I'm not going do adduce any here because that would only distract folks from focusing on the problem.

Which is as follows:

Well-researched, well-thought out, well-referenced answers to complex and truly intriguing questions are hardly ever rewarded here anymore. Simple-minded answers posted in passing, as it were, to oftentimes idiotic questions, turn into gifts that keep on giving, garnering points for weeks on end. I know this because I know where most of my own rep points here have come from.

Needless to say, good questions are even worse off. A question about the Kardashians (metaphorically speaking) gets ten times more points than a question about Shakespeare: every damn time. Never fails.

As a result, some people are discouraged from composing anything half-way comprehensive, intriguing, fascinating, etc. During the month I spent "in exile," the overall quality of the questions and answers here seems to have fallen below that of ELL. I know because ELL is where I was exiled to.

In the beginning, the point system here was geared towards encouraging newcomers. This is understandable. However, the site has evolved since then. Wouldn't it be nice if someone tweaked the system a little so that good answers from thoughtful veteran language warriors could receive the attention they deserve?

Case in point. Recently, I gave a +1 to an answer that I thought was brilliant. One other person upvoted it an hour later. Almost immediately after that two intellectually challenged individuals downvoted it back to 0 (on the grounds it was too long for them to read through, and contained words they weren't familiar with, I would imagine). In the meantime, an answer immediately below it received seventeen upvotes. Here's the clincher:

I very much doubt those upvotes came from people with 10K+ reps. I'm pretty certain they didn't come from people with 40K+ reps.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

  • 9
    What I see is a rant, based on a lot of assumptions and no evidence. The fact that 17 other users disagreed with your evaluation (which we can't consider because you didn't provide a link) is not a reason to change the system. For all I know you may have a good point; but this is a terrible way to put it forward. Jan 4, 2016 at 23:43
  • 7
    Also, you were not 'exiled to ELL'. You were temporarily banned from this site because your contributions were unhelpful and abrasive. If on return your posts continue to be opinionated and offensive, you will inevitably be banned again. (Not being a mod I have no say in the matter; but I have seen many users who react to a ban by redoubling their frantic efforts to change the foundations of ELU, if not Stack Exchange itself, rather than amend their own ways. None have been successful.) Jan 4, 2016 at 23:54
  • 4
    I can only find two questions from the last few days with answers which might possibly satisfy these criteria, Movies which try hard to evoke emotion and Why is sister not sisther -- but neither of those has a long answer which might be downvoted and a short answer upvoted. Please reference your case in point.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Jan 5, 2016 at 0:39
  • 1
    Well-researched, well-thought out, well-referenced answers to complex and truly intriguing questions are RARELY rewarded here. But a lot depends on who the poster is, some really do know their stuff, and some are real experts 1. “th” in mother, father, brother— but not sister 2.Why “the powers that be”? but admittedly those type of answers belong to a small minority.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 5, 2016 at 12:53
  • Yes; I've been tempted to leave ELU on various occasions. I'd hoped that ELU would be a highish- to high-level Q and A site, with reliable and non-trivial answers. To a certain extent it is, which is why I keep returning, but I agree that the respectability (and hence trustworthiness) of the site is compromised by the often poor standards of questions, answers and certainly voting. But nowadays I know whose answers I need to really take note of. I'm thinking of abandoning civic duties like tracking down duplicates and pointing out arrogations ('but H & P are right by definition'). Jan 7, 2016 at 10:11
  • @EdwinAshworth: I'm thinking of abandoning civic duties like tracking down duplicates and pointing out arrogations Yeah, that'll help matters.
    – Ricky
    Jan 7, 2016 at 10:16
  • @EdwinAshworth Let me know when you've read these comments so that I can delete them all after! Jan 11, 2016 at 1:31
  • 2
    @Araucaria I hadn't you in mind at all. It's the people who start an answer with 'What you want is' and then become opinionated. I'd guess some of them haven't explored contrasting analyses (sometimes in articles rather than other grammars). // I've copied your comments, but I'd recommend that you leave them. They're very valuable and balanced. Jan 11, 2016 at 10:27
  • @EdwinAshworth Maybe I'm one of the people who you feel says 'H&P are right by definition'. I hope not though. I always try and bring the syntactic evidence to bear, and I often disagree with H&P and say so. But it is good to have some evidence supplied in the answers and some back up from vetted sources. I think this is the right way to go. There are lots of great answers from people who have other views and also back them up with vetted sources and occasionally with evidence too (like yourself). CaGEL definitely has many faults as such a monumentally comprehensive work will necessarily have. Jan 12, 2016 at 15:08
  • @EdwinAshworth For example, it doesn't always highlight where there are significant disagreements amongst modern scholars. It could definitely provide more info about where to go to look up the literature on such issues, so that readers could do further reading to maker up their own mind. One example might be the analysis of infinitival-to, where I think it would be fair to say that Huddleston & Pullum don't necessarily have the same opinion. So even if they have a united front in the content, they could still show where things are disputed and direct ... Jan 12, 2016 at 18:34
  • ... the reader in terms of finding further reading. Another point is that it was a bit, erm, remiss to make the CaGEL acronym (CGEL) the same as the one for the Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, another extremely important grammar of English - arguably the inspiration for the current tome. But I still think that the reason that it's so well defended here among linguists is that it provides a huge amount of explanation and evidence to back up its claims - and the best CaGELish answers here, I hope, respect this by providing evidence in their answers. The thing that I most ... Jan 12, 2016 at 18:35
  • ... want to say though, is that it can sound for readers as if there are these two guys, Huddleston & Pullum, who have this particular view of English and they have a lot of enthusiastic support from other linguists. This isn't a good picture of what CaGEL is. The truth is that CaGEL represents the combined efforts of a huge team of authors: Rodney Huddleston, Geoffrey Pullum, John Payne, Anita Mittwoch, Peter Collins, Peter G. Peterson, Gregory Ward, Betty Birner, Lesley Stirling, F. R. Palmer, Laurie Bauer, Geoffrey Nunberg, Ted Briscoe and David Denison. It is one of the most ... Jan 12, 2016 at 18:36
  • ... internally consistent grammars of English ever written (if not the most). It has taken on a huge amount of the research done in the previous 30 years in English linguistics. All of this dramatically sets it apart from works like CGEL or McCawley or even Otto Jespersen merely because of the breadth of expertise and the amount of research involved. This isn't the opinions of two linguists. I completely respect other viewpoints, but I just wanted to point out why it's good too, and why it commands such respect and support. It doesn't mean it's always right! :) Jan 12, 2016 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


The source of your woe—if indeed you are woeful—seems traceable to the fact that you are an idealist. That is, you imagine that thoughtful, intelligent people, if they put their minds to it, will inevitably agree with you (since you are a thoughtful, intelligent person) about what constitutes the beautiful and the good—in this case, the beautiful and the good EL&U answer. But in reality, thoughtful, intelligent people disagree about practically everything and are constantly at each other's throats.

Given this state of affairs, it may make more sense to ask yourself not "How can we thoughtful, intelligent people make common cause to rid English Language & Usage of its blights and inequities?" but instead "How can I reach a state of equipoise at this site so that I can enjoy myself and feel fulfilled by my contributions to it without being periodically banned from the premises?" In my view the most important step toward balance is to do things on the site that are rewards in themselves and don't hinge on the level of approval they receive from others.

I sometimes write very long answers. In fact I once was asked to convert an answer into a blog post because—even after I divided it into two answers—both halves exceeded the maximum character count for an EL&U answer. Just yesterday I spent eight or ten hours researching and writing up an answer to a five-year-old question. It's a long answer—mostly citations—but its purpose isn't to overawe the reader; it's to give a picture of how people have responded to the poster's question over a period of roughly 175 years.

More narrowly, I felt that one of the earlier answers to that particular question was polemical and tendentious in a way that encouraged misunderstanding—which, to me, is the worst thing an EL&U answer can do. I wanted to establish a historical framework or context within which this other answerer's argument could be fact-checked and fairly gauged. In the end, I hit that darn maximum character count again; but after a bit of self-discipline, I brought the answer in under the maximum and in what I took to be fine fettle. At that point, my happiness was pretty much complete: I had countered the misleading answer with what I considered an exceedingly judicious presentation of the evidence I had uncovered. My work there was done.

So what is missing from this picture? Oh, yes—upvotes. To my pleasant surprise, my long long answer received three upvotes and no downvotes (though I'm sure that the person whose answer I sought to undermine will downvote mine as soon as he becomes aware of it). That works out to about 0.33 upvote per hour spent on the answer—not bad for one of my long answers. Of course, if I compared that rate of reward with the rate at which some single-word request answers pile up upvotes, I might feel less jolly. But I don't. And the reason I don't is that I have a clear idea of what I want to contribute to EL&U (thoughtful, carefully researched answers) and what I expect in return (not much). Receiving upvotes is always pleasant, but it's not why I participate at this site.

EL&U is full of people—many of them both thoughtful and intelligent—pursuing very different goals under the same umbrella. Given the diversity of interests and purposes, it is hardly surprising that we don't speak with one voice on matters of grave import, or indeed on much of anything. But what we can do is tolerate each other—and perhaps even presume (absent clear evidence to the contrary) that everyone who participates here is motivated by a desire to make the site better, though their notion of improvement may be incomprehensible to us—and (when it is our turn) use the open microphone that this Website provides to give voice to the things we care about.

Ultimately, I'm not sure I agree with you about anything (except refusing to downvote). But there are times when I read one of your answers and think "This guy could be a real asset to this site; he has a sharp mind, and his answers—when he isn't just showing off or getting into a rage about something—are quite perceptive and useful." I don't think that EL&U is ripe for revolution, and I have no wish to see it altered radically. If you do, I think you are likely to be disappointed; and it may be that a fruitful relationship with this site is simply impossible for you. But whether you work out a satisfactory modus operandi here or not, I wish you the best.

  • The way I see it ... hmm ... what you're getting at in your beautifully phrased, if not quite succinct, answer is that the problem isn't new; that it dates back to at least ancient Greece; and that the solution (summed up in the appendix to G.B. Shaw's Man and Superman (i.e. "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man") can only be applied when the "world" (or a system, venue, social structure, etc) is good and ready for it; and that ELU does not appear to be so.
    – Ricky
    Jan 7, 2016 at 4:20
  • I kind of agree with you there. It is, however, a good practice to remind folks that they're idiots (crossed out) that they're not living in a perfect world - lest they get too complacent and start feeling way too good about themselves.
    – Ricky
    Jan 7, 2016 at 4:21
  • P.S. I wear my downvotes as a badge of honor. I wish you the best too.
    – Ricky
    Jan 7, 2016 at 4:22
  • 1
    This is a wonderful answer. I believe, though, that you might be insulting idealists in failing to distinguish theirs from the thinking patterns of egocentric individuals. Idealists usually don't actively disrupt for the sake of disruption, whereas egocentric individuals have little respect for others, and if it amuses them to disrupt, well, the disrupted just have to live with it. My mistake might be in being less gracious (and more cynical) than you. Jan 8, 2016 at 5:16

Like the comments above, I think this post is more a rant than a helpful suggestion.

But there is one easy and concrete way to support answers which you think have been neglected: post a bounty and reward them! You have a lot of rep and seem to be gaining it quickly. You could probably post a 100 rep bounty every day and keep your rep at a stable level.

  • 1
    Whatever. This post is a genuine suggestion that will help address the problem you are observing (and I would agree it is a real problem.) This is exactly the situation the bounty system was designed for. So I hope to see you using it soon. :) Jan 5, 2016 at 11:58
  • 2
    @Ricky: I'm one of the relatively small number of users who can casually brush curiousdannii aside in pursuit of the "most divisive people on this site" crown, I would also just add there's another underused mechanism for supporting "good" answers. Just be more liberal with your downvotes. I see nothing wrong with downvoting "mediocre" answers as well as "totally incorrect" ones, particularly if they're actually "competing" with a genuinely good answer. Jan 5, 2016 at 19:48
  • [Some comments on this post have been flagged and removed. The comments shown above this one contain suggestions which are relevant to this answer.]
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Jan 7, 2016 at 19:23
  • 1
    Hmmm ... Just out of interest, have you ever offered any bounties? Jan 13, 2016 at 23:28
  • @Araucaria I have on other sites. Jan 13, 2016 at 23:36

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