A recent question on the English Language and Usage site brought up a part of the site attribution policy that I think is unclear.
https://meta.stackexchange.com//help/referencing lays out the basic quote, link, name original author policy.
But does this apply when someone is asking a question about a joke, in a situation where it is unclear who the original author of the joke is?
The post in question goes like this:
Here is a question I've encountered:
How can you lift an elephant with one hand?
The answer provided is:
It is not a problem, since you will never find an elephant with one hand.
Now, if I actually want this sentence to mean that can I lift an elephant with a single hand (meaning my own hand), how would I say that?
I don't see any benefit to telling the OP that it is required to edit this edit this to add where the OP encountered the question/joke.
Adding this information is unlikely to give any useful context.
Attribution sometimes serves the role of giving credit to the original author, but a Google search indicates that this punch line could be attributed to a number of people, with no clear original:
AskReddit, "How can you lift an elephant with one hand?" (self.AskReddit), Adrienney 10 months ago
funquizzesclub.com, "How Can You Lift An Elephant With One Hand?," Nabeel Sukri, 1 year ago
poqery.com "How can you lift an elephant with one hand?", answered Oct 22, 2015 by only1dani
Sure, I guess you could just go with the oldest. But who knows, that might be copied from something even older. And do we really need to require OPs to go on a citation hunt like this?
I think the standards for attribution for material that is being asked about in questions should be lower than the standards for attribution in answers. In a question about a joke like this, it's clear the OP is not trying to take credit for the material. This is not "joke theft" or plagiarism. Telling the OP that a citation is required in cases like this seems to me to be a reflexive overextension of the site plagiarism policy that has no real benefit.
I thought about posting this on the ELU meta, but I decided on here since the citation/plagiarism policy spans the network and my understanding is that the users of a single site cannot decide to be more lenient on unattributed quotations than Stack Exchange as a whole allows.