9

Questions:

(1) What should I do when someone refuses to provide evidence to substantiate their statements, which I believe are incorrect?

(2) How should I respond when they tell me to take their word for it because they are a native speaker, even after I provided authoritative evidence that contradicts their statements?

I don't know how to deal with such situations. I mean no harm or disrespect to anyone.

In the meta post Submitting Answers that merely answer the question, J.R. mentions

... it's important that answers be accurate. Before you submit your answer, look at it with a critical eye, and ask yourself, "How would an O.P. (or anyone else visiting the site) know that my answer is correct? Are they just supposed to take my word for it?"

Note: I'm a native speaker; therefore, I know what I am talking about does not qualify as proof of correctness.


Sometimes, I see answerers make strong assertions without providing sufficient justification (e.g., "no one ever says this", or "we never say this").

When I feel that something isn't quite right, and that I can't agree with their claim, I ask them for a reliable/authoritative source (e.g., anything from google news, google books, usage examples, ELL/ELU posts, Wikipedia, English Language Forums, Blogs, and Dictionaries).

I have a few reasons for this: (1) if they are able to provide an authoritative source, then it helps me learn something new; (2) an authoritative source is always helpful for the OP as well as for other users in the community; and (3) it allows me to trust this user. J.R. talks about this in their answer to the this Meta post: Cite your sources!.

I recently answered a question: "What is the “small window” on a web page called?"

I wrote, "It's called a drop-down menu". I provided a definition from Cambridge Dictionary, a Wikipedia link that shows my answer is one among other options, and an Ngram that provides a usage comparison. I also pointed out that "drop-down list" is more commonly used than my original version as per the Ngram.

An answerer answered (I added the bold emphasis below)

It is NOT called a "drop-down menu". While that term might be "technically correct", sort-of, because it is a menu, and it is drop-down, no one will ever say "drop-down menu", because they will say "drop-down box".

I had to comment because their answer was directly contradicting my answer. I wanted to know if they had any sources to substantiate their claim.

Me: Do you have any source that can substantiate this claim? "...no one will ever say..." really? Did you check google books before you made this statement?

Answerer: Yes, I speak English natively and have spoken to other Americans during my life before, who have in several cases referred to this item on a computer screen. I have also read articles in English before. If all of these thinhs are true, then each English user will know that my statement is correct.*

*This is essentially Gaslighting (57), The Identity fallacy (64), Red Herring (106), or Anecdotal evidence.

What just happened? I did not ask the answerer if they were native or non-native. I wanted to see some sources to cross-check both answers (I had already provided credible sources to support my answer; show me proof that the sources I provided are wrong).

I will always trust native and non-native speakers who have established themselves here and in ELU. The quality of their answers speaks volumes. But sometimes (very rarely though) I find users I can't trust.


Here is another example. After my comments, the answerer edited their answer (see their edit history or the first version).

Me: "... saying it like that sounds like you're ordering someone to get you chocolate quite rudely." Do you have any source (e.g., dictionary entry, articles, etc) to substantiate that claim?
Me:"No one says it like that in real life." - Interesting. Any sources to support this?

Answerer: As a native speaker, that's how I often hear and see English used. "no one says that in real life" is just based on years of experience and using English. "that sounds like you're ordering someone rudely" is because when someone says it like that, that's just what usually it means.

I wanted to know how "I want a chocolate now" could only "[sound] like you're ordering someone to get you chocolate quite rudely."

Also, I felt "No one says it like that in real life" was too strong of a statement for "I play games now". That would depend on the context (e.g., I can imagine a professional gamer saying "I quit my job. I play games now - full time! I compete in tournaments - the money is great!). Surely then, it can be said informally in speech. Had the answerer said "It's not common usage" or "It's very informal", I would have no problem.

|
  • 1
    Unluckily ELL has too often been lenient in terms of “providing reliable resources” to support one’s claims, despite the rules. As for citing “I am a native” as a reliable source... no comment. – user070221 Dec 2 '19 at 13:25
  • 1
    You are asking them to prove a negative - that is logically impossible! – Mike Brockington Dec 5 '19 at 12:23
  • 2
    @MikeBrockington I know. If they can't prove "no one will ever say" or "It is NOT called a 'drop-down menu'" then they shouldn't probably say those things (this is specific to this case). – AIQ Dec 5 '19 at 18:34
  • I see why you think this is gaslighting, but it isn't. It could be an identity fallacy ("No true Scotsman!"). It's also not a red herring, as they've stuck to the main issue. It's definitely anecdotal evidence, especially since you've cited a well respected source for your answer. – CJ Dennis Dec 6 '19 at 1:48
  • @AIQ Totally have to disagree with you there - if a particular phrase is "extremely unusual" then it should be called out as such. Something having a different name is a rather different scenario, but this is conflating the two. – Mike Brockington Dec 6 '19 at 12:17
  • 2
    I would also proffer that being a native speaker in one region does not mean you can automatically speak for every other region. (E.g. a native BrE speaker could not necessarily speak for AmE unless they also had experience to a sufficient level in that regiontoo) – Smock Dec 6 '19 at 14:25
  • @MikeBrockington I would be happy if the answerer used "extremely unusual" (even though that would be wrong - my evidence/sources prove otherwise). That is much better than saying "no one will ever say". And please note that I mentioned (this is specific to this case). In this particular case, which is what my post is about, the answerer said "no one will every say 'drop-down menu'". The ngram and the Wiki I linked shows that's simply false. In my case, the particular phrase is very much usual and common usage. So, pardon me, but I don't really understand why you disagree with me. – AIQ Dec 6 '19 at 21:59
  • My comment was largely due to the fact that the question you asked was too general, and doesn't really match with the specific question you wanted an answer for - saying that obscure-technical-term is/isn't in general use with a specific community is very different from asking whether "some bad grammar" is valid. – Mike Brockington Dec 7 '19 at 22:57
  • 2
    Noting the cited example I speak English natively and have spoken to other Americans during my life before, who have in several cases referred to this item on a computer screen, I have to say I don't think many native speakers would use natively like that (Google Chrome's spellchecker even underlines that word for me as "unrecognised"). And I suggest no native speaker would ever say during my life before in such a context. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 11 '19 at 18:01
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Thanks for your comment. Do you have any suggestions for me on how to respond to such comments without sounding disrespectful? – AIQ Dec 11 '19 at 19:12
  • AIQ: Yours is an interesting reversal of the situation I sometimes find myself in. If another native speaker claims that some particular usage sounds okay to him, whereas I find it completely unacceptable, I have to remind myself that concepts like "grammatical rules" are often pretty much irrelevant to many of the issues raised here on ELL (and ELU). At the end of the day, English is defined by what people say, not what their teachers tell them to say.... – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 11 '19 at 19:21
  • ...so strictly speaking I must recognise that have no right to tell another native speaker they're wrong if they approve of some usage I don't like. But in your case the situation is slightly different, because that native speaker is claiming to be able to speak for all native speakers. And the truth is I do this myself sometimes. Hopefully I can retreat from such a linguistically dogmatic position if someone takes issue with my No-one ever says that comment, but as others have pointed out, it's not easy to prove a negative (and a few counterexamples may be "flawed" anyway). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 11 '19 at 19:27
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica There is usage and usage. Some things are flat out wrong. Did you see the recent question: "There is no such a thing as y". ? That is not regional, that is not sociolectal, that is not British, American or any other English. It is simply wrong. And the issue around here is that some things are carried (internalized) by speakers, and are not in dictionaries. That's the rub. Also, some of these things are simply not googleable. [my word] – Lambie Dec 16 '19 at 21:52
  • @Lambie I know your comment is for FumbleFingers, but since you are here, can I ask what your stance is on this? Note that I only asked the answerer to prove their statement because I know that many people say "drop-down menu". And I provided evidence. Do you think I was on the wrong? – AIQ Dec 16 '19 at 21:58
  • 1
    @AIQ This case is "provable" by googling. And I find that the usual is: drop-down menu and drop-down list, no box. But, I would say there is a place for saying native speaker blah blah blah at times. I had a very difficult case recently that was NOT provable by google and everybody just went with the current of another answer. You might have seen it. Anyway, some people are qualified to make "native speaker" statements and others are not. This person clearly was not....:). Check out the use of box here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drop-down_list The term is List Box ha ha – Lambie Dec 16 '19 at 22:52
10

As an answerer and a native speaker of English, there are times when I really think that nobody would ever use English the way some learners are trying to use it. That being said, you've provided good examples of where it was wrong for the person answering the question to say that. For instance, I'm a software engineer and we use the term 'drop-down-menu' all the time. It's in the dictionary so somebody must be using it.

So, I think that what you can understand when someone answers a question saying, 'Nobody would ever say that,' is that the person answering the question wouldn't say that or can't think of a reason why somebody would say that.

Another thing that can cause this response is not understanding the question well. Sometimes the question is inadvertently worded in a way that throws even native speakers off track. This happened to me the other day and we didn't get it sorted out until after a long conversation in the comments that clarified the context of the OP's question.

As I've gained experience answering questions here I've realized how important it is to explain myself. I could and should explain why 'I want a chocolate now.' sounds rude and how it could be better said in different situations.

As a learner, you shouldn't have to advise the person answering, but if they are new to the site, or from a place where people use language differently or they have not understood the question well, you might have to probe them to provide a better answer. For instance, you could say

Can you tell me what makes it sound rude?
How can I say it so it doesn't sound rude?

Also, keep in mind that it's impossible to prove a negative. It would be very hard to find a source saying that nobody would ever say something. So when you ask somebody to do that you're putting them in an impossible position. They are bound to react unless they have very strong presence of mind. Instead, you could invite them to think further by saying,

I heard somebody say this the other day. It was in the following context....
I realize that some people don't use the name 'drop-down-menu' but it's in the dictionary, so it must be recognized as an applicable term.

If they still insist on being the expert based on their own experience, in the face of evidence to the contrary, then they have not yet learned that their role is to be a humble teacher. Probably the most effective way to change that behavior is to vote their answer down and leave a comment telling them why.

|
  • Hello dwilli, thanks for the answer. I just want to clear a few things. Usually, these kinds of answers are not very great. They are not backed up by evidence, and the answers themselves are not well explained. If something like this was said by a user I trust (high quality answers, established user in the community, excellent writing skills, very knowledgeable, etc), then I would take a different approach or rephrase my comment. I personally found the answerer's answer very pretentious. Also, for the second case, I did provide an example to the answerer – AIQ Dec 2 '19 at 23:28
  • 1
    - to make a case that the sentence by itself does not sound rude - "That was a wonderful meal. Time for dessert! I want a chocolate now." To me, that didn't sound rude. My point was that the answerer should have written "I think it sounds rude ..." or "Some may find this rude ..." given how some may think it isn't necessarily rude. OP should not be made to think that everyone thinks that sentence is rude or only has a certain meaning/connotation - because its a matter of opinion and context. My problem is with making absolute statements. – AIQ Dec 2 '19 at 23:28
  • @AIQ I understand. I see that you are taking a nuanced approach and discriminating between different people saying the same thing. I think your examples are excellent. Didn't mean to say otherwise. – dwilli Dec 2 '19 at 23:41
  • drop-down-menu is a specific term for a specific item, so rather different from most questions, and nothing to do with a question about rudeness. – Mike Brockington Dec 5 '19 at 12:26
  • 1
    @AIQ I believe that "I want a chocolate now" is rude, and that it is good for native-speakers to warn learners of this, lest learners inadvertently say something rude when they intend to be polite. Contriving a context where it isn't rude misses the point -- the OP wasn't thinking of such a contrived context. "A chocolate" must refer to a sweet, not to a dessert. – Rosie F Dec 6 '19 at 9:52
  • 1
    @RosieF I disagree. That sentence itself does not convey the tone of rudeness (how can it possibly do so, these are just words). The original comment was "that sounds like you're ordering someone to get you chocolate quite rudely." It could sound rude given a certain context. It could have been stated in a much better way: "Be careful when you use that sentence though. It could come out too strong or sound rude. Here is an example when this might sound rude ..." My issue is with the way the answerer claims there is just one interpretation. – AIQ Dec 6 '19 at 10:09
  • 1
    @RosieF My problem is with the answerer saying "No one says it like that in real life." That is simply a false statement. I can think of many examples where one can say it like that or any other version of "I want __ now". "I had a long day. I want a nice, long shower now"- how does that sound rude? I wouldn't have any problem if they instead said "It is not common usage" or "It would sound more polite if you said ..." – AIQ Dec 6 '19 at 10:22
  • @RosieF Where is the argument for "rude" coming from - is it the use of 'now' at the end? Or is it the use of "I want"? Then they could provide me with a source that explicitly says putting 'now' at the end of such a sentence makes it sound rude. I would then agree for sure. The dessert thing varies (regions, countries, cultures, etc.) - Wikipedia has two pages that includes chocolate in the list of dessert. Dessert - see Varieties and List of desserts - see Confectionery. – AIQ Dec 6 '19 at 10:35
  • 2
    @AIQ We don't call a chocolate dessert "a chocolate", so the original example sentence must refer to a sweet. (The word "a" makes a difference.) An adult who wants to eat chocolates while in company can buy & carry their own & needn't ask anyone else for one. So the remark must be from a child. We teach children to ask nicely, e.g. "Please may I have...?". "I want..." is rude, and "now" expresses impatience, & is even ruder. Your "shower" example is different because the speaker intends to run that shower themself & is not asking the listener for anything. – Rosie F Dec 6 '19 at 12:27
  • 1
    @RosieF I guess we will have to agree to disagree. In my opinion, the two words "I want ..." [without a tone] says nothing about a person ordering someone to do something rudely. "I want a vacation now" is not rude (unless it's meant to be). Also, how do you know the speaker wants the listener to go get them a choc- when they say "I want a choc- now". I can say this to my friend "Man, I want that drink now", which is in no way rude (unless meant to be). It also does not say anything about me wanting them to fetch me a drink. Among friends, it is unlikely to be taken as a rude comment. – AIQ Dec 6 '19 at 22:19
  • 1
    @RosieF "But "rudeness" is a highly subjective issue ..." (FumbleFingers), "What does matter is your tone of voice and other non-linguistic cues you provide." (StoneyB on hiatus) from Is replying with just “whatever” considered rude?. I think it's not right to state that "I want ... now" is rude without any context, intention, non-verbal cues, and tone of voice. I agree that it can sound rude if it is meant to be. As such, the answerer needs to provide all these details. – AIQ Dec 6 '19 at 22:32
1

Sometimes the right answer is that something is just idiomatic. Saying something is idiomatic is really the same as saying "because it just is", although I'd always try to give examples. Really though, this is where native English speakers have the advantage - we know our English idioms. Everybody learns their native language by chunking, which means certain idiomatic ways of saying things are natural to us without us ever needing to learn the reasons why; whereas an English learner is trying to map the rules of language that they already know from their own native language to our own, and sometimes that is the question that the OP is asking - "why?".

I'm saying that sometimes it is difficult to answer a question as asked, and a lot of answers on this site could be described as frame-challenges, because the native English speaker can often comprehend the OP's confusion better than they can their question. It is reasonable to expect at least some evidence to support an answer, but our expectation should be based more on the direction of the answer than on the insistence of the OP.

What should I do when someone refuses to provide evidence to substantiate their statements, which I believe are incorrect?

We should expect at least some evidence, but at the same time, the rules of the site mean that, if the OP didn't do even the most cursory research before you asked the question, the question isn't valid and should be closed as 'off-topic'.

If you are concerned about a poor-quality answer and the answerer isn't cooperating, I would recommend you work more closely with the OP to improve their question, which should force the accepted answer to comply and would hopefully influence voting on the answer. The more examples are built into the question, the more you force the answerer to use examples or to address the specific examples given. High-quality questions get more attention, so will get more answers, and better answers.

Beyond that advice, use the voting system. Downvote 'wrong' answers. If you know the answer is wrong, you must know the right answer, so write a better one yourself, using supporting evidence. Remember that these questions and answers are supposed to stand the test of time and be useful to future users of the site. If you write a good answer and it doesn't get the highest number of votes, it still may help someone down the line. I regularly get upvotes on answers I wrote 2 years ago, and on the tech sites, I've seen plenty of questions where the accepted answer has 10 or 20 votes while a secondary answer has hundreds.

How should I respond when they tell me to take their word for it because they are a native speaker, even after I provided authoritative evidence that contradicts their statements?

As frustrating as this is, my advice on your previous question stands - you have to trust in the voting system and work with it. Yes, there are people who will downvote your answer if they think you downvoted theirs. It is utterly childish and I just hope there are algorithms somewhere that pick up on that kind of behaviour. But even when that does appear to happen, there are lots more users and their votes. Again, referring to my previous answer, the best way to get more attention and ultimately more reliable votes on the answers is to improve the quality of the question.

Also, make proper use of comments - don't tell someone their answer is wrong in so few words - comments are meant to help improve the question/answer. They are also not for extended discussion, so if a person refuses to support their statements that is pretty much discussion over, and your best avenues are to either work with the OP or make a better answer of your own.

|
  • Hello Astralbee, I appreciate the answer, thanks. But I think you may have misunderstood me. "you didn't do even the most cursory research before you asked the question, the question isn't valid and should be closed as 'off-topic'" - I did not ask the question, I commented on an answer asking the answerer to verify some information. Your answer is a great piece of advice. But can you comment on my specific case? – AIQ Dec 13 '19 at 2:21
  • 1
    @AIQ Thanks, and I'm sorry - I did set out to use the wider "you" when I was addressing the subject of questions but I must have got trapped in my own stream of consciousness. I've had a re-write - most of my points still stand but I have directed them at contributors rather than OPs asking questions. I do share a lot of your frustrations and I was genuinely hoping to help with my answer. – Astralbee Dec 13 '19 at 9:42
  • 1
    I find your answer very useful - it's like a guideline. In fact, I did provide an answer (my answer was the first one) with lots of evidence. It was accepted with more upvotes (as you say in your answer). Thanks, it is reassuring to see that my approach isn't all that bad. :) – AIQ Dec 13 '19 at 10:00
  • Bravo, just idiomatic is right. And some things are simply not provable. – Lambie Dec 16 '19 at 21:53

You must log in to answer this question.

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