I've asked a few etymology questions: that is, how a character or word came to mean what it means. Most of the time there are excellent answers that are surprising, which is great!

However I've noticed that they also tend to attract a few types of low-quality answers. Some are simply restating the definition of the word or character. Others don't answer the question at all: they might be commenting about the Chinese language in general, how etymology is very mysterious etc. Some answers are poorly sourced or not sourced at all; I've seen a few answers that are various forms of "This word means X, I know I'm right because I'm a native Chinese!"

These are probably separate issues, and low-quality answers cannot be eliminated entirely, but what approaches can I use to discourage such answers? Can I phrase or present the questions in some way that makes it more obvious I'm asking about the why - and not what - a word means?

  • Woah, just checked out the chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/5909/… question, so much crap. I removed all of the answers that didn't make any attempt at providing an etymology. – going Feb 20 '14 at 0:59
  • Sometimes one can only resort to oral history in order to answer a question. If a question is, say, about the origin of a recently coined slang, comments from the locals are probably the only sources of answers. So, a choice must be made. We either ban this kind of questions, or we accept citations of personal experiences as answers. – user4086 Mar 3 '14 at 1:48

I've been trying my best to moderator these posts and it is a problem.

There are a few things everyone can do:

  • Can it be improved by editing? Then jump in and edit it.
  • Is it just a crap answer? Then downvote it.
  • Is it a distraction or noise? Then flag it.

Even if the answer is old go ahead and do the above actions. We want a site which is useful even when people visit from Google 2 or 3 or more years later.

I don't mind getting a moderator flag months or years after the fact to tidy something up. As long as the site is being improved on.


I think we'll always get a mixture of quality levels, and I don't have a guaranteed answer. As a guess, though, including the research you've already done on the question will give more context about the kind of information you're looking for.

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