per a simple google search of 'define bounty', I believe bounty means:

a monetary gift or reward, typically given by a government, in particular.
a sum paid for killing or capturing a person or animal
an amount of money given to someone as a reward for catching a criminal

but at Stackoverflow, bounty means:

Something like a TV ad, even if you don't get an answer you bounty is still to be taken away from you, it's non-refundable. It's like the sheriff will have to pay 10000$ to the local government even if after a week no one comes with a dead body of the criminal.

One of its lines is:

"A bounty does not guarantee a response, however, and reputation refunds are not available if no answers are received as a result of the bounty"

See more from Stackoverflow policy.

How is it possible to reconcile both meanings? Can such a definition from stackoverflow match the inherit meaning of bounty?

  • Thanks for commenting while down-voting. I am asking from a pure English point. Which makes this question a complete fit. If there are any rules that I am not aware of then please do post. People on stackoverflow itself are not English experts
    – Honey
    Aug 18, 2016 at 19:05
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    Don't you rather mean "Is bounty the best term to use here?" // Whether or not it is the best term, arguing that it's inappropriate because of its original usage is an example of the etymological fallacy. Look at the order in which AHDEL, Collins and RHK Webster's list the senses of 'bounty', to reflect the frequency they are employed nowadays. Aug 18, 2016 at 19:20
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    As it stands, the question falls into the "I'm keen to see if you feel the same way as I do" close reason. In any case, bounty is at least tangentially relevant to what it is (a largesse which is made available to win) which is often the case with trade-names or suchlike,
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 18, 2016 at 19:23
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    In that case, you need to make your point in your question here, without reference to your MSE post.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 18, 2016 at 19:33
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    @Honey - Thank you for editing your question to bring it into accordance with the EL&U guidelines. I have reversed my previous down-vote and removed my earlier comments. I'm especially glad that Lawrence was able to provide an answer that is acceptable to you. Welcome to English Language & Usage! Aug 21, 2016 at 13:58

2 Answers 2


You're asking whether bounty as used on Stack Exchange reflects the 'normal' usage of the word in English. Let's look at a dictionary for a scholarly definition, a wikipedia reference for popular usage, and Stack Exchange for its particular usage.

Bounty noun 1 A sum paid for killing or capturing a person or animal: there was an increased bounty on his head - ODO

A bounty (from Latin bonitās, goodness) is a payment or reward often offered by a group as an incentive for the accomplishment of a task by someone usually not associated with the group. - wikipedia

A bounty is a reputation reward you can put on a question to get it more attention for exactly one week. - Stack Exchange (Stack Overflow)

Original motivation for bounties on Stack Exchange:

Speaking for myself, you don't have to reward me for ASKING questions on Stackoverflow: Getting an answer is enough of a reward in itself. Just do whatever you can to keep the answer-ers motivated. - Corey Trager, quoted by Jeff Atwood, Reputation Bounty for Unanswered Questions

In each case, a bounty is some kind of reward offered for something. For Stack Exchange, that thing is an answer, and what's posted is a quantity of reputation.

Historically, bounties were often posted by governments with the intention of reducing criminal elements, and paid with real currency on a success basis. As there was no intermediary holding the money in escrow (the money remained with the government until the bounty was paid), there was no requirement for the concept of a refund for unclaimed bounties.

Today, the term bounty is also used in a sense similar to payments for service. The context has broadened, and so have the particulars surrounding them.

We now have bounty 'marketplaces', where one can post 'bounties' on causes and so on, without the stigma of criminality attached. For example, one can set a 'bounty' to raise funds for charity. They money involved in the bounties may be very little compared to government-funded bounties of old. Some marketplaces charge minimal transaction fees to cover their own banking fees, while others charge commercial rates.

With Stack Exchange, the context changes further. Bounties are paid in rep points, not 'real' money, and rep points have no financial value to Stack Exchange's organisation. As the first Stack Exchange quote above indicates, bounties are intended to be used as a form of advertisement. However, simply calling the 'bounties' advertisements would be inaccurate since advertisements are inherently transactions between the advertiser and the advertising entity - respondents to the advertisements have a separate relationship with the advertiser.

And this brings us to the heart of the matter.

Per the second Stack Exchange quote above, bounties on Stack Exchange were initially set up to motivate answerers. Regardless of the changes from the perspective of the people who post and administer bounties, to the recipient, it's a bonus they get for satisfying the terms of the bounty. To this end, the term bounty is used in a manner consistent with its historical usage, where it was also fundamentally a reward posted to elicit certain services from those who would ultimately receive the bounties.

  • Thinking about this again. Historically did they have to give any reward to anyone even if no one was killed?
    – Honey
    Sep 28, 2017 at 20:16
  • @Honey From the ODO definition, capture was sufficient. Here's an article on How Bounty Hunting Works. It talks about a $5000 bounty on Jesse James as well as notes the infamous "dead or alive" phrase. Even if the dead part was allowed, I suppose the alive part would have been normative or at least permitted. If the bounty-hunting was related to debts, perhaps the return of money was the prime condition for bounty-payout.
    – Lawrence
    Sep 29, 2017 at 0:45
  • I think you took my question to literally :). Let me complete it: Historically did they have to give any reward to anyone even if no one was killed/captured alive?
    – Honey
    Sep 29, 2017 at 3:15

For many words, there can be more than one definition. Although the definition you provided in your question may be the most prominent (especially in the early 1800s), the word "bounty" can be used in other ways.

For example, the definition of "bounty" on Google:

1) generosity; liberality.

2) a monetary gift or reward

  • So do they match the intended definition? I just want an academic opinion. I don't mind if it does. I am just being curious and obviously opinionated
    – Honey
    Aug 18, 2016 at 19:07
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    Certainly a Wild West "bounty-hunter" was someone who sought a monetary gift or reward, tracking a criminal with a bounty on his head. It seems entirely appropriate unless you're really interested in coconut confectionary.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 18, 2016 at 19:12
  • Yes but generosity nor monetary gift match the literal meaning if there is no single answer
    – Honey
    Aug 18, 2016 at 19:17
  • @Honey The 'most prominent' / default / 'should be assumed to be meant' meaning is listed first by most dictionaries for words having several senses (which most do). OED is different in that it records senses in the order it considers them to have appeared; it is called a 'historical dictionary' (of English). But English is user-driven; 'bounty' is quite acceptable semantically (though it jars with me for reasons of style / connotation). Aug 18, 2016 at 19:31
  • Aren't bounties granted when the action is done? Or something demanded is delivered?
    – Honey
    Aug 18, 2016 at 19:32

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