Let's see,

Exhibit A:

How to address a woman in a letter?

When writing a letter or an e-mail to a man I know the (sur-)name of ("Smith"), I would write:

Dear Mr. Smith,

What should I use when addressing a woman?
Is it (like for married women):

Dear Mrs. Smith,

Or just:

Dear Ms./Miss Smith,

What is more polite, particularly as I do not know whether she is married (coverture)?

The above is an amazing question regarding the usage of these shorthand forms. Now, I tell the asker to look all these words up in a dictionary, and I'mma do just that for you here as well:


used in front of the family name of a woman who is not married to address her politely, to write to her, or to talk about her

This entry in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online actually includes a useful usage note:

► Some unmarried women prefer to be addressed as Ms because it does not draw attention to whether or not they are married.

Wowie, this already answers the question, but let's go ahead and explore the dictionary further.


Mrs British English, Mrs. American English

So this dictionary includes this particular difference between British and American varieties of English. Perfect!

used before a married woman’s family name to be polite when you are speaking to her, writing to her, or talking about her

Again, this entry includes the following useful note:

► Some women prefer to be addressed as Ms because it does not draw attention to whether or not they are married.

This note would also answer the question.

Finally, let's look at the entry for Ms:


Ms British English, Ms. American English

used before a woman’s family name when she does not want to be called ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’, or when you do not know whether she is married or not

To conclude, obviously the dictionary is quite enough to answer this particular asker's question. However, my comment (the second one, for those of you who can see them) was deleted for some odd reason. What I also did was flag this question as answerable by a dictionary – but nope, this flag was declined. Why do you encourage people to ask these kinda questions in the first place?

By the way, you can find similar information about Ms, Mrs, etc. in other learner's dictionaries such as the OALD or the Cambridge one. I think I actually linked to a meta post linking to those dictionaries but... yeah. It's evidently not needed.

Exhibit B (this one isn't so bad, but it just shows how idiotic the whole thing is when you proscribe dictionaries):

Usage of “Staying online”

I know that it means a person is reachable over the Internet.

Can I say it while speaking about phone calls?


Thanks for staying online. (Thanks for not hanging up with me).

Here I comment saying staying online isn't an idiom and you should use multiple dictionaries to check the meaning of online.

Basically, my comment clarifies some of the asker's doubts. Namely, online is used with technologies related to the internet, not phones, and staying online, due to its literal use isn't extended to mean "stay available" or whatever the heck the asker thinks it means. This also suggests to the asker that they modify their question a little, perhaps so that the potential answer (i.e., to the question How else would I go about saying this?) wouldn't be just Nope.

So, why do you think a comment telling the asker to look up something isn't needed there, and further, why do you think mine were so damn bad you had to delete them? I'm really looking forward to your explanations.


  • 3
    You have commented on several of my questions with extremely useful reference/information. I personally find your comments -- those made to me at least -- helpful and beneficial to learning. I appreciate them and hope to see more of them coming.
    – Eddie Kal
    Jul 17, 2018 at 18:43
  • @Deansue Hey, thank you very much. I try (sometimes). : ) I think your questions are really nice, too (in that I don't even know where to look for an answer). Anyway, after contemplating this whole thing a little more, maybe I've made a mistake in that, as J.R. puts it, the comments didn't quite feel "edifying" so mods didn't see them with the intent (which the phrasing of my comment reveals and there's no doubt about it) that was admittedly kind of weak. Maybe I was a bit fed up with people not looking things up when I left some of these comments. Thanks again for your kind comment.
    – user3395
    Jul 17, 2018 at 19:17
  • @Deansue - I would agree; the overwhelming majority of the comments I've seen left by the OP have been both helpful and well-intended.
    – J.R. Mod
    Jul 17, 2018 at 21:56

2 Answers 2


1) Comments are ephemeral. Comments are transient. Comments are temporary post-it notes. Comments are not designed to hold information for all eternity.

2) Comments should be constructive, that is, they should serve a useful purpose in an edifying way. I'm not sure that

Use a couple of dictionaries to see what online means.

is written as constructively as it could be. The less constructive the comment, the less likely it will linger.

3) While it is perfectly reasonable to exhort a user to share their research, it may be presumptuous to think it's trivial for a learner to easily find their answer in a dictionary. (In the case of Exhibit B, for example, dictionaries will say that online means "being in progress now" and "operating and supplying a particular service", and, insofar as I know, a dictionary won't explicitly clarify if the phrase "staying online" can be applied to phone calls.)

4) It's important to note that the flag you raised was investigated after another user had posted an answer. By then, two people had viewed the question in very different ways: one saw it as a trivial question that deserved prompt closure; the other saw it as a legitimate question that deserved a helpful answer. The mod team felt that the latter view was a more accurate one, and therefore saw no need for the comment to remain.

5) About this, which you included in this meta post:

Basically, my comment clarifies some of the asker's doubts. Namely, online is used with technologies related to the internet, not phones.

Um, no, your comment didn't do that. (That may have been your comment's intent, but that's not what your comment said.) Had your comment said:

online is generally used with technologies related to the internet, but not phones

there's a good chance the comment might have been left alone. (As a side note, though, in the era of Vonage and Skype, the lines between the internet and phone technologies are getting much more fuzzy than they used to be, so a learner with an internet-based phone service might still furrow a confused eyebrow at that revised comment. But that's neither here nor there.)

That's pretty much all I have to say about Exhibit B.

As far as Exhibit A goes, I'm only going to say that I think it would have been more constructive to post what you left here as an answer there – sans the snarky sarcasm.

  • 5
    @userr2684291 You know that comments are ephemeral. You also know that you shouldn't answer in comments. If you had put as much care and information into an answer instead of the dispute over a deleted comment, the information would still be there. Informational comments on questions that have positively scored answers are always at risk of being deleted - if you want that information preserved, write it in an answer. 3 of the 4 community members who reviewed the questions you felt should be closed voted to leave them open. That wasn't moderator action.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 17, 2018 at 12:11
  • 6
    Your rant seems quite focused on the titles of the question (Usage of “Staying online”; How to address a woman in a letter?), but seem to overlook the more important nuances raised in the body of the question (Can I say it while speaking about phone calls? What is more polite?). While I might agree that dictionaries can go a long way toward answering the questions in the titles, I don't believe they can fully answer those more subtle sub-questions, and this community was created to help learners deal with those subtleties that can be obvious to native speakers but tricky for learners.
    – J.R. Mod
    Jul 17, 2018 at 12:22
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – J.R. Mod
    Jul 17, 2018 at 13:51

On the topic of questions that can be answered with a web search or dictionary lookup, it has recently been discussed on SE meta that those kinds of comments should either not be made or worded very carefully and politely, since they can come across as dismissive:

Let's hold language in comments to the same standard as posts

Relevant quotes:

  • Avoid subtle put-downs and rhetorical statements like "Did you even try Googling?" or "Are you too lazy to run it and see?"

  • Avoid accidental misinterpretation of your comment by being deliberately explicit about your intent. For instance, if the question is about 'foomatic': "I'm not asking rhetorically; I really want to help you with this, I just want to be sure you also searched for 'foomatic'" is a lot better than "Did you even search? what for?"


  • Refrain from commenting if you're not willing to make an earnest attempt to check for tone...

Even though your comments might not have been deleted for any reason related to this, it seems like a good time and place to mention that there is a push to make sure comments are as polite as possible. So when you are commenting that a question is likely to answerable with a dictionary, being as gentle as possible may help your comment live as long as possible.


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