I am very troubled by our comment policy. Let me give some background.

I don't violently oppose the new orthography(my iPad even makes me use a lot of it, when I don't take special care) but I don't wish to have to follow it, just as I have never admonished anyone to use the old orthography. I can go into great detail about the stupidities of both variants, but that is beside the point.

Anyway, some user left me the comment

Mir kräuseln sich die Fußnägel bei der alten Schreibweise von Bureautelephon, aber ich traue mich nicht es zu editieren. (und nein, dieser Kommentar hängt nicht mit dem Downvote zusammen)

I respectfully explained the user some of the reasons I don't follow the ph reform and the user was very reasonable. I deleted my comments, because it would have been a case for move to chat and flagged the user's as obsolete. I flagged the one about the fingernails as non constructive.

Assuming this site is not striving to impose new orthography, I can not imagine what would be a more off-topic, more non-constructive comment than the above. Yet the moderation declined the flag.

Besides being utterly non-constructive, the comment is also invoking a disgusting image and could be considered offensive. I merely did not flag it such, because I believe the user was not ill-intentioned. Why the bloody thunder was it not removed? Is the remark of the user that he refrained from editing or downvote the reason?

Besides being a bit angry, I also want to understand our comment policies in general, because I don't want to be flagging and editing my own comments without reason. If humour is one of our objectives I am happy to oblige and leave hundreds of comments!

Just to be clear, I don't wonder why such a comment is made or blame the user, I just wonder why it is constructive. I am sure everyone has left some such comments.


3 Answers 3


According to the relevant section of the Help Center, comments may be flagged for various reasons. The particular reason shall be specified for each comment flag. Only the most common cases are listed in the comment flag dialog box:

  • rude or offensive
  • not constructive
  • obsolete
  • too chatty

By definition, “a comment that does not try to improve the post it appears on, or which introduces a topic unrelated to the question or answer” is not constructive.

The concerned comment in this case mainly points to the unusual spelling of the word Bureautelephon in the answer:

Mir kräuseln sich die Fußnägel bei der alten Schreibweise von Bureautelephon, aber ich traue mich nicht es zu editieren. (und nein, dieser Kommentar hängt nicht mit dem Downvote zusammen) Link

On German Language, such a comment concerning the spelling of a German word may be considered “constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post” in accordance with the section that explains the comment privilege in Help Center. Therefore, as far as moderators can judge, our model as set forth in the Help Center provides no basis that would make it mandatory for the moderators to delete the comment as not constructive.

Apparently, this comment was not intended for enforcing the official revision (2006) of the German orthography reform of 1996; even in 1996, the preferred spelling of the concerned word was Bürotelefon and not Bureautelephon. Therefore, the special community consensus on changing pre-reform spelling to post-reform spelling when editing a post is not necessarily relevant in this case.

The concerned answer also attracted some further comments. After clarification, these comments have been deleted by users, or flagged as obsolete and deleted by a moderator (note that these flags were marked as helpful). Nevertheless, the spelling of the word Bureautelephon in the answer was not changed; therefore, the particular comment that points to the unusual spelling of this word may be considered not obsolete (notwithstanding that the comment was flagged as not constructive and not as obsolete).

  • I don't understand what you are saying. Is it not unconstructive? If you open any Book by Mann or Zweig you will not only exclusively find the spelling Bureau, which I remember as common, but also the (less common) meuble! Random example:«Den Vater hatte eine langjährige gleichfarbige Bureautätigkeit der Welt entfremdet, und insbesondere seit dem Tode seiner Frau umfing ihn jene harte Verstimmung und trotzige Schweigsamkeit, mit der alte Leute gerne ihre physischen Leiden verbergen.» Taken from: Zweig, Stefan. «Sämtliche Werke von Stefan Zweig.» Delphi Classics, 2013-09-17. iBooks.
    – Ludi
    Sep 9, 2016 at 18:46
  • Therefore, the special community consensus on changing pre-reform spelling to post-reform spelling when editing a post is not necessarily relevant in this case. – I disagree. The arguments brought up there apply analogously to previous spelling reforms and changes of spelling.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Sep 10, 2016 at 4:57
  • 1
    @Ludi: I don't understand what you are saying. Is it not unconstructive? – In summary: The comment points to an unusual/invalid spelling of a word, changing which may be considered to improve the post (e.g., to be less confusing to language learners). Hence it is constructive.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Sep 10, 2016 at 5:04
  • @Ludi: If you open any Book by Mann or Zweig … – Are you really sure about this? I would be really surprised if I could not find any editions of their works updated to current spelling. Also: What do you want to argue here?
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Sep 10, 2016 at 5:10
  • 1
    @Wrzlprmft good point. I am trying to argue, that if someone wants use spellings that are common in some of the most beautiful, most widely read works of German literature, which are even in many cases less than 100 years old, they should not have to tolerate comments about deformed toe nails. I guess updated editions, ignoring the authors preferences exist.
    – Ludi
    Sep 10, 2016 at 7:20
  • 2
    @Ludi: I disagree. With almost the same argument, I could start writing in 17-th-century spelling fraktur. Also, I do not think anybody can make substantiated claims what the preferences of these authors would be in modern circumstances (assuming that they are wise enough to acknowledge that language and spelling evolves). As for the toenails, that may be a different issue. For me it’s just a regular idiom, but then I am pretty much immune to body horror.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Sep 10, 2016 at 8:17
  • 1
    @Wrzlprmft 17th century Fraktur is ok for me(should I be a little out of shape I am happy to refresh it), but the comparison is very unfair, since everyone understands Bureau without difficulty. But, more importantly, the fingernails, shudder... I envy you your immunity;)
    – Ludi
    Sep 11, 2016 at 7:22
  • 1
    @Ludi: everyone understands Bureau without difficulty – I would not so sure about that, in particular with language learners, which make up a considerable part of our audience.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Sep 11, 2016 at 9:35
  • 1
    @Wrzlprmft I should think that, since bureau is the English spelling too and English is so widely used here, they definitely understand! On the other hand, I don't think you are arguing just to infuriate me. So I am seriously considering editing it. Still, I find the toe-nail-comment very disgusting...
    – Ludi
    Sep 11, 2016 at 19:11
  • since bureau is the English spelling – Yes, but the predominant English word for Büro is office.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Sep 11, 2016 at 20:14

99 % of my comment flags are obsolete or include a custom message to the mods to tell them why certain comments are obsolete (after a mod once told me that obsolete comments are the hardest to judge). The remaining percent is for those comments that are spam or offensive — but the former is very, very rare (haven’t used a spam comment flag yet, to the best of my knowledge).

I don’t ever touch not constructive because I have no real clue what it is supposed to mean and when it would be valid. Loong just gave a short explanation, but I think it won’t change my stance.

There has been quite a bit of discussion on meta.SE about comment flags, but no feature request has been granted yet.

On the topic of the comments themselves, I get the odd one that I don’t agree with. I often post a reply, seldomly I don’t. It is their opinion, they are entitled to it. In this case, the comment is not necessarily funny, but it isn’t insulting unless you easily get sick from thinking of toenails. Maybe I would have answered

Also meinen Fußnägeln geht es trotz der vielen Bureautelephone noch recht gut. Vielleicht solltest du einen Arzt aufsuchen?

If somebody had decided to edit, I probably would have rolled things back. There is the occasional wrong spelling I like to keep in my posts because I like them. I’ld ask others to respect them.

If a comment is funny, consider giving it an upvote for the humour. If it is not (like in your case) just ignore it and move on.


Just because you pushed it to the front again.

In your answer you use a quite peculiar spelling which is considered wrong by the present spelling rules in all German speaking countries. If you did it at school a teacher will mark it and if it was for any published work an editor will replace it by the appropriate spelling.

So do we.

Nobody wants to change your private spelling in your private setting. But this is not private here. It is public. Very public to be precise. Your post was viewed by 380 people (which is not too many, but still).

In other posts we made clear that out-of-date spelling is not what we want. Somebody learning the language may be very confused to read 19th century spellings here. They will not even be able to look this word up. We even encourage edits for the correct spelling. The only circumstances where we accept old spellings are direct quotes but there was nothing quoted here.

Quite understandably a user commented on your post to ask you for an edit. They would have been able to do that without any comment but they felt you should know how other people feel when reading such painfully wrong spellings, and they also asked you to correct that by yourself.

The comment was not deleted because for reasons only you know this correction did not happen. In the hope to resolve the matter I edited your post with the correct spelling of the word in question and deleted the comment as "no longer needed".

As see from a comment it may not be clear enough: we are not talking about a disputed spelling reform but we are talking about a long and entirely and cmpletely vanished 19th Century spelling that has no place in a post on German Language SE other than in a discussion about this very spelling.

  • And I didn’t intentionally push it to the front. I wanted to add more, but then decided it wasn’t worth it and rolled back.
    – Ludi
    Jul 13, 2018 at 13:48
  • The reform is a fiasco. Many newspapers don’t apply it and there is still a lot of literature around in the old form. There have been 2 reforms of the reform. As someone who learned the old spelling, I find myself forgetting it, while at the same time being unable to learn the ever changing new one.
    – Ludi
    Jul 13, 2018 at 13:52
  • Excuse me, I kindly ask you to keep your tone done.
    – Takkat
    Jul 13, 2018 at 14:23
  • you’re partly right, and a part of me wants to apologise, but perhaps it helps you grasp how I feel about the toe nail comment.
    – Ludi
    Jul 13, 2018 at 14:26
  • @Ludi I do know but it is years ago - it should not really matter that much (as you might have noticed Idid not roll back and let the ph in Telephon survive).
    – Takkat
    Jul 13, 2018 at 14:54
  • forgive me,please. I really overreacted. Recently I have been very unhappy about some aspects of the spelling reform and StE, being forced upon me decades after my graduation with multiple iterations of changes since 1996. I projected a lot of this onto you, but only realised it after I cooled down. I am happy that nail comment is gone, even for the price of a eau :) Every time I saw it I felt it mocked people of my generation.
    – Ludi
    Jul 13, 2018 at 15:27
  • 1
    @Ludi good to see you have cooled down a bit. Just wanted to let you know that for me personally the reformed orthography was a major disaster because overnight 35 years of learning was just for the bin. Since then I never knew how to write things and DWDS became my third most used online tool after Google and StackExchange. I am always happy for edits coming from the youngsters when I again missed the "proper" orthography ;)
    – Takkat
    Jul 13, 2018 at 19:38

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