Stock clue

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Not to be confused with the food-themed side event There Will Be Stock Clues.

The term "stock clue" is a largely outdated term for clues that lack academic importance and yet routinely occur in quizbowl questions.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.


The English adjective "stock" means "routinely used" or "cliché." In particular, a stock answer or phrase is one "that is always used and so is not really useful." See also stock character.

The chiefly British English (or Commonwealth English) phrase "chestnut" or "old chestnut" may also refer to stock clues and is commonly used in the trivia community.


Stock clues proliferated in pre-modern "good quizbowl" when inexperienced question writers and editors who didn't know any better recycled clues from past questions. Players often learned stock clues through osmosis or deliberate memorization, but not real knowledge.

By the early 2010s, awareness of and conformance to the core values of "good quizbowl" grew to the point where traditional stock clues became obsolete.

Semantic drift and misuse

Once traditional stock clues no longer existed, the term "stock clue" began to gain other meanings due to growing ignorance of quizbowl history and the definition of the English word "stock."

Now, the term "stock clue" is often used to mean any clue that a player remembers from previous questions—regardless of how important it is, how frequently it has appeared before, or where the clue is placed in the question.

important (academic, relevant) not important (trivial)
proportionate (deserved) "important clue," "famous clue"
excessively frequent "stock clue" (modern) "stock clue" (traditional)

Stock clues, as originally conceived, do not include important clues that used in excess of their actual importance, as those clues fail the first criterion of being unimportant. However, clues like these are often referred to as "stock" in contemporary usage.

Although semantic drift is part of the natural evolution of language, one can communicate more clearly by not using the term "stock," which is no longer useful because: 1. "stock" in the original sense is likely misapplied because traditional stock clues are extinct in modern quizbowl; 2. the term is ambiguous, so people won't know which sense is meant. Better alternatives include: common, stale, overused, misplaced, easy, frequently used, popular, often mined, well-trodden, reused, trendy, canonical.


This is a list of some "old-style" stock clues that may have existed in pre-modern quizbowl.

  • "wounded at the Battle of Lepanto": Miguel de Cervantes
  • "son of a sailmaker": Victor Grignard
  • "researched the ideal percent alcohol content of vodka": Dmitri Mendeleev
  • "apprenticed to a bookbinder": Michael Faraday
  • "written on a napkin": Laffer Curve
  • "worked in a machine shop": Otto Rank

Perhaps they could be considered second-order stock clues themselves, having been invoked so often in questions or discussions about stock clues.[1][2]


  • "begins with a clarinet glissando": Rhapsody in Blue
  • "thesis on Indo-European languages": Ferdinand de Saussure

Though these clues are commonly used, they are not stock because they are legitimately significant aspects of their answerlines.

See also