Recent, well-formulated questions may be closed as duplicates of older, more poorly formulated questions. The answers given for the latter may pose as answers for the former. However, a well-formulated question may invalidate those answers — including an accepted answer. Should the more recent, well-formulated question be closed as a duplicate in such circumstances? I think not; the more recent, well-formulated question is more likely to attract 'good' answers.

After facing a dilemma with respect to Origin of the word “bootleg”, wherein the answers are patently (or should I say smugly, because they're based on uncritical adoption of general reference research) wrong, perhaps primarily because the question is so poor (no research at all), I looked at meta questions Is it appropriate to mark an earlier, poorer question as a duplicate of a later, better one?, Tests of duplicity and Etiquette on duplicate questions for guidance, without resolving the dilemma. The closest thing I got to guidance from the existing meta posts was from the first, but the answer seemed to address dealing with existing questions with 'duplicate' characteristics, rather than creating 'duplicate' questions.

The dilemma initially presented as this:

  • I could edit the old question to include research, but doing so would invalidate the answers, including the accepted answer.
  • Alternatively, I could ask a new question, including research and focusing the question, but in doing so would certainly be asking a 'duplicate' question (with all the fuss and bother of "yes it is" and "no it isn't" that entails).

Having taken in the meta posts, I found my dilemma was now a trilemma.

  • I could mark the old question for closure, which it richly deserves, but...the question is now close to six years old.

2 Answers 2


The weakness of the answers to the old "Origin of the word 'bootleg'" question is not reasonably attributable to the question asker's failure to show any research in the posted question. Rather it reflects the "post an answer in 15 minutes or less" research standard that dominated English Language & Usage back in 2011. (I should note that the second answer on that page, though far from comprehensive, shows genuine research and isn't merely an off-the-top-of-one's-head throwaway answer. It shows above-average effort for the time.)

I think it would be counterproductive to close questions like that one for failing to meet current research standards for the site. Instead, I think we should treat them as legacy artifacts—and try to supplement the existing quickie answers with answers that involve actual research into available primary-material databases.

As it happens, I had been putting together an answer to this bootleg question a couple of days ago. Let's just say that nineteenth-century news accounts identify a lot of things that got pulled out of bootlegs before the first illicit bottle of liquor did. There are also early slang instances of bootleg as a noun referring to coffee and as a verb meaning (I think) "to try to deceive or put something over [on someone]." Unfortunately, my computer crashed and blew away the answer I was constructing, so now I have to decide whether to start over. But that's neither here nor there.

In general, I recommend that site participants adopt two measures in connection with questions like "Origin of the word 'bootleg'":

  1. Leave the original question open, unmolested, and exactly as it is—a simple, unresearched request for information.

  2. Respond to that question with a well-researched answer, even if—especially if—it upends the old, superficially researched answers.

Whenever a late answer corrects or otherwise outshines an earlier accepted answer, English Language & Usage and anyone who visits the relevant page stands to benefit. To me, it doesn't matter that a poor answer is check-marked, because the check mark is both idiosyncratic (reflecting the question poster's opinion about what is most useful) and historical (limited to the options available at the time it was assigned). Also, in my experience, it isn't terribly unusual for the person who posted a question long ago to switch acceptance to the new answer if it clearly brings useful new information to the table.

Perhaps the strongest reason not to write up and then answer a new, more nuanced question about (in this case) the origin of bootleg is that an indeterminate number of site visitors are likely to encounter the old question (which will still not have a good answer attached to it) instead of the new one. Almost 14,000 people have opened the "Origin of the word 'bootleg'" page already. I hope that future site visitors will find a more comprehensive answer there when they do so.

  • What do you think of the strategy suggested by the earlier meta question: writing a new question, marking the old question as a duplicate, and possibly leaving a comment to that effect at the old question?
    – JEL
    Jan 5, 2017 at 18:54
  • 3
    @JEL: That approach seems reasonable enough—but it demands extra effort from site visitors, many of whom may choose not to look beyond the answers they encounter on the older "duplicate" page. In general I think it makes more sense to try to answer legitimate questions in one place than to scatter information across multiple pages that pose different versions of the same question. I understand that mods have the power to combine useful answers from multiple questions into a single collection, but given the Augean stable that is EL&U I don't think that this is a realistic sitewide option.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 5, 2017 at 19:38
  • Sorry to hear about your loss. I hope you're going to reclaim the answer. As for the rest, you make a number of good, even great points--thinking especially about the checkmark being immaterial. In terms of a pragmatic, though, I think I put my foot in it by marking the "origin of bootleg" question for closure due to a lack of research. The question is now closed, and I wonder if your suggested alternative approach will ever be other than an ideal. It makes a fine ideal.
    – JEL
    Jan 7, 2017 at 8:37
  • I could ask the question myself, but you need to give me an angle of some sort, because Etymonline distinctly provides the origin and the date. If I were to ask about the origin of "bootlegging" in the record industry would that be of help?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2017 at 14:54
  • Maybe I could ask about the difference in meaning between bootlegging and piracy/Copyright infringement?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2017 at 15:03
  • @JEL Well, OK but it seems to be completely unrelated to the now-closed question. I'm not sure if I understood that the citation from the first link has the same date as the one cited by OED, I didn't see any date attributed for bootleg plan
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2017 at 20:05
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA, in light of Sven's comments, I've decided the best thing to do is edit the original question, and I am now doing that. About the answers invalidated...well, 'devil take the hindmost'.
    – JEL
    Jan 9, 2017 at 21:52
  • 1
    After considering your answer, I edited the (closed) question, nominated it for reopening, and accepted this answer here. The issue for the question I used as an example may not be resolved (by my having nominated for closure, editing, then attempting to reopen the example), but in general I favor your consolidating approach to the underlying problem.
    – JEL
    Jan 10, 2017 at 0:35
  • 1
    @JEL I think your impressive edit would have been better served as either a separate question, or as an answer. I can't bring myself to upvote it, it's too good to be wasted on a deleted account :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 10, 2017 at 10:00
  • Thanks, @Mari-LouA. With the question closed (not what Sven recommended), my edits as a separate question would still be (by these present lights) a 'duplicate' of the closed question, and so subject to closure itself. Packaged as an answer to the original question, my edits would be subject to the question's closure (lack of research). All very confusing, and certainly not what would or should be expected in a semi-sane world. I tried to make the best of a bad situation.
    – JEL
    Jan 11, 2017 at 1:49
  • If i may make a further suggestion, now that the question has been reopened, I recommend taking a stray bit of research that you didn't use in your actual answer to the question and replacing the current question with the original question plus that piece of research; then I recommend moving the bulk of your excellent research to an answer box (where it belongs). As currently constituted, the question now looks so daunting that I'm afraid most future visitors who want to know where bootleg and bootlegger came from won't stick around to see that the question actually answers their question.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 11, 2017 at 3:28
  • 1
    ...By supplementing the original question with a little research and then resubmitting the answer part of your question as an answer, you don't leave the question vulnerable to reclosure on the "no research" pretext, and yet you render it accessible enough that people who encounter it will recognize that it asks the same question they have, and will then proceed to the answers for edification.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 11, 2017 at 3:31
  • Okay...I shy away from editing any question in such a way as to favor one answer over others, or otherwise deceptively--by keeping knowledge I have about the subject 'up my sleeve', for example--but I see how in this case those nods to intellectual honesty aren't particularly relevant. The OP isn't around any more, so my answer is in no danger of being 'accepted', regardless of what the question becomes with research shown.
    – JEL
    Jan 11, 2017 at 21:03
  • @JEL: You've established that the conventional account of "bootleg" is at best incomplete and at worst fundamentally inaccurate. Under those circumstances, it seem to me, EL&U should want to make that information available in the most effective, accessible way it can. And I think the best way is to offer it as an answer to a straightforward question about the word's origin. The "lack of research" close reason serves administrative convenience by letting us reject questions on formal grounds, without considering their merits as questions. But once we know that a question is more complicated...
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 11, 2017 at 23:10

As an option and feature request, it might help if we could actually tag a comment as "related", and have those pinned to the top of the comment section. Having a weaker option as part of the system might reduce the rate of weak closures. Seeing all the related links at the top of the comments section might speed up new members' efforts to perform due diligence.

A second issue with weak duplicate closures is it seems to be just a bit too easy to pile on after an earlier vote.

There will doubtless be a splitter vs lumper debate over this question, so I'll note that I am a splitter.

I recommend that we allow a question to be re-asked specifically in order to supersede existing questions. I did that recently here -

Would like for you to, Would want for you to, Would need for you to, Would wish for you to

I purposely bent the question a bit to try to avoid having it closed.

  • 1
    Considering that comments are regarded as ephemera and subject to removal on a whim, I don't think there's much traction for the "option and feature request". Your later recommendation seems to have been de facto adopted, at least for your question, which seems bent enough to not be a duplicate; it is only so on sufferance, though.
    – JEL
    Jan 7, 2017 at 8:29
  • I guess that's sort of my point. I am requesting that a list of related questions, in what ever form it might take, not be regarded as ephemera. The "on sufferance" bit is as it should be. I'm only asking that it not automatically get bounced, not for it to be exempt in some way.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 7, 2017 at 16:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .