problem is those three categories leave out lots of things. Is Aspirin animal, vegetable or mineral? What about Ebola? Soda water? Coral reefs? Slime molds? Hydrochloric Acid? Citric Acid? The term vegetable is too broad.

OP: Could you please stop trying to delete this post and help me solve my question by improving it? This conservatism is really not helpful.

To be fair, Poster 1 brought up a valid point, and OP's edit shows he was using a different meaning of vegetable than I was expecting. But the way Poster 1 presented it confused the OP and me. It looks like trolling even if it wasn't meant to be, which is one of the problems with hectoring.

Zinging and Hectoring Can Be Unconstructive

A 59-upvote comment to the question Why isn't "Enterprise" spelt "Enterprize" in US English?, in response to the question's claim that "'-ize' is so widely preferred in US English", uses a list of US English "-ise" words to say:

I surmise you’re just improvising here without actual knowledge. I despise it when people are surprised that there is actually an undisguised method and reason behind these things; consider yourself duly apprised that there very much is such. And while I don’t quite mean to chastise you too severely, I must advise you to study English morphology with considerably more diligence than heretofore displayed that you might excise these ridiculous notions from your head. This may, however, require that a tutor supervise your exercises.

My sentiments are similar to another commenter's:

It still comes off as a little pompous... Such effort would have been better directed toward an answer with an explanation.

I would even say that the effort would have been better spent on the same idea but put more politely: Some sections, "study English morphology with considerably more diligence than heretofore displayed" and "ridiculous notions", come across as abrasive and don't even use "-ise".

I might even say that the effort would have been better spent answering another question, one the commenter thought was a good question.

If It's Not Good, Then What?

If I am not mistaken that zinging looks like hectoring, could it be that they have the same consequences? Could it be that zinging, like hectoring,

...creates a negative environment that detracts from the site. It draws us down and makes us look bad; in some cases, it may even drive others away.

If so, then my position for zinging is similar to the one given for hectoring:

I would like to know what the policy is regarding this type of behavior so that appropriate action can be taken and hapless users not driven away.

The user the zinging comment is directed at may feel like the butt of a joke, which can be a hard place to be sometimes. Because comments have no downvotes, a new user may see the people who support only one side of the issue.

So what can we do? Should we avoid encouraging zingers by not upvoting them? Should we post an anti-zinger, so that those who feel the zinger was too harsh have a platform to express their views? Should we flag zing-y comments as non-constructive, even if they do lead to constructive improvements? Other?

  • 2
    Wait...what's a zinger?
    – Mitch
    Nov 12, 2014 at 2:01
  • @Mitch For the purposes of this question, it's an observation (usually humorous or exaggerated) about a post's flaws.
    – user39720
    Nov 12, 2014 at 2:20
  • 5
  • 2
    zinging is for chat
    – Mitch
    Nov 12, 2014 at 13:29
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is nothing but one user’s personal vendetta against tchrist. It is not a real question. Voting to close and delete.
    – tchrist Mod
    Nov 12, 2014 at 23:41
  • 4
    @tchrist The post I complimented you about tickled me so much that nearly 3 months later I still remembered it. (Mostly on my own, but I did have to search for piscatory.) Of all on ELU I think you in particular have a great sense of humor, and I wouldn't mind seeing more. I don't want to spoil the fun. But when that sense of humor is sharply directed at a fellow ELUer, like the caps or "-ise" examples, it can spoil the fun for me at least, likely the OP, and maybe other passersby. I want ELU to have and keep its share of fun and laughs... but not if they come at someone else's expense.
    – user39720
    Nov 13, 2014 at 0:59
  • 9
    @Mitch no, zinging is for ze choir.
    – terdon
    Nov 13, 2014 at 1:26
  • 3
    There's enough snark on the general internet. Do we need it here? Nov 13, 2014 at 19:04

1 Answer 1


The only reason you should comment on a post is because you see something that needs improving and you want to tell the poster about it.

There are plenty of comments that don't fit that description. If the comment is lighthearted banter a moderator will probably leave it alone unless it is flagged.

If you think a comment is harmful or noise, please flag it.

  • 2
    I've read up on flagging but can you lead me through the mod's end of it? For example, if a user keeps getting flagged for zinging (say, "too chatty") will they face being disciplined and (if they persist) banned for it? I ask because this accepted answer suggests those are the consequences for using ELU as a discussion board or forum, an offense I think is a lot like zinging. Is this the case? I think both offenses go against the SE mentality but both in minor ways. I would rather see both treated in a slap-on-the-wrist fashion.
    – user39720
    Nov 13, 2014 at 22:31
  • 2
    If a user has a lot of low quality posts, then the system will remind moderators about this, so that they can take appropriate action. However, if a user has a lot of comments that get "too chatty" or "not constructive" flags actioned against them, this isn't tracked by the system, so it relies on moderators to notice, or for users to notice and tell mods. So the threshold for anything to happen regarding frequently "too chatty" or "not constructive" comments is a lot higher than for regular posts and can be subject to confirmation bias. Nov 14, 2014 at 9:09
  • 2
    What is likely to happen is that the user will be sent a message asking them to change their comment style. Not even a slap on the wrist, really, just a nudge in the right direction. This would be different to how we'd handle frequent "offensive" comment flags, which would probably be handled with a suspension. Nov 14, 2014 at 9:11

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