Wording in Questions

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Wording in Questions

Post by Cheynem »

Quizbowl-ese as a writing style occasionally lends itself to rather tortured and bizarre sentence constructions--sometimes out of necessity, sometimes for no real reason. What I would like to do in this thread is to address some wording/sentence construction issues that bother me, see what people think, and invite others to do the same.

Here are three things I've been thinking about lately:

1. Using the word "notable" or "famous" or "notably" or "famously." At times, I think these words can be used acceptably, but at other times, they're thrown around way too casually to be of any help in tossups. A tossup that begins with "Advisers to this man notably included John Booby and Edgar Sprat" has always struck me as awkward--maybe you're trying to get across that it is indeed the famous John Booby or that you, the author, find it particularly important, but otherwise I'm confused why "notably" is needed here.

2. Using conjunctions or semi colons for no reason. This really aggravates me. I dislike when two unrelated phrases or sentences are connected, especially with the word "but." This happens way to often in tossups. You have a sentence like this: "This man served as Secretary of the Treasury, but would go on to write the novel Dragon's Eye." The usage of the word "but" is dumb here--it's clearly trying to connect two short unrelated sentences, but it implies there is some odd connection between the two facts, like writing the novel Dragon's Eye was very odd considering he was Secretary of the Treasury. I believe this tends to happen either because of lack of care in selecting word choice or because of moving sentences around.

3. Making the bonus a bit too lead-in heavy. This isn't that common and it may be an aesthetic thing, but every so often you get bonuses that are structured like this:

This man had John Adams as his Vice-President and suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion. For 10 points each:
[10] Name this American President.

In this case, there are no real useful clues that appear in the first bonus prompt after "for 10 points each"--all of the key clues were in the lead-in. Obviously, you, the player, get to hear the whole thing, so it shouldn't be a problem, but it bothers me aesthetically and on a pragmatic level it seems like it's always harder to hear the lead-ins. I am not sure if I am the only person who gets hung up on this issue though.

I'll let others weigh in now.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

Those conjunction-abusing sentences probably just sound better or more dignified to people as they're writing. Short-sentence language like "He was Secretary of the Treasury. He wrote the novel Dragon's Eye" sound stunted, if not stupid, but I agree that they are the best way to write a tossup. I'm making more an effort to write like that now (there was a Seth Teitler post about this a while back that made me think about it).

I don't know how "noted" and "notable" began, but at this point they are a harmless meme. I fully confess to adding "noted" and "notable" to tossups for the sole purpose of tradition and amusement. If the addition of one word will ruin a tossup, that tossup has much bigger problems than the word "noted".

People seem to expect bonus lead-ins to be clue heavy. I used to be a big writer of simplistic bonus lead-ins like "Answer the following about Mesopotamia FTPE" -- in July Crisis I believe I even had a bonus that simply began "identify the following from clues". But people complained about these. They seemed to WANT lead-ins that contained clues, and viewed clue-less lead-ins as a waste of space. So I obliged.

Generally, I put obscure clues (or clues that I want to introduce into the canon) in the lead-in, and then easier clues in the bonus part.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Auroni »

"This man had John Adams as his Vice-President and suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion. For 10 points each:
[10] Name this American President."

This reminds me; I really hate bonus leadin constructions that pack the 1-3 clues for a particular prompt in the leadin, and then follow it up with "[10] Name this author." If you're playing a game and can't hear the bonus leadin for whatever reason in this case, well, then you're shit out of luck.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by women, fire and dangerous things »

Quite often, people use constructions that aren't actually real sentences. For example:

"In one work by this author, the shootout at the OK Corral is described in a single sentence over a hundred pages long, Christ Versus Arizona."

You can't say "In one work by this author, Christ Versus Arizona..." because it doesn't preserve pyramidality, so people often just stick the title at the end. Admittedly, the normal structure of a sentence is often at odds with pyramidality or other question-writing constraints, but the solution to that should usually be to break the sentence up into two sentences.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

You can do "That work is [whatever]", but that adds substantial length. You could also do "Apart from [work described in last clue]", he also did [easier clue]".

But here's the best part: you don't need to mention the work immediately after you describe it! You can say "in one work, this person says [obscure thing]", then have a bunch of other clues, then drop a "This author of [work the lead-in was from] also did [easier thing]"
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Rococo A Go Go »

The word "notably" is reaching the status of the words "polity" and "titular" in regards to being used a lot in Quizbowl. I wonder if all three of those words have ever appeared in the same question?
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Auroni »

Yeah, I would love to see the usage of those three words be cut down by as much as 90%. "Notably" and "famously" never convey helpful information and serve to frustrate. "Polity" is very unspecific and can be replaced with a more specific word without a risk of transparency in 9/10 cases.

EDIT: You also mentioned "titular." I aesthetically like the word "eponymous" over "titular," and I also think that 10-15 instances of it in one tossup on, say, Aaron's Rod, is annoying. You can (and should) use it a few times near the end of the question to narrow down the range of answers.
Last edited by Auroni on Wed Oct 20, 2010 5:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

women, fire and dangerous things wrote:Quite often, people use constructions that aren't actually real sentences. For example:

"In one work by this author, the shootout at the OK Corral is described in a single sentence over a hundred pages long, Christ Versus Arizona."

You can't say "In one work by this author, Christ Versus Arizona..." because it doesn't preserve pyramidality, so people often just stick the title at the end. Admittedly, the normal structure of a sentence is often at odds with pyramidality or other question-writing constraints, but the solution to that should usually be to break the sentence up into two sentences.
Oh god, do I hate this formation. I like using "In one work by this author, [clue about X]. This author of X also wrote..." (or, depending on the fame of the title of X, ""In one work by this author, [clue about X]. In another of his works, [clue about Y]. This author of X and Y also wrote..." Additionally, the title of Y can be moved even later, if so desired). Please resist the temptation to casually hammer words together into non-sentences; your questions will seem a thousand times less awkward.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Susan »

women, fire and dangerous things wrote:Quite often, people use constructions that aren't actually real sentences. For example:

"In one work by this author, the shootout at the OK Corral is described in a single sentence over a hundred pages long, Christ Versus Arizona."

You can't say "In one work by this author, Christ Versus Arizona..." because it doesn't preserve pyramidality, so people often just stick the title at the end. Admittedly, the normal structure of a sentence is often at odds with pyramidality or other question-writing constraints, but the solution to that should usually be to break the sentence up into two sentences.
It's usually reasonably easy to rework these sentences to be pyramidal and grammatical. To wit:
"This author described the shootout at the OK Corral in a single sentence over a hundred pages long in his novel Christ Versus Arizona."

It seems to me that the "In one work by this author, [thing happens]. In another work by this author, [thing happens]. In yet another work by this author, [thing happens]..." construction tends to lead to unwieldy sentences like the one in Will's example, so don't overuse it.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Auroni »

myamphigory wrote:It seems to me that the "In one work by this author, [thing happens]. In another work by this author, [thing happens]. In yet another work by this author, [thing happens]..." construction tends to lead to unwieldy sentences like the one in Will's example, so don't overuse it.
In addition, this construction gets fairly boring fairly quickly.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by AKKOLADE »

Ukonvasara wrote:
women, fire and dangerous things wrote:Quite often, people use constructions that aren't actually real sentences. For example:

"In one work by this author, the shootout at the OK Corral is described in a single sentence over a hundred pages long, Christ Versus Arizona."

You can't say "In one work by this author, Christ Versus Arizona..." because it doesn't preserve pyramidality, so people often just stick the title at the end. Admittedly, the normal structure of a sentence is often at odds with pyramidality or other question-writing constraints, but the solution to that should usually be to break the sentence up into two sentences.
Oh god, do I hate this formation. I like using "In one work by this author, [clue about X]. This author of X also wrote..." (or, depending on the fame of the title of X, ""In one work by this author, [clue about X]. In another of his works, [clue about Y]. This author of X and Y also wrote..." Additionally, the title of Y can be moved even later, if so desired). Please resist the temptation to casually hammer words together into non-sentences; your questions will seem a thousand times less awkward.
Even less awkward would be "This author wrote about [STUFF] in [TITLE]."
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by magin »

Ronnie the Bear wrote:
Ukonvasara wrote:
women, fire and dangerous things wrote:Quite often, people use constructions that aren't actually real sentences. For example:

"In one work by this author, the shootout at the OK Corral is described in a single sentence over a hundred pages long, Christ Versus Arizona."

You can't say "In one work by this author, Christ Versus Arizona..." because it doesn't preserve pyramidality, so people often just stick the title at the end. Admittedly, the normal structure of a sentence is often at odds with pyramidality or other question-writing constraints, but the solution to that should usually be to break the sentence up into two sentences.
Oh god, do I hate this formation. I like using "In one work by this author, [clue about X]. This author of X also wrote..." (or, depending on the fame of the title of X, ""In one work by this author, [clue about X]. In another of his works, [clue about Y]. This author of X and Y also wrote..." Additionally, the title of Y can be moved even later, if so desired). Please resist the temptation to casually hammer words together into non-sentences; your questions will seem a thousand times less awkward.
Even less awkward would be "This author wrote about [STUFF] in [TITLE]."
I generally prefer mentioning the title in a different sentence in order to give players time to think about the description of the work/event/object being described and buzz on it before the title. The full stop created by the period gives more time for a small amount of rumination about the clues and buzzing on the description, whereas title buzzes tend to be more automatic and binary. Not that title buzzes are bad in any way, but since most people seemingly agree about describing something in a tossup before you name it, giving players a tad more time to think about the descriptive clues and buzz on them before the more reflex/unthinking title buzzes seems wise to me.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

Ronnie the Bear wrote:
Ukonvasara wrote:
women, fire and dangerous things wrote:Quite often, people use constructions that aren't actually real sentences. For example:

"In one work by this author, the shootout at the OK Corral is described in a single sentence over a hundred pages long, Christ Versus Arizona."

You can't say "In one work by this author, Christ Versus Arizona..." because it doesn't preserve pyramidality, so people often just stick the title at the end. Admittedly, the normal structure of a sentence is often at odds with pyramidality or other question-writing constraints, but the solution to that should usually be to break the sentence up into two sentences.
Oh god, do I hate this formation. I like using "In one work by this author, [clue about X]. This author of X also wrote..." (or, depending on the fame of the title of X, ""In one work by this author, [clue about X]. In another of his works, [clue about Y]. This author of X and Y also wrote..." Additionally, the title of Y can be moved even later, if so desired). Please resist the temptation to casually hammer words together into non-sentences; your questions will seem a thousand times less awkward.
Even less awkward would be "This author wrote about [STUFF] in [TITLE]."
Obviously, but that doesn't always work pyramidally; sometimes [STUFF2] should go before [TITLE]. If you do plan to put it at the end of the sentence, though, that works just fine.

Also, I agree with Magin's point.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Kyle »

My pet peeve is giveaways that use an imperative immediately after a dangling modifier. For example, one might end a tossup by writing "The author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, FTP identify this Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize." If you absolutely insist on putting a modifier before the FTP, how is it not both clearer and more grammatical to write "The author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, this is, FTP, which Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize?"

In fact, I strongly prefer this approach to the other alternative I see a lot, which would be to write "FTP, identify this author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize." I don't particularly like this way partly because this sentence is a little bit confusing and partly because I want to be able to predict where the tossup is going to end without having to guess whether an extra description is going to be tacked onto the end. But this to me is far, far better than the dangling modifier approach.
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Re: Wording in Questions

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Kyle wrote:My pet peeve is giveaways that use an imperative immediately after a dangling modifier. For example, one might end a tossup by writing "The author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, FTP identify this Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize." If you absolutely insist on putting a modifier before the FTP, how is it not both clearer and more grammatical to write "The author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, this is, FTP, which Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize?"
Yeah I hate those. Probably the thing I have the biggest complaint about in terms of grammar in packets I've read.
every time i refresh i have a new name wrote:Yeah, I would love to see the usage of those three words be cut down by as much as 90%. "Notably" and "famously" never convey helpful information and serve to frustrate. "Polity" is very unspecific and can be replaced with a more specific word without a risk of transparency in 9/10 cases.
I think entity or something like that works too as long as the same word isn't used a ton throughout a packet or set.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by ValenciaQBowl »

As a sniffy grammarian, I understand your objection to the dangling modifier, Kyle, but you imply that even if not dangling, you don't like a modifying phrase before the "FTP." As one who frequently uses such constructions, I'm curious why you feel this way (if I'm correctly reading your correction, that is).

PS--I should admit, however, that I sometimes use the imperative following such a phrase, though, as the subject of the following clause has almost certainly been made clear by previous sentences in the question, and clue layering is usually more important to me than even my beloved grammar issues when it comes to question writing.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Nicklausse/Muse »

Dangling modifiers tick me off to no end (Chris, I hope that was intentional). It's really not difficult: if you include the phrase "name this [thing]," you can't have a modifier. If you want a modifier, use "this is" instead of "name this [thing]."
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Re: Wording in Questions

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The giveaway sentence should always begin "For 10 points..." Throwing in a dangling dependent clause before it sounds terrible and makes no sense grammatically.

People should learn how to connect two sentences they want to connect with "which." I did this a ton in Collegiate Novice ("1888 was known as the Year of the Three Emperors in this polity, which was victorious at the battles of Chotusitz and Mollwitz." Basically, the construction allows you to have two clues seamlessly meld together without excessive pronouns, confusion over what's being asked for, convoluted wording, or moderator confusion about where the pauses go. The only real problem is that you can't use these for lead-ins because the pronoun is the pivot of the sentence (the example I used was a lead-in only because I thought it was a short enough clue that wouldn't induce any confused buzzes).

Speaking of that, we should all learn the difference between "that" and "which."

1. "The dog that sits in the corner" is correct. Despite all of the 1930s judicial opinions you may be reading that say otherwise, "The dog which sits in the corner" is not. "The dog, which sits in the corner" is technically correct, but using "that" is better.

2. "Gerald's car, which is the same one his sister drove" is correct. "Gerald's car, that is the same one his sister drove" is not. "Gerald's car that is the same one his sister drove" is just awful writing.

Simple rule: when used as a "that" substitute, which has a comma after it.

"Titular" typically refers to either a) something that exists in title only (Norton, the titular emperor of the United States), or b) the act of having a title (the titular party chair). It can mean "of, relating to, or constituting a title," but there is a shorter, less confusing word that means that: title. Use title when you're talking about a "title character," "title object," etc. Use titular if you're talking referring to a title itself.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Kyle »

ValenciaQBowl wrote:As a sniffy grammarian, I understand your objection to the dangling modifier, Kyle, but you imply that even if not dangling, you don't like a modifying phrase before the "FTP." As one who frequently uses such constructions, I'm curious why you feel this way (if I'm correctly reading your correction, that is).

PS--I should admit, however, that I sometimes use the imperative following such a phrase, though, as the subject of the following clause has almost certainly been made clear by previous sentences in the question, and clue layering is usually more important to me than even my beloved grammar issues when it comes to question writing.
No, no, Andrew doesn't like modifiers before the FTP. I don't mind at all if they're clear, which can easily be accomplished by using a question mark. I truly, truly hate option (1), which people do way too much. Nobody could possibly object to option (4). I prefer option (2) to option (3).

Keep in mind that the clues in all four proposed examples are exactly the same and in the exact same order:

(1) "The author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, FTP identify this Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize."

(2) "The author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, this is, FTP, which Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize?"

(3) "FTP, identify this author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize."

(4) "This author wrote Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. FTP, name this Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize."
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by ValenciaQBowl »

Thanks for the clarification, Kyle.
The giveaway sentence should always begin "For 10 points..." Throwing in a dangling dependent clause before it sounds terrible and makes no sense grammatically.
Here, Andrew, I'm going to respectfully disagree. The idea that a construction "sounds terrible" is, I suppose, an aesthetic one, and thus open to debate. However, that such constructions make "no sense grammatically" appears incorrect to me.

Take the following, for example:

Author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, FTP who is this Peruvian novelist blah, blah, blah.

The modifying opening is a phrase (not a clause, in case that matters), and it isn't dangling since "who" is a relative pronoun referring back to "author."

I have no problem with an aesthetic complaint that the above example "sounds terrible," though I'll disagree, but I don't see how it's nonsense. As always, though, I'm open to enlightenment.

PS--if one really hates such constructions in the giveaway, I reckon s/he ought to stay away from Delta Burke! (The sets, not the lady, though that may also be advisable).
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Sir Thopas »

theMoMA wrote:Speaking of that, we should all learn the difference between "that" and "which."

1. "The dog that sits in the corner" is correct. Despite all of the 1930s judicial opinions you may be reading that say otherwise, "The dog which sits in the corner" is not. "The dog, which sits in the corner" is technically correct, but using "that" is better.

2. "Gerald's car, which is the same one his sister drove" is correct. "Gerald's car, that is the same one his sister drove" is not. "Gerald's car that is the same one his sister drove" is just awful writing.

Simple rule: when used as a "that" substitute, which has a comma after it.
You're wrong and attempting to apply this rule would be a waste of time when we could all be focussed on awkward, ambiguous, and actually wrong sentences.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by theMoMA »

In quizbowl questions (which is all I'm talking about), there is never a reason to use "which" in that way. "Which" sounds more strained when read, is sometimes confusing for readers, and takes up more space. Consistent usage throughout a tournament set is very helpful to understanding the cadence of questions. It's not a hard-and-fast rule in actual writing, but in quizbowl questions, "that" should be the what you use. Quizbowl writing is as much about ease of understanding, readability, and establishing reasonable standards as it is about proper grammar. And "that" is a lot more understandable, readable, and modern.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by theMoMA »

ValenciaQBowl wrote:Here, Andrew, I'm going to respectfully disagree. The idea that a construction "sounds terrible" is, I suppose, an aesthetic one, and thus open to debate. However, that such constructions make "no sense grammatically" appears incorrect to me.

Take the following, for example:

Author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, FTP who is this Peruvian novelist blah, blah, blah.

The modifying opening is a phrase (not a clause, in case that matters), and it isn't dangling since "who" is a relative pronoun referring back to "author."

I have no problem with an aesthetic complaint that the above example "sounds terrible," though I'll disagree, but I don't see how it's nonsense. As always, though, I'm open to enlightenment.

PS--if one really hates such constructions in the giveaway, I reckon s/he ought to stay away from Delta Burke! (The sets, not the lady, though that may also be advisable).
Personally, I like to remove all sentence-leading phrases without proper pronouns from quizbowl questions. Almost to a tee, the pre-FTP clauses (or phrases, or whatever they are) don't have a true pronoun in them. I'm not the most learned grammarian in the world, but I tend to find that dangling modifiers with implied pronouns make for poor constructions in quizbowl questions, and the pre-FTP phrases we're talking about universally have that problem. Also, I'm really not a fan of using abbreviations for "for 10 points," especially without a comma after it; the way you've written it gives the reader no idea of what the words are or how they fit into the sentence.

With your example above, I think it's a lot more straightforward to say "For 10 points, name this author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a Peruvian who recently won the Nobel in literature." or something like that (or even "This author wrote about the deranged radio play author Pedro Camacho in his play Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. For 10 points, name this Peruvian author who recently won the Nobel Prize in literature."
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

There is a difference between "this construction violates my personal prescriptive views on style" and "this construction is unclear". I have great fear that this thread is beginning to blend that difference.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Kyle »

theMoMA wrote:"For 10 points, name this author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a Peruvian who recently won the Nobel in literature."

"This author wrote about the deranged radio play author Pedro Camacho in his play Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. For 10 points, name this Peruvian author who recently won the Nobel Prize in literature."
Keeping Bruce's comment very much in mind, I think there is a difference between these two that actually affects how the game is played and not just one's aesthetic sense. If you don't really know the answer but think you might have a chance and thus want to buzz immediately upon the very last word of the question, then the extra clause in the first example is likely to throw you off. Not so in the second example, which I think is great.

(Also, Andrew, I like how you've subtly added to my example what his Nobel Prize is in, but do you really think that after a whole question of describing his books somebody is going to be under the impression that he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry?)
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Important Bird Area »

Kyle wrote:My pet peeve is giveaways that use an imperative immediately after a dangling modifier. For example, one might end a tossup by writing "The author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, FTP identify this Peruvian novelist who just won the Nobel Prize."
I am also sick of seeing this construction. NAQT's style guide explicitly bans its use, and yet our writers continue producing it for some reason. (Our policy is that removing the FTP must result in a complete sentence. Writers may not use it as a pseudoconjunction. This example would probably wind up as "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter was written by--for 10 points--what Peruvian author who won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature?")
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by ValenciaQBowl »

Also, I'm really not a fan of using abbreviations for "for 10 points," especially without a comma after it; the way you've written it gives the reader no idea of what the words are or how they fit into the sentence.
Right--I recall this discussion in a thread earlier this year (I think). Being old, I've always just used "FTP" as an abbreviation with the expectation that anyone reading at Delta Burke will know what it means (or will have it explained before the tournament begins). And I think we have already debated the necessity of the following comma--to me it is unnecessary since it has no grammatical reason to exist there, but you (or someone else) argued that the comma allows some sort of mental pause for a player. I get it, though for my tournaments I'll do it my way; when writing for ACF or CO or whatever, I try to adhere to prevailing custom.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Cheynem »

Here's an aesthetic one--there are some tossups I've seen which backlog way too much clues after the "For 10 points." It's like written under the idea that anything remotely connected to the giveaway has to be after the "For 10 points." While I suppose this is an attempt to preserve pyramidality, in my opinion, it just constructs unwieldy run-on type sentences, like this one:

"This leader initiated Operation Hummingbird. For 10 points, name this leader who initiated Operation Barbarossa and was advised by such men as Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels while he was carrying out the Final Solution in his post as Fuhrer of the Third Reich." There's nothing wrong here with moving some of the clues in the "For 10 points" sentence earlier.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Kyle »

Cheynem wrote:Here's an aesthetic one--there are some tossups I've seen which backlog way too much clues after the "For 10 points." It's like written under the idea that anything remotely connected to the giveaway has to be after the "For 10 points." While I suppose this is an attempt to preserve pyramidality, in my opinion, it just constructs unwieldy run-on type sentences, like this one:

"This leader initiated Operation Hummingbird. For 10 points, name this leader who initiated Operation Barbarossa and was advised by such men as Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels while he was carrying out the Final Solution in his post as Fuhrer of the Third Reich." There's nothing wrong here with moving some of the clues in the "For 10 points" sentence earlier.
Both this and my point about commas and modifiers after the giveaway follow from the same general principle, which is that "for 10 points" should indicate that you're about to hear the last clue of the question. As such, I don't think it's an aesthetic complaint. If that isn't what "for 10 points" means, then why do we even stick it into the question? (In England, they have done away with it altogether, which is well down the list of British innovations that get on my nerves)
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by grapesmoker »

Morraine Man wrote:There is a difference between "this construction violates my personal prescriptive views on style" and "this construction is unclear". I have great fear that this thread is beginning to blend that difference.
In this spirit, I'm going to come out in defense of the dangling modifier. I don't get what people's problem is with this; it makes perfect sense in a question-writing context.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by grapesmoker »

What I'm surprised isn't being talked about in this thread is grammatic ambiguity. If your question goes "(1) Sentence describing some thing. (2) A sentence describing a different thing. That thing..." and you're using the word "that" to refer to stuff in sentence 1, UR DOIN IT RONG as they say on the internet. The only questions I've seen from events this year were from EFT, and there were a bunch of formulations there that were really unfortunate and misleading. That's the kind of thing I wish people would focus on, not completely trivial stuff like the "that/which" distinction.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Auroni »

grapesmoker wrote:
Morraine Man wrote:There is a difference between "this construction violates my personal prescriptive views on style" and "this construction is unclear". I have great fear that this thread is beginning to blend that difference.
In this spirit, I'm going to come out in defense of the dangling modifier. I don't get what people's problem is with this; it makes perfect sense in a question-writing context.
Grammatical issues aside, it's sometimes difficult to follow questions with several dangling modifiers in them. It's easy to write correct sentences that read as sentences, and I think that writers should write complete sentences and not worry about stuff like the that/which distinction.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by grapesmoker »

every time i refresh i have a new name wrote:Grammatical issues aside, it's sometimes difficult to follow questions with several dangling modifiers in them. It's easy to write correct sentences that read as sentences, and I think that writers should write complete sentences and not worry about stuff like the that/which distinction.
I think it sounds off every place but at the "For ten points," as illustrated by Kyle's example. I guess my attitude towards it is that it's been going on for so long that it's basically an accepted linguistic practice in quizbowl, so it's not that big of a deal.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by magin »

This is a really minor point, but I think saying "title character" or "title object" is cleaner and more understandable to the average player than "titular character" or "titular object," which strike me as less clear. I find "titular" to be really popular in quizbowl and not anywhere else, and I think it's a kind of quizbowl-specific language that doesn't really make sense to use (since "title" means the same thing, is much more commonly used outside of quizbowl, and is one syllable).
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by The Schopenhauer Power Hour »

magin wrote:This is a really minor point, but I think saying "title character" or "title object" is cleaner and more understandable to the average player than "titular character" or "titular object," which strike me as less clear. I find "titular" to be really popular in quizbowl and not anywhere else, and I think it's a kind of quizbowl-specific language that doesn't really make sense to use (since "title" means the same thing, is much more commonly used outside of quizbowl, and is one syllable).
I have a minor question off this minor point. What's the appropriateness of using "title" or "titular" to describe a thing referred to in the title, versus a thing that's explicitly named in the title? For example, if a tossup on Lady Chatterley's Lover referred to a "titular character," would that mean Lady Chatterley, or the person who loves Lady Chatterley, or either?

I can't refer to any specific instances when a question has referred to one of those things and made me think it meant the other, which may in fact mean it's not an issue, but it seems like it could be confusing in certain cases if you're trying to think of one person when really it's asking about someone entirely different.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by grapesmoker »

The Schopenhauer Power Hour wrote:I have a minor question off this minor point. What's the appropriateness of using "title" or "titular" to describe a thing referred to in the title, versus a thing that's explicitly named in the title? For example, if a tossup on Lady Chatterley's Lover referred to a "titular character," would that mean Lady Chatterley, or the person who loves Lady Chatterley, or either?
This clearly refers to Mellors, for the simple reason that he is the only noun mentioned in the title. "Lady Chatterley's" is an adjective in this case.

My reaction to Jonathan's point about "title" vs. "titular" is similar to how I feel about those dangling modifiers. This is a commonly accepted linguistic practice in quizbowl and doesn't present any actual difficulty when it comes to understanding what's being asked. I know that "titular" has a slightly different meaning outside of quizbowl but I am fine with this formulation.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Kyle »

Jerry, by this logic then it's okay to refer, say, to something happening in "the title city" of The Charterhouse of Parma on the grounds that Parma is in fact a noun?
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

I view "titular", "polity", "noted", etc. as words that are part of quizbowl culture. By using them in my questions, I connect to a tradition that is greater than me and my tournament, greater even than all of its participants. These words are part of our heritage.

I react to proposals to axe these words much like I imagine a Milwaukee Brewers fan would react to a proposal to no longer sing "Roll out the Barrel" during the 7th Inning Stretch.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by ValenciaQBowl »

Magin wrote:
(since "title" means the same thing, is much more commonly used outside of quizbowl, and is one syllable)
I need to hear you say the word "title" out loud sometime, Jonathan.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by theMoMA »

I'll also add that the that/which distinction is highly emphasized in Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage, which is basically the best source for learning how to write well. Wording in questions isn't an objective science; it's a subjective and stylistic choice. Those attempting to articulate a distinction between the two are merely arguing "don't write poorly" instead of "write well." I also dislike the argument that some problems aren't important enough to talk about or try to fix. We should really just try to become better writers on the whole instead of trying to identify which pervasive problems are actually problematic enough to care about.

Also, Bruce, I too find using traditional quizbowl wording to be amusing on occasion. I've found it so in tournaments that you've written and edited, in no small part because I know you're doing it to amuse people like me. But I've also edited tournaments and received packets that had at least fifty uses of various forms of the words "famous" and "notable." There's a big difference between you using this language as an amusing link to the past and saying that "titular," "notable," etc. are things that should be encouraged in submitted packets.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

Sure. They only sing Roll out the Barrell once, after all. I think.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by grapesmoker »

Kyle wrote:Jerry, by this logic then it's okay to refer, say, to something happening in "the title city" of The Charterhouse of Parma on the grounds that Parma is in fact a noun?
Sure, why wouldn't it be? Look, The Charterhouse of Parma features two elements: the charterhouse and the city of Parma. Either can be the referent of the word "titular" (though of course only "Parma" could be the referent of "titular city," as charterhouses aren't cities). By contrast, there is only one "title character" of Lady Chatterley's Lover and that's the lover himself. I think this makes a lot of sense because I can't really see how you would properly refer to Lady Chatterley herself in a coherent way that would make sense to question listeners.

I'm loathe to offer hard and fast rules about this; the key purpose of writing is to communicate what you mean. If there's a chance that people won't understand what you mean, you should revise that, but a lot of it has to do not so much with having rules in place as it does with being a competent user of English. No one who understands how English works is confused when "title city" is used to refer to "Parma" in the above example. I would say that I'm hard-pressed to believe that a competent English speaker would be confused when Mellors is referred to as the "title character" of Lady Chatterley's Lover.

edit: on further reflection, I can see one saying, "the titular female" to refer to Lady Chatterley herself. That would be the same kind of maneuver which would allow one to refer to either Parma or the charterhouse.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by cvdwightw »

I am suddenly reminded of how annoyed I get trying to read questions with a reasonable cadence and coming across the traditional quizbowl construction of "this/these" without a referent. I don't know what's so hard about using "they/them/it/(this X)/(these Xs)" instead.

Oh, another thing. Using appositives when you don't have to just takes up space. For instance,

"This man, the son of Babur..."

Just say "This son of Babur..."
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by grapesmoker »

theMoMA wrote:Also, Bruce, I too find using traditional quizbowl wording to be amusing on occasion. I've found it so in tournaments that you've written and edited, in no small part because I know you're doing it to amuse people like me. But I've also edited tournaments and received packets that had at least fifty uses of various forms of the words "famous" and "notable." There's a big difference between you using this language as an amusing link to the past and saying that "titular," "notable," etc. are things that should be encouraged in submitted packets.
I like the idea of such words as a sort of cushioning between facts. Ok, I heard that a guy did X, now there's some cruft which allows me to think about that fact for a little longer, oh, here comes a different fact about this guy doing Y. It's a stylistic choice based on the fact that I prefer a slower-paced game to the more staccato pacing of condensed questions. I don't think either is right or wrong so much as it is just a preference. Bruce's "tradition" comment does amuse me greatly, though.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by grapesmoker »

cvdwightw wrote:I am suddenly reminded of how annoyed I get trying to read questions with a reasonable cadence and coming across the traditional quizbowl construction of "this/these" without a referent. I don't know what's so hard about using "they/them/it/(this X)/(these Xs)" instead.
This is a real problem and causes lots of confusion in question reading. Please be sure that it's obvious which things your pronouns refer to.
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Re: Wording in Questions

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grapesmoker wrote:
cvdwightw wrote:I am suddenly reminded of how annoyed I get trying to read questions with a reasonable cadence and coming across the traditional quizbowl construction of "this/these" without a referent. I don't know what's so hard about using "they/them/it/(this X)/(these Xs)" instead.
This is a real problem and causes lots of confusion in question reading. Please be sure that it's obvious which things your pronouns refer to.
I'll third this. Even if you need to be super-coy about the class of pronouns you're talking about, surely "this entity" or "this thing" or "this person" or something similar general is better than using "this" as a stand-alone pronoun.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Nicklausse/Muse »

Do people still italicize "this" when it isn't followed by a referent? That seems like it could be good practice if for some reason it doesn't work to say "this [thing]."
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by magin »

Thanks for catching that, Chris. Title is indeed two syllables.

To be clear, I don't think the title/titular distinction big deal, but I think that title is easier than titular for moderators to say and for players to hear, which is why I prefer it. Using titular isn't really a problem, but it often gets really overused, and I think it makes some sense for questions not to use it very often.

In that vein, I like the suggestion someone made in an earlier thread, which is to put hyphens between the syllables of names of really long chemical compounds, since trying to parse their syllables on the fly can easily trip up even experienced moderators.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by Sir Thopas »

magin wrote:In that vein, I like the suggestion someone made in an earlier thread, which is to put hyphens between the syllables of names of really long chemical compounds, since trying to parse their syllables on the fly can easily trip up even experienced moderators.
Since hyphens can sometimes have actual orthographic meaning, I prefer interpuncts. N.b.: for Aztec names as well.
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Re: Wording in Questions

Post by No Rules Westbrook »

Eh, it's just like quizbowlers to be all pedantic about rules of grammar. Go listen to the words of Meat Loaf on the spoken word - it ain't about grammatical perfection, it's about communicating clues orally (heh, that's totally how you get clues).

A lot depends on how good the moderator is - if the mod doesn't know how to correctly read those dangling modifiers, it'll sound confusing. If you use proper inflection, it'll sound fine. So, it's probably wise to act under the assumption that there'll be at least a few less-experienced moderators on any given occasion. Title's better than titular - titular is hard to say. A lot of constructions that are technically more correct are also more of a mouthful to get out - and potentially less intuitive in terms of understanding the meaning.

"Padding" is good - give people enough time to mull over clues, remember that people aren't robots who react automatically to words. Remember that hearing clues is different than reading them.

Words like "famous" and "notable" have their place, but it's kind of insider speak. They can mean a few things. They can mean "psst, this clue is slightly more important or relevant than the others" or "these advisors are slightly more important than the other advisors this king had" or "I know this clue sounds useless - but it's actually not, I promise!" or whatever.

Oh, and pronouns, be clear about them.
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