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Recently on the meta for English.se, I used the following sentence:

Personally, I think we should source answers if possible, but this is also sensitive to the level of the asker.

My question relates to whether this usage of source as a verb is as one person responded "a rather lazy and hence unclear phrase?"

The other person suggested that it could admit two interpretations:

we should provide sources in answers

OR

we should seek answers


google defines source as a verb as follows:

obtain from a particular source.

I learned to use source in the way I describe in the midst of university teaching. Specifically, we often say regarding claims that are not original to a student or that state data without a citation -- "you need to source this."

Is something in my usage odd, incorrect, or lazy?

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  • Not to me. But some people still stick to the notion that evening weirds language and will probably think this is awkward. As always, the yardstick we measure ‘proper language’ by is what our parents speak/spoke—and if they were against it, likely the kids will be, too. Feb 16, 2014 at 1:56
  • Is "English.se" for foreign speakers of English? If so, then many EFL speakers might have difficulty with your example use of "source". But for native English speakers, your usage is fine (according to me, AmE speaker). :)
    – F.E.
    Feb 16, 2014 at 2:03
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    I don't see a problem. The site still says it's for linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts. If anyone doesn't understand simple (and relatively commonplace) extensions like that, they should probably be on English Language Learners in the first place. But my gut feeling is this question is POB here, and should probably be moved to meta (where we are supposed to discuss things like this). Feb 16, 2014 at 2:12
  • No, you just can't do that. Think of it, and it may start becoming clear to you as to why not. And it's such pity, I need to leave the desk right now, though I wish I could post an answer rightaway.
    – Kris
    Feb 16, 2014 at 7:07

2 Answers 2

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I see nothing inherently wrong with employing source as a verb in either your sense or the commercial sense which Google afforded you.

It earned this sense by exactly the same process which gave rise to the established academic term to document, a similarly verbed noun which similarly is open to two constructions: to provide references to existing corroborative sources or to create a record which will constitute future corroborative sources.

Your only concern should be what audience you are addressing—some will consider your use of source breezily fresh, others cheesily faddish—and whether you care how they take it.

For the time being, source is slang and document is jargon. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

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  • +1 However, the question is rather different. Perhaps a re-read may be worth.
    – Kris
    Feb 16, 2014 at 7:05
  • @kris, maybe I'm lost here, but this sounds exactly like an answer to my question. The only possibility other than this is that I would need you to tell me what my question is.
    – virmaior
    Feb 16, 2014 at 8:08
  • @kris I've added something which addresses what I infer you found to be the critical issue. Feb 16, 2014 at 14:29
  • What do you mean that "source is slang"?
    – nxx
    Feb 16, 2014 at 14:48
  • @nxx Source is a fairly novel term (it was not in use when I was in graduate school 40 years ago), it is a non-standard term (the standard term is document), it is employed colloquially (in the first 150 Google Books hits on "sourced":21st century, I find only 1 which may be construed to bear this sense), and it appears to be restricted to a fairly narrow circle of users (academics). That's pretty much the definition of slang. Feb 16, 2014 at 15:09
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"we should source answers", with the definition you have given, means that we should seek to obtain the answers - not provide the sources for the information in the answers.

Merriam Webster offers both that definition and this one:

to specify the source of

which seems to be the definition you want. As you say, this is common usage in the academic context, and makes "we should source answers" perfectly correct.

Going with your definition, an alternative could be "we should cite sources in our answers", which is less ambiguous than using "source" as a verb.

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