- See also: Category:Quizbowl lingo
This is a page compiling information on lingo that people in quizbowl use: jargon about the game which may be difficult to understand for people who are not familiar with the game or the community. This includes the concepts that quizbowl is founded on, slang, and references to community in-jokes.
- Main article: A thing
A piece of information is called a thing if it is important or worth knowing in some other sense to the person who has uttered it. Clues are typically referred to as "things" in frustration, especially when a player has lost a buzzer race on something they either knew or thought they should have known, usually due to prominence in the canon.
- Main article: A-team
The term A-team generally refers to the best team from a school which fields multiple teams, referred to as [School Name] A. The following teams would be B-team, C-team, etc.
- Main article: Academic
The term academic has two meanings in quizbowl:
- In collegiate quizbowl, "academic" tournaments are those tournaments which are not trash tournaments.
- In general, "academic" material is what mainstream quizbowl thinks questions should be about. Academic material means important facts about important topics in liberal arts fields that are relevant to understanding the context and importance of the topic in the way one might digest it in an upper-level interpretive class. It excludes not only trash but also trivia, riddles and trick questions, memorization of irrelevancies, and math calculation and other performance-based or not strictly factual knowledge. See trivia.
- Main article: accessibility
Accessibility is a somewhat nebulously-defined term that describes two things:
- For a question, the percentage of games in which a certain question was correctly answered.
- For a tournament, the average skill level of a team at the tournament, as measured by conversion metrics.
There is no objective scale of accessibility; if a tournament has an 85% tossup conversion rate, it does not necessarily mean that the tournament is "85% accessible".
In recent years there has been a huge movement toward higher accessibility as the circuit has expanded, with many new teams playing events of regular difficulty or higher.
Laypeople should have it explained to them that "accessibility" more or less means "answerability", and has nothing to do with the unrelated phenomenon of cheaters obtaining improper access to questions that they intend to play later on.
- Main article: ACF Cabal
The ACF Cabal is a term for the editors of ACF tournaments that was popular in the early 2000s as a sarcastic reference to the supposed secretive nature of that group. Sometimes also used, by synecdoche, to refer to all fans of the ACF format/question style.
- Main article: almanac clue
An almanac clue is a type of clue used in geography questions that focuses on a trivial piece of geographic information, such as the exact length of a border, the exact latitude and longitude of a country, or the average temperature at a location. Writers are discouraged from using almanac clues in questions due to their focus on a relatively insignificant piece of information (like the precise length of a river) that mostly rewards rote memorization of facts from almanacs rather than more in-depth understanding of various geographic features and concepts.
Andrew Hart Champion
- Main article: Andrew Hart Champion
- Not to be confused with an Andrew Hart Grail.
The Andrew Hart Champion of a tournament is the team with the highest points per bonus, regardless of win-loss record. The term derives from the affinity Andrew Hart has for the bonus conversion statistic.
This is not currently in use.
Andrew Hart Grail
- Main article: Andrew Hart Grail
An Andrew Hart Grail is a term used when a team hears at least 10 bonuses in a packet and has a bonus conversion of 30, implying they answered all of the bonus questions correctly. The term derives from the affinity Andrew Hart has for the bonus conversion statistic and from the related achievement of a grail.
- Main article: Arthur's paradox
Arthur's Paradox is an observation about quizbowl made by Bruce Arthur. It states that while quizbowl players adore concepts that are doubly-, triply-, or otherwise poly-eponymous, virtually no concepts created by quizbowl players to describe quizbowl are poly-eponymous.
- Main article: Bad Negs
A Bad Neg is a particularly comical or ridiculous neg which has been documented for the purposes of sharing.
- Main article: "Bad quizbowl"
"Bad quizbowl" is a term used to refer to various forms of quizbowl competitions and questions that do not follow the practices used in "good quizbowl" (namely, an emphasis on rewarding greater levels of knowledge and the pursuit of fairness in question structure and competition formats).
- Main article: bagel
The term bagel has two equivalent definitions:
- noun. The zero points received by a team that fails to correctly answer any parts of a multi-part bonus question. By analogy to the shape of the number 0.
- verb. The process of failing to answer any parts of a multi-part bonus question correctly, thereby: receiving no points on the bonus. Synonymous with the verb "to zero" in this context (i.e. "We bageled that bonus on the Franco-Mongol alliance in the first finals match.").
- Main article: Big Three
In quizbowl parlance, the Big Three are the categories of literature, science, and history. The Big Three are so named because they each take up a comparatively large share of the distribution (and take up a majority of most packets when taken together), and are therefore viewed as particularly important categories to the game.
- Main article: biking
Biking is a slang term for cheating in online quizbowl matches. Usually, the term refers specifically to cheating that occurs by searching up the answers to questions using the internet, but may also refer to cheating in general.
burden of knowledge
- Main article: burden of knowledge
The burden of knowledge is an often-invoked excuse for why a player did not correctly answer a tossup in a subject area they are well-known for liking and/or being good at. Generally speaking, the burden of knowledge arises when a player believes that a clue applies to two or more possible answers, leading that player to wait for a clue to disambiguate the answers, while another player who only knows the clue in connection with one possible answer immediately buzzes and is correct.
- Main article: buzzer fake
A buzzer fake is a tactic where one player pretends that he is about to buzz, in the hopes of luring a player on the other team into buzzing early in order to "beat" the faker out, thus inducing a neg.
- Main article: buzzer rock
A buzzer rock is a player with a low points per game average who generally does not buzz in more than a few times per tournament. A stereotypical buzzer rock will have a stat line of something like 2 tossups and 0 interrupts in 10 games for a 2.00 points per game average. Use of this term is largely discouraged due to its negative connotations and suggestions that a player's value is directly tied to their scoring ability.
- Main article: canon
The canon is the set of answers and clues which can be reasonably be expected to come up again at quizbowl events of a given level in the future based on repeatedly coming in the past. It comprises much but not all of what one will hear in a given quizbowl packet. Being able to ask about an entirely new (and thus, non-canonical) topic in a way that does not compromise the accessibility of a question is a valuable skill for a writer and leads to some of the most well-received individual questions.
Canon expansion refers to the process of getting a subject into the canon by repeatedly mentioning it in packets.
- Main article: captain
The captain is the nominal head of a team during match play.
In national formats, the only role of the captain is to designate an answer on bonuses if multiple, distinct answers are simultaneously directed at the moderator.
In some state-specific formats the captain takes on additional roles, e.g. being required to give bonus answers absent explicit deferral or being the only player allowed to call timeouts or lodge protests.
The captain can also refer to the administrative lead of a team.
- See: flashcarding
Carding is a shorthand for "flashcarding".
- Main article: chicken
Chicken, also called buzzer chicken or playing (against) the packet, is a game-within-a-game. In this game, players recognize the most obvious answer from a clue or set of clues and then must decide whether or not to buzz. It takes its name from the real game of chicken, in which participants drive cars at each other and must choose to veer away.
circle of death
- Main article: circle of death
A circle of death is a three-way tie in which each of the three teams has beaten one of of the other two teams and lost to the remaining team. Such ties cannot be broken by a head-to-head result (not that any ties should be) and require a relatively complicated tiebreaking procedure (or the use of statistical tiebreakers). The term sometimes refers to other types of three-way ties and occasionally to five-way (or even higher-order) ties that are analogous to the original meaning.
- Main article: civility
"Civility" is the act of agreeing with or, at least, passively assenting to, terrible ideas about Quiz Bowl. It should not be confused with the non-quizbowl use of the term, which refers to interacting with all other people in an even-handed manner, and has nothing to do with what proponents of "civility" in quizbowl actually want to see.
This term is no longer in common usage.
- Main article: clear
The term clear has two primary uses in quizbowl:
- the status of a question set being "clear for discussion" and thus able to be discussed in public settings like the forums
- an interjection used during gameplay to indicate that the moderator needs to reset ("clear") the buzzer lock-out system
- Main article: clock-killing neg
The clock-killing neg was a strategy employed during tournaments that used a clock to prevent the other team from answering the final question. The 2008 change in the NAQT timing rule, requiring a tossup-bonus cycle to be completed if time expires after the tossup is begun, has eliminated the clock-killing neg from pretty much all "good quizbowl".
- Main article: closed
Closed tournaments have explicit eligibility requirements detailing who can play at the tournament.
By definition, any tournament that is not an open tournament is a closed tournament. Tournaments that do not explicitly state that they are open are assumed to be closed, and thus the term is rarely used in practice.
Closed tournaments require that:
- Each team consists of players who attend the same school.
- Only teams of college students can attend college tournaments; similarly, only teams of high school students can attend high school tournaments and only teams of middle school students can attend middle school tournaments.
- Main article: Colvin science
The presence of these materials in a "science" question will usually identify it as Colvin science:
- biographical clues about scientists
- the geologic time scale
- clues about Greek and Latin roots privileged over clues about actual science
- pseudosciences and antisciences, such as creationism, Velikovskyism, and cryptozoology
This is not currently in use.
- Main article: common link
Common link questions (or common links) are pyramidal tossups whose answer is a word or phrase that happens to be common to several distinct entities that are otherwise unrelated and not linked by a theme of any significance.
Common links are not to be confused with list tossups, an obsolete form of question that simply lists different things and expects the player to somehow deduce a common attribute without any clues.
- Main article: clear
The term clear has two primary uses in quizbowl:
- the status of a question set being "clear for discussion" and thus able to be discussed in public settings like the forums
- an interjection used during gameplay to indicate that the moderator needs to reset ("clear") the buzzer lock-out system
- Main article: confer
To confer is to provide verbal or nonverbal signals to one's teammates about one's knowledge of the answer.
- Main article: conversion
- Not to be confused with downconversion (editing questions to be shorter and easier to use them for another purpose) or upconversion (the opposite).
In quizbowl jargon, conversion (or converting a question) is the act of getting a question correct. The term can be understood as taking the words of a question and "converting" them into points for one's team. Conversion is also called getting, and a converted question called a get, for much the same reason. When discussing tossups, the term "conversion" can be contrasted with powering to entail getting a question for 10 points rather than 15, or to represent that a team answered a question correctly at any point. In the context of a bonus question, converting a part simply means answering it correctly.
In most contexts, "conversion" refers to aggregate conversion (or conversion rate), usually across an entire tournament. So for example, bonus conversion generally refers to performance on all bonuses played across a tournament.
- Main article: conversion metrics
Conversion metrics are a measure of how hard a given tournament is compared to the field it attracted based on how many questions were converted. While no single conversion metric has been promoted as the best indicator of difficulty, several different conversion metrics combine to give an overall picture of the tournament.
curved yellow fruit
- Main article: curved yellow fruit
Curved yellow fruit refers to unnaturally easy giveaway clues, or questions that contain them. In the strictest sense, the preceding material must be sufficiently obscure, non-uniquely identifying, or convoluted that almost every buzz on the question will occur on this clue; thus, the entire text of the question reduces to one line that most elementary school kids would be able to answer.
- Main article: Dairy Queening
Dairy Queening is the act of participating in the social aspects of quizbowl while minimally engaging in the competitive side. A stereotypical "Dairy Queener" attends HSNCT as a fourth-scorer on a school's B or C-team, goes 4-6, and spends the remainder of the tournament enjoying the sights and other people also attending while frequently visiting Dairy Queen or other restauraunts over the course of the weekend.
This term is rarely used.
- Main article: dead
Going dead is the process of a tossup not being answered correctly by any eligible player (either due to all attempts being incorrect or no attempts being made). A dead tossup is one that is not converted.
- Main article: difficulty
Difficulty can refer to either or both of the following:
- How hard the questions at the tournament were for the players to answer, as measured either subjectively by the players themselves or objectively through conversion statistics.
- How hard the writers or editors of the tournament expect the questions to be, by analogy to a previously-played tournament or general standard. This is often denoted target difficulty.
- Main article: difficulty cliff
A difficulty cliff results when a tossup instantly transitions from "difficult" to "easy" without any intervening middle clues.
Difficulty cliffs are found more commonly in NAQT than ACF due to its shorter questions. While difficulty cliffs are almost always present in "bad quizbowl", these mistakes are typically viewed as less egregious than transparency or the use of bad clues.
- Main article: distribution
Division I and Division II
- Main article: Division I and Division II
Division II (DII) is a designation used in in collegiate quizbowl. The exact definition varies (NAQT has one definition and ACF has another) but essentially, a player is eligible for Division II if they have relatively little experience or success in collegiate quizbowl (though they may have extensive experience in high school and/or middle school quizbowl). A team is eligible for Division II if all of its players are eligible for Division II.
Division I (DI) generally indicates any collegiate quiz bowl team that is not eligible for Division II (i.e., contains at least one player who is not eligible for Division II, though it may also contain some players who are). A Division II-eligible team can choose to play in Division I.
Eric Mukherjee final
- Main article: Eric Mukherjee final
An Eric Mukherjee Final is a somewhat mean-spirited name for a game or series of play-in games to determine second place at a tournament. They only plausibly can occur when the first place team clears the field, and since second place is rarely played off, they tend to only happen during ACF Nationals. They are so-named for the fact that Eric Mukherjee participated in two sets of them, at 2014 ACF Nationals and 2018 ACF Nationals. In spite of Jacob Reed having also done this, they are named for Eric due to his frequent references to the 2018 instance, which he won, as "the finals" of ACF Nationals, which somehow overwrites the fact that he has played in several actual ACF Nationals finals and won the 2015 instance.
- Main article: flashcarding
Flashcards are used by some quizbowl players for studying. A flashcard is an index card with one piece of information on the front side (e.g. a clue pointing towards a potential answer, a title) and a related piece on the other (i.e. the answer corresponding to said clue, the author of that title). The use of flashcards for study, or the writing of information on such devices, is sometimes referred to as flashcarding or carding.
- Main article: football coaches
Football coaches are two different types of people who affect high school quizbowl negatively:
1) A high school quizbowl coach who insists on developing "strategies," substituting players frequently, yelling at his team, and coming up with practice approaches that involve anything besides learning clues that are likely to come up, is generally acting like a football coach instead of a quizbowl coach.
2) Football coaches are the people who run state athletic associations. They are responsible for single-elimination tournaments, "language arts" questions, three-weekend, 11-match state series, restrictions on out-of-state participation, and generally everything that is bad about "officially sanctioned" high school quizbowl. Whenever someone gets frustrated about the problems with IHSA, MSHSAA, or VHSL quizbowl, they should be reminded that those organizations are run by football coaches, not quizbowl coaches or players, and thus do not necessarily understand or care how to run a good quizbowl tournament (and in many cases will be actively opposed to doing so).
This is not currently in use.
- Main article: format
Format is a term with multiple meanings in quizbowl discussion, including but not necessarily limited to the following:
- (rarely) the typographical formatting of text in a quizbowl packet or other quizbowl-related documents
- Main article: format war
"Format war" was a magic phrase used to cast a spell on quizbowl discussion fora, causing them to stop the folly of discussing quizbowl.
This term is no longer in common usage.
- Main article: freelance packet
A freelance packet is a packet submitted to a tournament by a group of writers who will not participate in the tournament or any of its mirrors and are completely uninvolved in the editing process. The typical reward for a freelance packet is a complete set of the edited questions.
Freelance packets are typically used as playoff packets or tiebreaker packet because they are blind to all teams in the field. They can also be used to allow teams that did not submit packets to still play in the tournament.
- Main article: FTP
Due to its potential for confusing newer moderators, it is preferred to always write out "for 10 points" instead of the acronym "FTP."
- Main article: full-body buzz
The art of full-body buzzing is practiced by various players who seem to feel that involving spastic leg, arm, and head movements is absolutely integral to the act of pressing a button. Waving the buzzer itself is also a common flourish. Having a natural full-body buzz can aid one when attempting a buzzer fake.
Full-body buzzing also applies to a technique used by a number of players, in which one actually exerts the force of their full body in the process of buzzing, deafening the room and perhaps exciting a fountain of sparks that will electrically burn anyone near the system. Jonathan Thompson exhibits almost the precise converse of full-body buzzing, wherein he slowly descends one spindly finger to lightly tap the buzzer.
Fundamental Difficulty Error
- Main article: Fundamental Difficulty Error
The Fundamental Difficulty Error, also known as the Freshman Fallacy, is a very easy error to make when editing or discussing a set. Simply put, it states, "If I know the answer to a particular question, then the question is too easy. If I don't know it, it is too hard." Much like the fundamental attribution error that it takes its name from, it is to be avoided, as it is often wrong.
A corresponding Fundamental Difficulty Error for clues states, "If I know the answer to a tossup off a particular lead-in or middle clue, then the clue is too early. If I do not know the answer off a later clue, that clue should be moved earlier." This Fundamental Difficulty Error is largely responsible for the dearth of actual middle clues in many tossups.
An unnamed corollary to the Fundamental Difficulty Error states, "If a question was answered in my room, it must not have been too difficult for the field as a whole."
- Main article: funn
Funn is the property exhibited by things in quizbowl that meet all of the following three conditions:
- they violate "good quizbowl" and/or standard quizbowl practices
- someone obviously thought that their violation of good and/or standard practices was more than made up for by how fun they are
- they are not actually fun
- Main article: generalist
A generalist is a player whose knowledge extends to all parts of the canon, and thus is capable of buzzing on any subject. Good generalists are often among the scoring leaders at invitational tournaments.
- Main article: Gentlemen's agreement
A gentleman's agreement is an informal type of eligibility rule that has been used for events like the Early Fall Tournament and ACF Fall. Instead of explicitly barring people based on experience or educational progress, individuals are encouraged to personally evaluate whether they are the appropriate audience for a tournament.
- Main article: gimmick
A gimmick is some kind of action in quizbowl that departs from directly testing knowledge recall in a normal fashion. Typical examples include lames, "Fifty or Nothing" bonuses, and wagering in the style of Final Jeopardy! They are often found in trash or bad quizbowl tournaments.
- Main article: golden chicken
"Golden chicken" is a term that originated in the Bay Area college quizbowl circuit of the early 2000s for a successful player with an exceedingly high ratio of questions gotten to negs . The term has since been used to describe the highest-scoring player at a tournament who did not put up any negs at all.
Its most specific usage is to refer to zero-neg performances on title-winning teams. Three such notable performances are:
- Selene Koo at 2011 Chicago Open (7-33-0 in 14 rounds)
- Kevin Koai at 2013 ICT (15-21-0 in 14 rounds)
- Nathan Zhang at 2023 ICT (11-18-0 in 13 rounds)
- Main article: Good quizbowl
"Good quizbowl" is a designation which refers to quizbowl conventions, questions, and tournaments that reward teams for demonstrating differing levels of academic knowledge in a fair and consistent manner. Necessary features of "good quizbowl" include:
- Questions that consistently reward knowledge of a topic over buzzer speed, as exemplified by tossups that contain many clues arranged in rough order from most obscure to least obscure (pyramidality) and bonuses/team rounds that contain "easy", "medium," and "hard" parts
- Questions whose clues uniquely point to their desired answer(s) and which are written clearly
- A range of topics that the target audience should and does know much about, supplemented by subjects that are not as well known but nevertheless demonstrably important and answerable (the canon for that level)
- An emphasis on the academic nature of quizbowl and eschewal of questions on excess general knowledge or trash, spelling, and other non-academic "fluff" (see trivia for a discussion)
- A tournament structure and management that is fair to all teams, allows all teams to play many matches, follows rules that are announced in advance, and preferably does not eliminate a team from championship contention for losing one match
Though use of the tossup-bonus format is not essential to "good quizbowl", an overwhelming majority of "good" quizbowl tournaments use that format.
- Main article: Grail
In quiz bowl, a grail is a term used to refer to the rare feat where one team correctly answers all tossups heard in a game. Generally, this implies a team answering 20 correct tossups, though in a timed match this can vary. The team does not need to answer all of the bonus parts correctly to achieve a grail - achieving 30 points per bonus over a non-trivial number of questions is called an Andrew Hart Grail and is much rarer.
- Main article: Guerrilla tournament
A guerrilla tournament, in the strictest sense of the term, is a tournament in which the host school provides no staff, no buzzers, and no packets, only a set of rooms in which to play and (occasionally) a tournament schedule. Participating teams bring one self-written packet each, figure out who is going to bring buzzers, and moderate on bye rounds (sometimes this involves multiple byes in a single round to provide adequate staff). Tournament fees are minimal (usually only enough to cover the cost of the rooms), if they exist at all.
- Main article: hater protest
The hater protest refers to a protest lodged against an accepted answer. While often lodged for legitimate reasons such as an incorrect moderator decision or answerline, the person lodging the protest is interpretered as a "hater".
- Main article: Hose
A hose is a quizbowl question that deliberately punishes a player for having greater knowledge of the topic being asked about in the question. Hoses are considered the cardinal sin of quizbowl questions, as they specifically punish players who possess uniquely identifying knowledge of the correct answer at the time the player buzzed.
A player who falls victim to a hose is said to have gotten "hosed."
- Main article: housewrite
A housewrite is a question set produced independently by a team or multiple teams for their own tournament. Housewrites can be written by and for both high school and college teams, and they are often mirrored in several places.
- Main article: hybrid
Hybrid is an adjective frequently used to modify either teams or tournaments:
- Hybrid teams are teams composed of players associated with (usually) 2 schools. Hybrid teams are often formed when attending teams' rosters are filled out with players from the host school. A team composed of players associated with more than 2 schools is occasionally called a hybrid team but have also been called a bastard team and is synonymous with the more recent term chimera.
- Hybrid tournaments are tournaments that are typically in mACF or NAQT format, but consist of a heavier mix of trash (pop culture) questions than regular tournaments.
- Main article: illiterature
Illiterature is a question that attempts to fill the required literature distribution of a packet with things that aren't literature, or any attempt to perform such action.
This term is not currently in use.
Jeopardy! with teams
- Main article: Jeopardy! with teams
The phrase Jeopardy! with teams (or "Quizbowl is like Jeopardy! with teams") is commonly used to describe the premise of quizbowl to those who are unfamiliar, especially at recruiting events like club fairs. The phrase is meant to take advantage of people's awareness with popular game show Jeopardy! to succinctly convey concepts like the buzzer and the presence of academic content, but should be used with caution due to the many differences that they have.
With the introduction of the team-based All-Star Games in 2019, Jeopardy! also satisfies the category of "Jeopardy! with teams", though unsurprisingly this involves a very different format.
- Main article: Jerry Kill
A Jerry Kill occurs when a tossup goes dead between two good teams and is named in reference to Jerry Vinokurov.
This term is not currently in use.
- Main article: juniorbird
In late-90s and early-2000s collegiate quizbowl, a juniorbird tournament was a tournament designed for novice players, typically with easier questions and stringent eligibility restrictions. In general, all freshmen and sophomores were eligible, and older students could play with the permission of the tournament director; however, the admission of a player with more than two years of experience was rare.
Because there are only minor, if any, differences between a juniorbird tournament and a novice tournament, the term has since fallen out of use; however, in the past, tournaments run on NAQT IS questions were more likely to call themselves "juniorbird" while ACF-style tournaments with similar eligibility requirements were more likely to call themselves "novice".
Keyzer Soze rule
- Main article: Keyzer Soze rule
The Keyser Soze rule is a periphasis of a line from the film The Usual Suspects employed by Seth Kendall when asked about the way to become good at quizbowl, in which it is noted that to became powerful all one needs is "the will to do what the other guy wouldn't".
- Main article: Kidder's Law
Kidder's law is attributed to Dwight Kidder and states that "there is no shame, only points."
Ladder Theory of Quizbowl
- Main article: Ladder Theory of Quizbowl
The Ladder Theory of Quizbowl was first elucidated by Jonathan Magin to quizbowl luminaries Rob Carson and Hannah Kirsch on IRC. It is best known for being mentioned a single time and then promptly added to the wiki.
This term is not currently, and has never been, in use.
- Main article: laming
Laming was a quizbowl rule found at some trash tournaments which allowed a team to dismiss a bonus (by saying "Lame" or some such) if its subject was not to the team's liking and the next bonus in the packet would then be read.
- Main article: length limit
Many packet sets set a length limit on their questions. There is considerable variation in method of limiting the length, the actual limit, and the strictness with which the limit is enforced.
- Main article: lexicon
Before the centralization of quizbowl information into sites like the wiki and the database, many teams maintained a lexicon: a dictionary-like group of terms and their definitions, which would span common quizbowl terms and team in-jokes. This practice began to fade away around 2005 and the inexorable passage of time means that many of these sites are now lost to the sands.
- Main article: list bonuses
A list bonus is a single question with more than one answer that is used for an entire bonus, with points given based on how correct answers can be enumerated by a team. This is in contrast to the bonus format more common today, in which there are three separate questions, each of which has a single answer. List bonuses are rarely used in modern quizbowl with their usage fading away around the year 2000 due to many players feeling that they were less interesting than other bonuses.
- Main article: list tossups
A list tossup consists entirely of a list of things with something in common which the player must deduce. There is typically little to no other structure in a list tossup, though there may be an FTP.
Common conceits for list tossups include: things listed in "We Didn't Start the Fire", months of the French revolutionary calendar, and names of novels by an author.
- Main article: m
"m" is a phrase that is frequently used in the high-school quizbowl Discord community to express a sense of affirmation.
m stock m
- Main article: m stock m
"m stock m" is a humorous variation on the phrase "m" that is often repeated in the highschool quizbowl Discord community. The phrase is ostensibly used to point out the presence of stock clues in the modern meaning, though it is also used as a general expression of affirmation like "m" itself.
- Main article: Magin's law
Magin's Law, formulated by and named for Jonathan Magin, states that over time, the percentage of competent and dedicated people in quizbowl increases, resulting in a corresponding increase in the quality of tournaments.
- Main article: mainstream quizbowl
Mainstream quizbowl consists of teams which are permanent enough to hold regular practices and compete in Saturday tournaments featuring academic content. Implicitly, such teams are affiliated with a school - active players who have graduated are often considered part of the parallel open circuit. Not included in this category are participants in other formats, those who play inappropriate difficulties, and those who play predominantly pop culture questions.
- Main article: mfwlife
:mfwlife: is an emoji created by Josh Rollin which is frequently used in the high school quizbowl Discord community. It is commonly used to express a sense of disappointment or exasperation, whether in an ironic or in a serious manner. The phrase "mfwlife" may also be used by itself in place of the emoji.
- Main article: Michigan 10
A team achieves a "Michigan 10" on a three-part bonus when it gets the hard part correct, but misses the intended middle and easy parts. Analogously, a Michigan 20 involves getting the middle and hard part of a bonus, while missing the intended easy part.
Though it is unclear which specific era the term originated in, it pokes fun at highly successful editions of the Michigan quizbowl team that had deep knowledge in many subjects while occasionally lacking in gameplay sense.
- Main article: mind-reading
Mind-reading is the process of attempting to figure out where a question is going based off of context. It differs from lateral thinking in that the player relies not on past factual knowledge or deductive thinking but rather from heuristics and gut feeling.
- Main article: Minnesota Effect
This term is no longer in use, as CBI is defunct.
- Main article: mirror
A mirror tournament (or mirror) is a tournament where the host obtains the question set from a different tournament ("mirroring") rather than writing the questions itself. Such a tournament can obtain packets from a housewrite or a vendor like NAQT.
A mirror is contrasted with the main site, which is the tournament run by the school which wrote the set. However, the meaning of the term has largely expanded to mean "any site where a question set is used," including the main site.
Morlan's Law of Quiz Bowl Writing
- Main article: Morlan's Law of Quiz Bowl Writing
Morlan's Law of Quiz Bowl Writing" states that "Typos are bad, but they're better to have than bad questions."
- Main article: muddy battlefield
The muddy battlefield hypothesis most generally states that tournaments that meaningfully distinguish between two teams of a given skill level do not meaningfully distinguish between teams of significantly higher or lower skill levels.
Mukherjee's Laws of Organic Chemistry
- Main article: Mukherjee's Laws of Organic Chemistry
Eric Mukherjee's Laws of Organic Chemistry:
- No tossup on a functional group that has two or more words in its name can turn out well.
- No tossup on a functional group which is a combination of two or more different basic functional groups can turn out well.
- Stop writing on Markovnikov's Rule for difficult tournaments.
NAQT Customer Service
- Main article: NAQT Customer Service
NAQT Customer Service refers to the assertion that NAQT intentionally ignores complaints of mainstream quizbowl participants and/or makes business decisions based on what it thinks a mythical group of casual players wants, rather than what a group of dedicated players is telling them.
NAQT Customer Service complaints were most prominent in the early- to mid-2000s. They have been greatly reduced, though not completely eliminated, since the appointment of Jeff Hoppes as the NAQT Vice President for Communications.
- Main article: neg prize
Neg prizes are awards given (usually) in jest during a tournament's awards ceremony to the player with the most total negs. When multiple players tie for the award, ties are broken by lowest tossup/interrupt ratio. While most team and individual prizes consist of various trophies and books, neg prizes can be, and often are, just about anything and are often chosen to be humorous.
- Main article: negstorm
An unfortunate quizbowl team gets caught in a negstorm
A negstorm is a situation where the negging of one player on a team causes other players to neg more than they otherwise would to make up the scoring deficit. Because the initial neg puts the team at a point disadvantage, other players, believing that points are desperately needed, will buzz earlier during tossups, increasingly the likelihood that they too will neg. The process can become self-perpetuating and lead to a lot of negs by a team in one round, even if it does not usually neg.
More broadly, the term can be used to describe any situation where a quizbowl team negs more often than usual, especially if the negs ends up costing the team a game against another school that they expected to beat.
- Main article: novice
Novices are players who have recently started playing quizbowl - there is no formal definition, but players in their first year of playing or who have not attended regular difficulty tournaments are often considered novices.
A novice tournament is one that uses easier questions (novice difficulty) and has severe eligibility restrictions. Novice tournaments typically restrict eligibility to players who:
- have played mainstream quizbowl for fewer than two years and/or
- are freshmen or sophomores academically
In college, typically both conditions must be met. In high school, many tournaments require one and disregard the other; tournaments that only use the second restriction are often referred to as junior varsity.
- Main article: one-person team
A one-person team (or one-man team) is a team with multiple players on it whose fate is perceived to be entirely tied to the scoring abilities of a single player. Literal one-person teams (i.e. those with only a single individual on them) are sometimes called "one-person teams", but are typically referred to as playing solo instead.
The term is both laudatory and derisive - while it celebrates the skill of the "one-person" in question, it minimizes the contributions of their teammates (which are often significant) and carries with it the implication that the "one-person" is succeeding in part because of their lack of support. Because of the derogatory connotations, and especially the implied insult to the teammates of the "one-person," it is not a good idea to use this term in reference to any team in your tournament when you are the TD or moderator.
- Main article: open
An open tournament (or an open) is a quizbowl tournament in which anyone may play, as opposed to a normal collegiate tournament which limits its field only to eligible teams consisting of players representing the same school, in which all such players are enrolled. Non-students of all ages and mixed-school teams are allowed at open tournaments. However, in many open tournaments, much of the field may still be comprised of traditional school-sponsored teams, since this is the best way for most people to arrange funding and transportation for quizbowl tournaments.
The opposite of "open" is sometimes called "closed."
- Main article: osmosis
Osmosis is a term for the gradual improvement that a player experiences from playing more, even in the absence of intentional studying. As they hear clues multiple times, a player learns that they correspond to specific answers without consciously intending to gain that information due to mere exposure.
- Main article: outreach
Outreach is a broad term in quizbowl that refers to actions taken to grow the game as a whole through the establishment of quizbowl teams at new schools, the conversion of existing teams and tournaments playing non-pyramidal quizbowl to pyramidal quizbowl questions and "good quizbowl" practices, and the expansion and support of existing teams on the quizbowl circuit.
- Main article: packet
A packet is the document containing the questions used in a particular round at a given tournament. In most tossup-bonus format tournaments, an edited packet consists of 20 tossups and 20 bonuses, followed by one or more tiebreaker tossups and one or more extra bonuses. The collection of all the packets for a given tournament is called a set.
packet feng shui
- Main article: packet feng shui
Packet feng shui is the art of constructing appealing quizbowl packets. While there is no consensus on what constitutes good packet feng shui, there are general rules on what not to do.
Truly randomized packets often give off vibes of "bad feng shui". The search is currently underway for an algorithm that can create pseudo-random question ordering while following the rules of packet feng shui.
- Main article: packet reading
A packet reading (or colloquially, packet) is a type of open practice or scrimmage held on Discord, in which someone reads a question packet to other people over voice chat. Most quizbowl servers have a #packet channel reserved for this purpose. They are usually held in a shoot-out format.
- Main article: packet sub
A packet submission (packet sub) tournament is a tournament that requires many participating teams to write questions (usually an entire packet, hence the name) if they are to play.
Packet submission tournaments, which were once the norm for how collegiate quizbowl worked (outside of SCT and ICT), have almost entirely disappeared apart from the ACF tournaments and Chicago Open. The packet-submission model has virtually never been used for high school tournaments.
- Main article: packet swap
Packet swap was a college quizbowl procedure in which tournaments increase the number of packets blind to participating teams by exchanging with a tournament run on a similar date in a different region. A packet swap was differentiated from a mirror by the presence of packets originally submitted by teams participating in the tournament.
Due to the gradual replacement of "central editing packet swap" with unified editing teams who collaborate on one set across multiple schools, and the overall decrease in packet-submission college sets, it's now basically unheard-of for two different packet-submission sets to run on the same weekend, and packet swaps have largely been replaced outright by mirrors as a form of organizing the circuit.
- Main article: paperless
playing under a pseudonym
- Main article: playing under a pseudonym
- to circumvent restrictions imposed by their institution
- to avoid having to follow proper procedure (e.g. not bringing an adult chaperone)
- to be funny
- to facilitate cheating (e.g. Basileus)
- Main article: poasting
Poasting is a slang term for an exaggerated means of typically content-less posting akin to shitposting. It can occur on the forums, the meme group, the Discord, or any other quizbowl social media. Originating as a more general internet term for "post", the concept of poasting gained prominence in quizbowl via prominent Midwestern quizbowler (and avowed poaster) Jakob Myers. It is the means of fulfilling a "need to poast," referring to situations that are particularly susceptible to be poasted in, like the creation of a controversial forum thread or post.
Though not a requirement, many poasters have a particular brand of poasting which is heavily associated with them, and in several cases their propensity for poasting is only an outbranching of a strong personal brand.
- Main article: primed
To be primed is to be ready to buzz. The act of priming typically refers specifically to the action of half-depressing the button on a buzzer in an attempt to reduce the time required to press it fully - the advantages of this practice are dubious at best.
- Main article: pronoun
In quizbowl, a pronoun or indicator is a word or phrase within a question that explicitly refers to the answer and signals the type of information that the answer is seeking. A pronoun can be likened to a signpost that points the way to the answer, or thought of as a placeholder that substitutes for the answer.
Good pronoun usage is essential to clear, fair quizbowl questions. It is good practice for every sentence or line of a question to contain a full pronoun, and it is vital for a full pronoun to appear early in the first sentence of all tossups.
- Main article: protest
During a quizbowl match, a team may lodge a protest to dispute the acceptability of an answer to a question or the application of rules and procedures. If the protest is upheld, the effects of the original decision are usually undone and some resolution procedure implemented, such as adjusting the scores and/or playing an additional question.
- Main article: question recycling
Question recycling is the practice of reusing questions at more than one tournament. In general, question recycling is only acceptable under the limited provision that it is stated outright and that no one who could have heard recycled questions would be able to attend a tournament where recycled questions are being used without knowingly committing a violation.
Examples of acceptable question recycling include
- The use of questions at a multi-site tournament where the sectionals are held on the same day.
- The reuse of a portion of the questions for different divisions of a tournament, held on the same day.
- The reuse of packets during the same season for different regions, where the questions are prohibited from being discussed in the interim.
Unacceptable question recycling includes
- Reusing questions from a previous season.
- Using questions that have been cleared for practice.
- Using another question provider's questions.
- Main article: question set
A question set or packet set (or simply, "set") is a collection of all the question packets that are used for a tournament. In modern usage, "tournament" can also be used for this purpose. Most question sets are mirrored at multiple sites across the U.S., Canada, and (sometimes) the world.
- Main article: quizbowlese
The pejorative term "quizbowlese" is used to refer to formulaic phrases or words that occur much more often in quizbowl question writing than anywhere else. Overuse of quizbowlese makes quizbowl questions harder to read, and makes it more difficult for new players to understand what their moderator is asking them.
- Main article: real
Real quizbowl is a term meant to contrast mainstream quizbowl from other formats (pejoratively known as fake quizbowl). Real quizbowl involves playing well-written, pyramidal, academic questions of an appropriate difficulty.
- Main article: real knowledge
"Real knowledge" is a term used to indicate knowledge which was gained outside of quizbowl. This is contrasted to word association and meta-knowledge of stock clues and the canon ("quizbowl knowledge" or, more derisively, "fake knowledge").
The concept of "real knowledge" exists for all categories, but is most significant in those which require specialism, e.g. science and auditory fine arts. Question writers who have a lack of "real knowledge" in these subjects are much more likely to use inappropriate terminology and constructions. This is part of the larger trend of "Quizbowlese".
- Main article: repeat
A repeat is pair of questions, either tossups or bonuses, in the same question set that share an answerline or are substantively similar (or, more rarely, identical). It can also refer to the second question of such a pair to be heard.
Some question providers check for repeats between different sets intended for the same audience, albeit less stringently. For example, NAQT does so within its Middle School Series, within its Invitational Series, within its Introductory Invitational Series, and between its SCT and ICT correspondingly by division.
- Main article: regular difficulty
Regular difficulty is the normative difficulty for questions at a given level of quizbowl. Theoretically, it represents the difficulty level at which any eligible closed team across the whole range of skill levels can play meaningful games against any other eligible team. For example, a regular-difficulty high school set should have a distribution, selection of clues/answers, etc. that allows the more knowledgeable high school team in a given match to consistently win, regardless of whether it's a match between weak teams, average teams, or strong teams.
- Main article: RMP
RMP is an acronym that stands for Religion, Mythology, and Philosophy. Until 2018, these categories were grouped together in the ACF distribution and in the distributions of typical mACF events. Since 2018, it has become more common to divide RMPSS into Belief (encompassing Religion and Mythology) and Thought (encompassing Philosophy and Social Science).
- Main article: RMPSS
RMPSS is an acronym that stands for Religion, Mythology, Philosophy, and Social Science. It is frequently used to describe the corresponding sections of mACF question distributions, especially for high school sets.
- Main article: scaling
Scaling is the ability of a player (or team) to perform well as the difficulty increases. A player is said to scale on a particular category if their ability to get good buzzes does not diminish on harder questions.
- Main article: SCIENCE!
SCIENCE! is an exclamation, derived from Magnus Pike's spirited interjection in the Thomas Dolby song "She Blinded Me With Science," which denotes one or both of the following situations:
- a poorly written science question or a science question on an answer that is borderline science at best (science biography, the Leidenfrost effect, names of programming languages with "Codey McWhitespace invented it in 1968" type clues)
- a person with no real knowledge of science getting a science question through some kind of fraudulent play
- See: Question set
- Main article: sit
To sit on a tossup is to not buzz on a tossup after the point at which the answer becomes clear. Sitting commonly occurs when a player is just below their personal confidence threshold for buzzing and ends when they are either beaten to the question or when they hear information that confirms their initial guess.
- Main article: shadow effect
The shadow effect occurs when two players each score less points by playing on the same team than they would playing solo. It is a direct result of the fact that every question can be answered by, at most, one player on a team.
When more than one player is on a team, each player's knowledge base overlaps, however slightly, with each other player's knowledge base. However, only one player on that team can buzz in and earn points on a tossup. Therefore, two players whose knowledge bases overlap significantly will each see a large decrease in their PPG relative to if they had been on separate teams, while two players who specialize in different areas will each see a smaller decrease. This decrease in PPG is known as the shadow effect.
- Main article: shoot-out
The shoot-out format refers to an alternative to team-based quiz bowl play in which each player plays individually; it is roughly equivalent to each player acting a separate team. Unlike conventional formats, more than two incorrect buzzes are typically allowed (though the specific amount varies from event to event).
- Main article: side event
A side event is a small tournament usually run in conjunction with a quizbowl tournament (the "main event"). Typically, a "side event" is partnered with an academic tournament so that it can draw in more players.
Side events usually cover a niche selection of subjects, while "main events" usually cover a standard distribution of all subjects (sometimes called "all-subject quizbowl"). Subject tournaments are common examples of side events. Colloquially, "side event" can also refer to a niche tournament or question set in itself (such as a vanity tournament), regardless of whether it is actually paired with a "main event."
- Main article: Silberman's axioms
Silberman's Axioms concern the effective operation of a quiz bowl tournament.
- Axiom of Quality: Never run a tournament for which you lack sufficient competent moderators. (Which is to say, the number of competent moderators available should be the limiting factor on field size.)
- Paradox of Availability: All the good moderators are probably playing the tournament. (Matt Weiner notes that "they probably shouldn't be playing.")
This is not currently in use.
- Main article: slapbowl
Slapbowl occurs when a tournament has insufficient functional buzzer systems to play every scheduled game with one. Players thus slap the table (hence the name), yell "buzz!", or otherwise make some kind of noise to indicate that they know the answer. Any moderator in a so-called "slapbowl room" should be as impartial as possible and sit as close to the exact middle of the two teams as possible, since all buzzer races will be determined by which sound the moderator claims they heard first. It is the duty of the tournament director to ensure that slapbowl is avoided if at all possible or minimized if unavoidable.
- Main article: small school
A small school is one that is below some threshold of "smallness". Some tournaments recognize the top-placing small school; some tournaments only allow teams from small schools (most notably the Small School National Championship Tournament).
- Main article: specialist
A specialist is a quizbowl player who focuses on depth of knowledge in a single subject, and can almost always get "their" questions on that subject. These subjects range from niche subjects like "psychology" to wide swaths of the canon like "literature" or "history". Specialists typically have some knowledge outside their area or areas, but not enough to be considered a true generalist. Many specialists later fill in knowledge gaps in all subjects to become full-fledged generalists, and most successful college quizbowl players develop themselves to a point somewhere along the pure generalist-pure specialist dichotomy.
- Main article: spite
Spite is an emotion that fuels the drive for success in many quizbowlers. Spite often takes root when annoying people are better at quizbowl than the afflicted person, which can often spur dedicated improvement to rectify the situation.
- Main article: stock clue
The term "stock clue" is a largely outdated term for clues that lack academic importance and yet routinely occur in quizbowl questions. Most examples of stock clues are biographical clues (especially in science questions) or trivia.
Stock clues, as originally conceived, were considered extinct in "good quizbowl" by the early 2010s due to higher standards for academic importance. However, the term "stock clue" is still used in modern quizbowl (especially high school quizbowl) to describe clues that appear frequently in questions on a certain topic—often in a negative light. This contemporary usage is seen by some as an ambiguous anachronism.
- Main article: Subapalooza
Subapalooza is a pejorative term for the practice of teams making many substitutions during a game.
This is not currently in use.
- Main article: swerve
A swerve is related to a hose, in that the question punishes players who buzz in early with a reasonable answer. Unlike with hoses, the player is not the victim of blatantly wrong information (or information that "uniquely" identifies multiple answers); rather, the question "swerves" in a new direction by asking something tangentially related to the rest of the question.
Swerves are considered anathema to good quizbowl because they specifically inhibit players with knowledge from buzzing and/or punish players for not waiting until the end of the question.
Taco Bell Soap
- Main article: Taco Bell Soap
Taco Bell Soap denotes any tossup which contains uninformative, useless, and usually asinine lead-in clues from which no player would be able to even hazard a rational guess. "Taco Bell Soap" lead-ins and "curved yellow fruit" giveaways are considered the pinnacle of bad question writing.
- Main article: The circuit
- Main article: The Knot
The Quiz Wizard II, usually known to quizbowlers only as The Knot, is an infamous and ancient 16-player buzzer system sold by Creative Electronic Design, Inc. . It gets its nickname from the ridiculous amount of wires in the system, which is difficult to transport in anything less than a medium-sized plastic storage tub as a result.
The packet wins again!
- Main article: The packet wins again!
The Packet Wins Again! is an exclamation originally used after a particular type of hose, when a player is negged due to not having specific insight into the mind of the packet-writer. In modern usage, a packet (or more generally a set) can win if it is so difficult that teams score fewer points than the total from tossups going dead.
Things have names
- Main article: Things have names
Certain pieces of information must always be provided exactly to receive points because things have names. In quizbowl, it is taken for granted that published works must be referred to by their exact titles, with both NAQT and ACF reflecting this standard in their rules regarding acceptability of answers. The largest set of things in this category are works of literature as well as of non-fiction, but it is often used to refer to concepts which have accepted names in their respective fields as well.
- Main article: titular
"Titular" is a piece of quizbowlese used incorrectly to mean "of or pertaining to the title of something." In more common usage, "titular" is an English adjective meaning "in title only, as opposed to reality."
- Main article: transparency
Transparency is a property of a question or clue which can buzzed on inappropriately early. A question with this property is transparent. It is generally defined as a mismatch between the distribution of points where the question is answered and the distribution of places where the question should be answered.
- Main article: trash
Trash is the common name for popular culture (sports, movies, TV, video games, non-classical music, comic books, etc) in quizbowl.
- Main article: trash capture
Trash capture was a term used in the 2000s to refer to college clubs which became entirely or almost entirely devoted to playing trash tournaments, leaving no opportunity for students at those schools to participate in mainstream academic quizbowl.
- Main article: triple crown
By analogy to horse racing, the phrase Triple Crown usually refers to the feat of winning NAQT ICT, ACF Nationals, and Chicago Open -- the three most prestigious and popular hard tournaments -- in the same year. No single school's team has done this (nor has any team composed of players from a single school ever won Chicago Open at all). The individual players to have accomplished a single-year Triple Crown are:
- Main article: trivia
In quiz bowl, trivia refers to information which does not meet standards of importance and thus is not suitable for use in quizbowl questions. This sort of knowledge is typically based solely on memorization of an arbitrary fact, divorced from any context of why that fact might have significance.
In common usage, "trivia" refers more broadly to "unimportant matters" or "facts (as about people or events) that are not well-known;" under this colloquial definition, the vast majority of things discussed in quiz bowl are trivia.
- Main article: trophy whore
Trophy whoring is a derogatory term for the act of a team/coach intentionally attending tournaments with weaker fields for the purpose of increasing their odds of performing well and earning a "trophy", either literal or figurative. This behavior is rarely explicitly prohibited, but instead regulated by gentleman's agreements: teams are limited only by the norms of sportsmanship present in the "good quizbowl" community, which dictate that teams should seek to compete with opponents of commensurate skill and should endeavor to prioritize abstract goals like "personal improvement" and "meaningful competition," rather than vie for pieces of metal.
Players or coaches can engage in the similar process of stat whoring (or stats whoring) by prioritizing personal or team statistics over good sportsmanship. This practice is also frowned upon.
These terms is not frequently used, but share conceptual groundwork with the cult of PPG.
underground packet trade
- Main article: underground packet trade
The underground packet trade (also known as the underground packet railroad) is a semi-mythical agreement between several prominent quizbowl players and/or clubs that allows these players and clubs to freely obtain packets that have not been made freely available to the public.
- Main article: vanity tournaments
Vanity tournaments are side events whose distribution or subject matter is altered massively from standard quizbowl categories or combinations thereof. This can be done to suit the whims of the event's author, point out an underexplored category, or simply for fun/funn. The label vanity is sometimes used as a pejorative for regular tournaments that alter a standard distribution to better suit the knowledge of the writing team.
- Main article: vulching
Vulturing or vulching is the act of racing to beat out teammates to a tossup after the other team has negged. Though many vultures (or vulchers) still have the courtesy to wait until the end of the question to engage in the activity, some will interrupt the question.
- Main article: Watkins Pole
The Watkins Pole is the figurative object which represents the sensation of playing extremely difficult questions. To be hit with the Watkins Pole is to encounter a category edited to be so difficult in a given set that it is all but unanswerable even by the top active players in that category. The name derives from the 2010 Chicago Open, at which the Andy Watkins-edited science proved too much for the second-place team (containing Seth Teitler and Selene Koo) and the third-place team (containing strong science players Mike Sorice and Ray Luo), effectively eliminating the science category from the tournament and enabling a relatively science-poor team to take the championship.
- Main article: Weiner's Laws
Weiner's Laws, named for Matt Weiner, are a set of adages about quizbowl, especially about its social dynamics.
Weiner's Law #1
You are neither cute nor clever. Question writers and message board posters who think they have created something cute and/or clever should consult Weiner's Law #1 to discover their error.
Weiner's Law #2
No one who announces their retirement from quizbowl ever stays retired; all such people actually have played in at least one further tournament after their announced retirement date.
- Main article: Westbrook Limit
The Westbrook Limit (named after Ryan Westbrook) is the biological cap on the number of times a quizbowl editor can work on easy tournaments before he becomes monstrously tired of finding new leadins for Margaret Mead and insists on only contributing to regular difficulty collegiate material or above. The ability to avoid the Westbrook Limit is sometimes known as Weiner Escape (after Matt Weiner).
Neither of these terms are in common usage.
- Main article: Young's Law
Young's Law is an axiomatic observation about quizbowl that states that all good male quizbowl players are Asian, Jewish, and/or gay. It is named for former Dartmouth and GWU player Tim Young. In the years after its coining, the rise of dull heterosexual WASP types like Rob Carson, Andrew Hart, and Matt Bollinger (Hong Kong modeling career notwithstanding) has called the accuracy of Young's Law into question.
- Main article: zone out
To zone out is to fail to pay attention to the tossup until magically becoming alert at the sound of "For ten points"; its usage in quizbowl is an application of the common English phrase of the same meaning.
Players often zone out on questions about areas that they have no knowledge in. This effect is particularly pronounced in fields which require higher baseline levels of specialist knowledge, like science and auditory fine arts. Zoning out is considered bad practice, though, because not only do players reduce their chances of getting the question they zone out on (in some cases missing clues that actually do know), but they fail to learn anything about the subject and reduce their chances to convert future questions as well.