I will acknowledge that the user whose comments I am complaining about is higher-rep than I am, and thus presumably more helpful and respected. Nevertheless, I have repeatedly seen categorical statements which I know, from direct and personal (admittedly anecdotal) experience are wrong, and often misleadingly so. Other than repeatedly correcting said user, what can be done to ensure that learners, at whom this stack is aimed, are not misled about English, whether formal or idiomatic? The question that I feel was the "final straw" is this one, regarding translating a Czech idiom into an equivalent English idiom, but this is far from the only one where I have encountered similar incorrect and categorical statements from this user.

  • 4
    Flag them for the moderation team if you feel that addressing the inaccuracy in a comment is likely to not be productive. It doesn’t really matter if the statements are correct or not, if they are controversial they belong in an answer where they can be supported and properly vetted by the community.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 12, 2018 at 17:17
  • @ColleenV I did say I would never use to win by a nose. In any event, I was wrong about the idiom's existence, which I am perfectly willing to admit. No problem. However, given that the OP was talking presumably about a high-level interpretation gig with international participants, it really did not seem to me that "win by a nose" would be appropriate even if it does exist. I have no problem at all apologizing about not knowing it exists. I do have a problem re about what would be appropriate in a high-level, international arena. The original Czech expression was downright rude.
    – Lambie
    Apr 16, 2018 at 16:22
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    @Lambie - The main point here is less about "by a nose" and more about a repeated pattern of categorical statements that are misleading, often followed by strong insistence that you are right, or else backpedaling and claiming that you were only talking about you personally. The word fruit is never plural comes to mind, as does bullet-proof software. Instead of apologizing, maybe be more careful with how you word such comments in the future?
    – J.R. Mod
    Apr 18, 2018 at 23:12
  • For me, the word fruit in everyday usage is never plural. And I stand by what I said about bullet-proof software (which is my opinion: I would not use it in marketing copy and you one little example in a tiny little company that is not an illustrative example of marketing writing! How about you admit that??). You are now off on a witch hunt. I don't backpedal. I admit mistakes. The nose thing was a mistake, the other two were not. And there are some answers that are a matter of opinion and not fact.
    – Lambie
    Apr 19, 2018 at 14:21
  • Re the bullet-proof: One minor example does not disprove the fact I asserted it would not make for good advertising copy. You just wanted to "prove me wrong", and found one hit. It is my opinion it would not be good, especially as a translation for the Spanish, which also, in Spanish would not use a prueba de balas, either. Opinions about marketing language can only be that: opinions.
    – Lambie
    Apr 19, 2018 at 14:25
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    @Lambie - I cited three examples, not just one. (And those weren't the only ones I found; I just figured three would be enough to make my point.) But the saddest part of this ongoing debate is that I largely agree with you: fruits is little-used; bullet-proof software is a lousy marketing gimmick. My sole beef here is with the way learners might read your definitive statements (fruits is never used; no marketing company would use bullet-proof). Change that "never" to "seldom," and that "no company" to "few companies," and you'd likely get upvotes instead of arguments.
    – J.R. Mod
    Apr 19, 2018 at 17:31
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    I had a Facebook argument with a neighbor over a home owner's association. It was a large discussion involving several people regarding non-payment of HOA dues. I said there was a danger that the HOA could take your home and sell it. Someone replied, "That is a flat out lie! The HOA cannot take your home and sell it!" Later, they had to admit that it can and does happen, though it is rare. Per J.R., I get his point. And I tend to like most of the answers I've read from you, so far, Lambie. Apr 25, 2018 at 18:45

1 Answer 1


If it's in an answer, you can downvote the answer, and/or leave a comment.

If it's in a comment, you can flag the comment, and/or leave a constructive counterexample (as you did in this case). If someone else has left a comment, and you share that sentiment, upvote that comment (as I did in this case).

Incidentally, I've made a few erroneous comments myself on ELL. Rep points don't necessarily make us more respected, and people with more rep aren't less fallible.

As a footnote, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment about categorical statements. It's one thing to say, "I've never heard this phrase before," or, "I don't think I'd be inclined to word it that way," or, "this word is not too common." It's another to say, "This means nothing in English," or, "This form of the word is never used." It's very frustrating to see such unequivocal statements tossed around, especially when they are clearly erroneous.

I think some of these "incorrect categorical statements" are simply due to simple misunderstandings and faulty assumptions. One good example of this can be found here, where a user commented:

In other words, no present after because.

I agree: terse comments like that one appear to be categorical; however, when the user who made it was called out, a clarification was made:

You cannot possibly think I mean in all cases?

(Well, actually, the comment sure reads like someone meant, "in all cases". But at least that got cleared up.)

We all need to be learners here. When a member insists that something is "never used" or "means nothing," it would be nice if some well-researched counterexamples might prompt that individual to soften their language a little bit, using words like seldom instead of never. Unfortunately, some of us are slower to learn than others.

One more thing: If "win by a nose" doesn't mean anything in English, then that goes against the fruits of my research; I wonder what these authors and journalists were talking about when they said:

Quebec Solidaire won by a nose, with 30.6 per cent of the votes; the Liberals' Anna Klisko had 30.3 (with a margin of fewer than 100 votes)


Heller only won by a nose in 2012 – and the health care debacle makes this state the most likely to flip next year


That year's (disputed) presidential election was won by a nose by Fox's successor, Felipe Calderon


If he is considering two job candidates and the only thing that differentiates them is an internship, that person will win "by a nose"

  • Of course, win by a nose exists, as I have learned. That said, the original Czech expression, the meaning of which was provided, was very crude. So, I don't think it is "good advice" to clean it up but still use a low-level register. My comments are based on my experience and what might actually be appropriate in a high-level conference setting. The examples you provide are fine, for journalism. Furthermore, win by a nose (if you really want to "mirror" the original) is not crude or rude, which the original was.
    – Lambie
    Apr 16, 2018 at 16:27
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    @Lambie - Your comments say what your comments say, not what you tell us you meant to say several days later. In this case, your comment said: "No, "win by a nose" means nothing in English. We say: "to win by a hair's breadth.” That has the tone of an authoritative correction – if this was a one-off aberration, this meta question wouldn’t be here. (The examples I give here have nothing to do with the Czech expression, which we both agree was tasteless and vulgar; I’m not suggesting anyone “clean it up but still use a low-level register.” I was just showing “means nothing” was plain wrong.)
    – J.R. Mod
    Apr 19, 2018 at 1:59

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