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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.

Examples of quizbowlese, by category

Ranked from least to most odious, and with tips on superior wording included:

Inside baseball

Definition: Constructions that are valid English but that many non-quizbowl-veterans are unlikely to know the meaning of


  • use of "[multiply]-eponymous"
    • Solution: If the fact that a term is derived from the names of two or more people is actually a useful and important clue, say something along the lines of "named for the two chemists who discovered it in 1945." Usually, the etymology of a name is trivia at best, and you can simply omit such clues.

Stupid lingo

Definition: Words that are used correctly, but introduce imprecision or dullness to questions for no reason


  • overuse of the word "work" to describe books, paintings, symphonies, treatises, etc.
  • in a similar vein, using "polity," "entity," "figure," etc. as the only noun describing the answer
    • Solution: Describe the answer using the most specific term that does not create fraud. If there is no articulable reason that you need to hide the fact that the answer is a novel, then simply call it a novel, and so on for every other kind of answer. If you have a good reason to be coy about genre, use terms such as "this book" or "this musical piece" instead of lazy terms that don't make sense to non-quizbowl players such as "work." Similarly, "this prime minister," "this general," and so on are usually fine for people; "this woman," "this man," or "this person" should be used if there is a need for obfuscation, rather than describing people as "leaders" or "figures."
  • connecting unrelated sentences with "In addition to <title>, ..." or "Besides..."
  • linking unrelated clauses mid-sentence with "and" or "while"
    • Solution: Break your questions into new sentences whenever a new area of clues is being introduced. Most readers need sentences to be shorter than they typically are anyway. If you are using linking words, make sure the temporal/causative relationships described by those words are accurate. "While" should join two clues describing events that happened at the same time, "and" should join two clues that have some logical relationship beyond both being about the answer, etc.
  • constructions designed to avoid "transparency" that go so far as to become useless, e.g. "this region's main form of conveyance is the longest of its kind"
    • Solution: Make sure your clues are useful to people who do not already know what the answer is. Don't observe the "describe before you name" principle if the description will not actually help anyone buzz.
  • use of "would (verb)" or "would later go on to (verb)" instead of the simple past tense
  • overuse of "following" where "after" is both easier to understand and faster to read
    • Solution: Use the most direct and accurate wording possible in your questions. Do not use more complex grammatical structures just to sound smart or imitate old packets, especially if those structures introduce ambiguity or incorrectness.
  • making purely rote fixes to the "In one ____..." style of writing that keep vestigial phrases, e.g. changing "In one book, this author created Becky Thatcher" to "This author created Becky Thatcher in a book."
    • Solution: Don't compulsively add clauses that impart no new information. Assume that players understand that writers do things via books, directors via movies, and so forth, and don't use question space on "clues" that will never help anyone buzz. Write the above as "This author created Becky Thatcher."

Stylistic failure

Definition: Technically valid but subpar usage that creates confusion about what is being described


  • overuse of the verb "sees", e.g. "This novel sees one character host lavish parties in West Egg."
    • Solution: Don't automatically start every sentence with a "this [answer line referent]" phrase, especially when that requires using ambiguous words and hiding the actual substance of the clue inside an indirect object clause. It's OK to use dependent clause + strong active verb structures such as "In this novel, a character hosts lavish parties in West Egg." This avoids the necessity for filler words such as "sees" and much more clearly communicates the clue.
  • arrangement of information into relative clauses that offer no advantage over straightforward sentences ("At a battle, this man defended Little Round Top; that battle was Gettysburg" as opposed to "This man defended Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg")
    • Solution: Do rearrange sentences into "This..." structure when not doing so requires contortions that are likely to make players unable to follow the clues.
  • using the standalone adjective "this" or "these" as a noun
    • Solution: Use "this novel," "this queen," "this reaction," etc.
  • use of "namesake" in ways that are ambiguous as to which item is or was named after another
    • Solution: Only use words such as "namesake" as adjectives, in constructions such as "this character's namesake verbal gaffes," where the proximity of the words makes it clear what the term is referring to.
  • compulsive verbal tics that add confusion or superfluous words to phrases ("main protagonist" instead of "protagonist", "centers around" instead of "centers on", "in the novel in which he appears" instead of "the novel" or nothing)
    • Solution: Use the most direct and accurate wording possible in your questions. Do not use more complex grammatical structures just to sound smart or imitate old packets, especially if those structures introduce ambiguity or incorrectness.
  • use of the verb "marry" with an indirect object, e.g. "This king married his daughter to Amenhotep III."
    • Solution: Remember that players hear clues in the order in which they are given, and don't use constructions that create weird meanings or garden-path sentences at first impression.

Remedial English failure

Definition: Outright incorrect word usage or sentence arrangement


  • overusing the adjective "titular" in place of the adjective "title"
  • use of "protagonist" to mean "character" (also explains the rise of the inane construction "the main protagonist")
  • referring to any piece of writing as a "novel" regardless of length or fictional status
  • referring to any married person as a "wife" regardless of gender
  • use of "one" as an indefinite article instead of "a" or "an"
    • Solution: Use the most direct and accurate wording possible in your questions. Do not use incorrect words just to sound smart or imitate old packets. Use a dictionary to learn what a "wife" and "novel" are. Try to think of whether you have ever read a professionally published book for adults that used "one" as an indefinite article.
  • giveaways that are neither a question nor a statement ("For 10 points, name this first President of the United States" is acceptable; "For 10 points, this first President of the United States." is not)
  • use of "For 10 points" in a way that leaves the remainder of the sentence not valid English (such as through a dangling modifier), e.g. "An opponent of the Levellers at the Putney Debates, for 10 points, name this Roundhead general who became Lord Protector of England."
    • Solution: Make sure the sentence containing "For 10 points" would be a valid command ("Name...") or question ("What...?") if "For 10 points" were removed. Make sure that all sentences in your question are valid English sentences.
  • apposition of freestanding proper nouns at the end of sentences, rather than finding a natural word order whereby the noun is at the end of the sentence (example pulled by Rob Carson out of EFT 2009: "One visitor to this polity's capital described how its women are oversexed and age about twice as quickly as Chinese women, Zhou Daguan." as opposed to "One visitor to this polity's capital, who described how its women are oversexed and age about twice as quickly as Chinese women, was Zhou Daguan" or similar fixes)
    • Solution: Set the above sentence on fire, then consider whether all sentences in your question are valid English sentences which are comprehensible under game conditions.
  • confusion about what "regions", "nations", "states", and "countries" are, and as above, misuse of "polity"
    • Solution: Use "country" to mean a political entity which has generally recognized sovereign control over territory. "State" can be confusing when referring to countries that use "state" as the name for their subdivisions. "Nation" can be very ambiguous between political entities and ethnic groups, especially in places such as Belgium, Canada, the U.S., Rwanda, Russia, etc. that are very diverse and/or have political conflict involving the relations of different groups. "Polity" is a word that many people who are not quizbowl insiders may not understand, and is rarely needed--when does a question actually need to obscure what kind of political unit it is discussing?


Definition: Attempting to say "I don't know what this has to do with my question, but it's appeared in a lot of questions on this topic before so you should buzz on it" without actually saying that


  • saying that the answer to the question is "associated with" some other thing (usually to mean "often appears in questions on")
  • saying that a political leader or government "dealt with" some other thing (usually to mean "was historically prominent as the same time as" or "often appears in questions on")
  • use of "was ruled unconstitutional by [Supreme Court case]" as a shorthand for "was in some way I can't be bothered to look up involved in [Supreme Court case]"
    • Solution: Use words that specify the actual relationship that a clue has to other clues and to the answer. Don't treat your questions as a skeleton of list-memorized buzzwords connected with random tendons; consider every word in your question for accuracy and usefulness.

General tips on how to avoid quizbowlese

Tips for avoiding quizbowlese in your questions:

  • Use correct, clear, formal written English at all times. Do not emulate previous quizbowl questions in your stylistic choices, even if you are using them to get a sense of basic question structure. If the only reason you are using a particular word or style is because you saw it in a prior question, and you cannot figure out what external principle of English grammar demands it, then do not use it.
  • Never insert words or phrases that do not helpfully and clearly point to the answer as economically as possible. It's easy to avoid many forms of quizbowlese, particularly the "would go on to win" instead of "won" and "was responsible for writing" instead of "wrote" types of error, if you ruthlessly eliminate needless words.
  • Check all of your questions against the list on this page before submitting. Use the find tool in Word to check for "figure," "polity," "nation," "one," etc. Develop good habits by pre-editing your own questions and comparing them to every element of this page.
  • Adjust your conception of quizbowl questions. Most habitual quizbowlese writers view sentences as an inconvenience that needs to be overcome in order to throw word-association clues at the player. Understand that every word in the question needs to have meaning and the writer is not supposed to cater to novice-level memorization techniques. Rewrite your questions so that the ideal "super-knowledgeable person who has never played quizbowl before" is able to answer them without being confused.
  • Remind yourself that even if you consider writing questions that make sense to be a waste of time, developing good writing skills that do not make you sound like an illiterate will be a valuable asset in your academic and professional career.


  • In discussion of questions, phrases like "this author" and "this country" are often called "pronouns" despite not being pronouns but rather demonstrative phrases.
  • Use of "format" to simultaneously mean many independent aspects of a tournament (match rules, question category distribution, tournament structure)