Identifying Pronouns

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Identifying Pronouns

Post by magin » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:25 pm

I'd like to discuss ways to use identifying pronouns that don't narrow to a narrow set of possible answers immediately.

Before I begin, I'll note that it's clear to me that any tossup that does not begin with and continue to use identifying pronouns is always worse than one which uses identifying pronouns (like "this author," "this theorem," or "this country"). Tossups without identifying pronouns are necessarily more confusing to players because they require that players psychically figure out what type of answer the question wants, leading to frustration. So, use identifying pronouns.

A good identifying pronoun does not reduce to a small number of answers; there are thousands of possible novels to write tossups on, so "this novel" doesn't hint at the answer in any way ("this Finnish novel," on the other hand, reduces to a very small number of answers immediately). For history tossups, people have begun to use "this polity" and "this event," which both seem less narrow than "this rebellion," "this empire," or "this meeting" (which I used in my edited version of the ACF Regionals Hartford Convention tossup, and probably narrowed the answer space a lot more than "this event" would have).

I'm no scientist, so other people can discuss which identifying pronouns for tossups on science are broad without being vague ("this process" might be one, but again, I'm not a science guy).

Are there other commonly used identifying pronouns which narrow the answer space too much? If so, how can we use broader identifying pronouns which are precise enough not to confuse players with knowledge?
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Important Bird Area » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:33 pm

Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:Before I begin, I'll note that it's clear to me that any tossup that does not begin with and continue to use identifying pronouns is always worse than one which uses identifying pronouns (like "this author," "this theorem," or "this country").
Jonathan, how do you feel about the use of pronouns like "he," "she," and "it" in leadins? My two cents: "it" can be dangerous and should be avoided where possible, but "he" and "she" are more-or-less equivalent to "this man" and "this woman" and have their uses (such as obscuring whether the subject is a real human, a deity, or a fictional character).

I'll also note that I'm preparing a study of how often NAQT's IS tossups conform to the guideline proposed above; expect a posted version sometime next week after I'm done proofing ICT content.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by magin » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:38 pm

bt_green_warbler wrote:
Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:Before I begin, I'll note that it's clear to me that any tossup that does not begin with and continue to use identifying pronouns is always worse than one which uses identifying pronouns (like "this author," "this theorem," or "this country").
Jonathan, how do you feel about the use of pronouns like "he," "she," and "it" in leadins? My two cents: "it" can be dangerous and should be avoided where possible, but "he" and "she" are more-or-less equivalent to "this man" and "this woman" and have their uses (such as obscuring whether the subject is a real human, a deity, or a fictional character).

I'll also note that I'm preparing a study of how often NAQT's IS tossups conform to the guideline proposed above; expect a posted version sometime next week after I'm done proofing ICT content.
I prefer "this X" to he/she/it; "it" is really vague, and conveys no useful information, while "he" and "she" convey gender, which can sometimes really narrow down the set of possible answers. I'd prefer "this goddess" to "she" in, say, tossups on Isis, mostly because "this goddess" is absolutely unambiguous. Also, I look forward to that survey.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:41 pm

What is the appropriate use of "this thing". Does it correctly convey any meaning other than "this object"?
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:42 pm

Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:I'm no scientist, so other people can discuss which identifying pronouns for tossups on science are broad without being vague ("this process" might be one, but again, I'm not a science guy).

Are there other commonly used identifying pronouns which narrow the answer space too much? If so, how can we use broader identifying pronouns which are precise enough not to confuse players with knowledge?
This is a good discussion to have. I had an unfortunate flub at T-Party where I used "these" and had a leadin that would describe both "neutrinos" and "neutrino oscillations," and Jerry buzzed and was negged. I think this is particularly important for the sciences because very often, clues are only unique when taking the pronoun into consideration (it's not only an issue of it being too vague, or inviting negs). I wrote a common link on "symplectic" for MO, and besides symplectic manifolds, symplectic forms, and symplectic groups, there are symplectic fillings, symplectic integrators, a symplectic matrix, and probably other things that don't come up immediately when i searched symplectic site:en.wikipedia.org just now. While obviously you don't start a tossup on "symplectic filling" with "THIS FILLING" because that would be both nonsensical and too guessable, there are situations where just saying "this has an x, and you can apply theorem y to this" will get you into trouble.

Good words include structure, statement, rule, assumption, theorem, reaction, process, effect, phenomenon, experiment.

EDIT: as to the "this character" versus "he" or whatever: I like obscuring gender, and I like spending a little extra time on my first use of my first uniquely identifying phrase. If I could add "moderator instruction: shout this" I would. You want to make it clear, so giving it some extra syllables helps the listener dwell on it.

EDIT 2: Bruce: depends on if you're a Viking.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Red-necked Phalarope » Tue Mar 31, 2009 6:18 pm

I haven't played that many tournaments recently, but is using progressively narrower pronouns to aid in pyramidality something that's commonly done? I'm talking about something like the Achewood tossup I submitted for GARBAGE, where starting off with "this webcomic" would severely limit the answer space:
One of this series' several blogs described a honeymoon tour of American mini-golf courses, and one of its earliest installments features a surprise visit from Stanley Tucci. One character in this work edits his Wikipedia page* to note that he does not "audiocast, or urinate standing up", hires Pat as a guitarist for Prime Time Records, and returns from Hell through the toilet of a Friendly's restaurant. In this comic's "Man Why You Even Got To Do A Thing" zine, Molly discusses the Welsh ship she sank on in 1676, and Teodor [TAY-adore] gets a yeast infection from following the Great Outdoor Fight, a three-day battle won by this comic strip's two most prominent characters. For 10 points, name this Chris Onstad-created webcomic that follows Phillippe, Ray Smuckles and Roast Beef Kazenzakis in the titular parody of Stanford, California.
ANSWER: Achewood
(* I realized upon looking at this question just now that this is a slight factual error, but I hope it didn't throw anyone off-track.)

Obviously, this only works in certain cases--otherwise you'll see a lot of "this thing"-type leadins--but I've found it to be a good aid to reducing transparency in the past. Am I totally off-base here?
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by setht » Tue Mar 31, 2009 6:28 pm

Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:I'd prefer "this goddess" to "she" in, say, tossups on Isis, mostly because "this goddess" is absolutely unambiguous.
This reminds me of something I found annoying about a couple myth questions in the ACF Regionals set that I can't recall seeing before: using "this man" to refer to a god. To my mind, "this man" refers unambiguously to a male human; in particular, not an immortal/god/deity. Here are the two examples I can remember:

4. One hymn to this deity calls him the “highest source of treasure,” and he possessed the power to remove all sins upon one’s death. In the Atharvaveda, he passes the job of psychopomp onto Yama, while in the Mahabharata, he renews his vigor by destroying the Khandava forest. This man's chariot is pulled by two parrots, and his consort is Svaha. In some cases, he is the twin brother of Indra, but in other versions he is the son of ten mothers who are all sisters, corresponding to man’s fingers. An acceptor of sacrifices, he is often portrayed with two faces and seven tongues, and has an appetite for butter. FTP, name this messenger of the Vedic gods and god of fire.

4. **The first chapter of the Heimskringla tells of this figure's death and his son's subsequent rule over the Uppsala domains. Gunnar assumed the role of this deity in one tale. One of this man’s mounts was known as “Bloody Hoof,” the horse Blodughofi, and Byggvir and Beyla were two of this man’s servants. This man was given Alfheim as a tooth-gift by the gods, and he spotted his future wife in the forest of Barri while sitting on Hildskalf. Another servant of this man threatened to destroy the world and confronted a three-headed giant. This god fought the giant Beli with an antler because he gave up his sword for the hand of Gerd, and he is killed by the fire giant Surtr during Ragnarok. The son of Njord, FTP, name this Vanir and rider of Gullinbursti, the sister of Freya in Norse mythology.


In both cases, the phrase "this man" comes after at least one instance of the phrase "this deity." Is there any reason not to go with "this god" or stick with "this deity"? Switching to "this man" seems like it's designed to confuse people; it also screws people who didn't catch the earlier "this deity" (especially in the Frey question, which has "this figure," then "this deity," then "this man" four times before it gets back to "this god"). I don't know how much of this came with the submissions and how much was a product of running out of time with editing, but I've been meaning to point this out as something I hope never happens again.

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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by dtaylor4 » Tue Mar 31, 2009 6:46 pm

setht wrote:
Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:I'd prefer "this goddess" to "she" in, say, tossups on Isis, mostly because "this goddess" is absolutely unambiguous.
This reminds me of something I found annoying about a couple myth questions in the ACF Regionals set that I can't recall seeing before: using "this man" to refer to a god. To my mind, "this man" refers unambiguously to a male human; in particular, not an immortal/god/deity.
You are not alone. I usually use "this figure" when trying to hide the (im)mortality and gender of the subject, and "this deity" when I am willing to drop that it is a god, but not willing to drop gender.

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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by jonah » Tue Mar 31, 2009 6:47 pm

Is it not considered acceptable to use "god" to refer to either a male or female deity?
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Mar 31, 2009 6:48 pm

A few years ago, I tried to use the singular "they" in a tossup to refer to a person without indicating gender. It was a pretty epic fail, as even when I was reading the question during the tournament I myself got confused by it. I don't plan on doing it again.

But is it necessarily a bad idea always?
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by dtaylor4 » Tue Mar 31, 2009 6:55 pm

jonah wrote:Is it not considered acceptable to use "god" to refer to either a male or female deity?
The myth professors I have had use god when referring to males, and goddesses to refer to females.

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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by ValenciaQBowl » Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:13 pm

Seconding Andy's point about the importance of moderators putting vocal emphasis on the identifying noun on its first iteration in a question; I've found that some of the faster moderators sometimes don't inflect the key term enough, which can lead to listeners missing it. If it's emphasized enough, later references can more likely get away with using actual pronouns, rather than repetitive uses of "this author" (though indeed sometimes that is helpful).

PS--Can't stop myself from noting that words like "author," "figure," "novel," and "theorem" are not pronouns, but nouns. I'm just sayin'.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by magin » Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:15 pm

ValenciaQBowl wrote:PS--Can't stop myself from noting that words like "author," "figure," "novel," and "theorem" are not pronouns, but nouns. I'm just sayin'.
That's true; however, "this" is a pronoun, and is very important (you wouldn't say "an author" or "author," after all).
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Not That Kind of Christian!! » Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:39 pm

Whig's Boson wrote:A few years ago, I tried to use the singular "they" in a tossup to refer to a person without indicating gender. It was a pretty epic fail, as even when I was reading the question during the tournament I myself got confused by it. I don't plan on doing it again.

But is it necessarily a bad idea always?
In quizbowl, yes. I'm not a fan of using they to denote the singular pronoun in any context, but in quizbowl, knowing whether the answer is singular or plural is pretty crucial to the buzzing process (lateral thinking, anyone?), and ambiguity would throw players completely off. Even if a person is first introduced by "he" or "she" or "this ruler," following that singular pronoun up with "they" is confusing.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by cvdwightw » Tue Mar 31, 2009 7:58 pm

HKirsch wrote:I'm not a fan of using they to denote the singular pronoun in any context, but in quizbowl, knowing whether the answer is singular or plural is pretty crucial to the buzzing process (lateral thinking, anyone?), and ambiguity would throw players completely off. Even if a person is first introduced by "he" or "she" or "this ruler," following that singular pronoun up with "they" is confusing.
This. It gets even hairier when you're tossuping something like "primality," and half your questions are on prime numbers ("one set of objects with this property" gets old really fast and you keep wanting to use "they" to refer to primes).

Anyway, for some science terms:

"This process" is annoying but okay for reactions; it really applies more to sets of reactions, e.g. Ostwald or Monsanto.

"This effect" should only be used for, you know, actual effects.

"This law," "this rule," "this theorem," etc. are more-or-less interchangeable, but make sure it's commonly referred to by your chosen noun (no one wants to hear "this theorem" in a question on Ampere's Law).

"This property" is problematic, because chances are you're not writing your clues on the property itself but on laws/effects associated with it, objects that have the property, etc.

"This device" is an identifier I've found useful for all sorts of scientific objects.

I use "this concept" for things like concentration and current, which aren't in easily identifiable categories; however, I inevitably hate these tossups after I write them. I'm looking for a better identifier.

I use "this structure" to denote anatomical features, cellular organelles, etc.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by theMoMA » Tue Mar 31, 2009 8:30 pm

Having fewer specific pronouns is a lot less problematic when the grammar of the tossup is solid. It's certainly ideal for a question to identify just what kind of thing it's looking for right off the bat, but coupling that with clear, minimalistic grammar should be everyone's goal.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by DumbJaques » Tue Mar 31, 2009 9:25 pm

I get moderately confused when "this event" is used to refer to anything that ever happened in history, ever. In my mind, an event is a clearly definable occurrence confined in some chronological, geographic, ideological, or other way - a meeting, a massacre, the groveling in the snow, whatever. I've recently heard tossups on wars that refer to them as "this event" - to me, a war is not really an event (but, in fact, a series of events, etc.), and I find this usage of the term annoying. I don't think being precise with what you want really causes transparency issues - as long as you're not saying "this appendage-inspired war," being needlessly general with your pronouns only leads to confusion, particularly at higher levels where there are so many askable things that one could hardly fraud something that establishes "this Japanese rebellion" or equivalents.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Tue Mar 31, 2009 10:15 pm

cvdwightw wrote:"This law," "this rule," "this theorem," etc. are more-or-less interchangeable, but make sure it's commonly referred to by your chosen noun (no one wants to hear "this theorem" in a question on Ampere's Law).
In math, rather than your physics example, I often use "this result" since it can include conjectures, theorems, corollaries, lemmas, et cetera, without trouble. And I don't think anyone playing will think that they need to say "the something result" rather than the name of the thing that they know.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by grapesmoker » Wed Apr 01, 2009 3:45 pm

I think correct pronoun use should be a categorical imperative at this stage in quizbowl's development. Avoid like the plague vague words like "they" or "it" and identify your answer with the proper nouns and pronouns at the earliest opportunity. This is something I wrote about when I posted that thread about language precision and there's really no excuse for not using correct identifiers in question writing. One of the pernicious effects of hard character limits, by the way is to force writers into such unfortunate constructions to cut down the number of characters they use and that's something that definitely needs to be avoided.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Apr 01, 2009 3:54 pm

What pronoun would you use for Yggdrasil? It's not an object. It's kind of a location, but not really. Is it a "thing"?
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by at your pleasure » Wed Apr 01, 2009 4:12 pm

This mythological organism, mabye? Or is that too transparent?
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by grapesmoker » Wed Apr 01, 2009 4:14 pm

Whig's Boson wrote:What pronoun would you use for Yggdrasil? It's not an object. It's kind of a location, but not really. Is it a "thing"?
"This object" is my standard filler for things that don't fit into other categories. I would argue that Ygdgdrasil is an object as much as anything is; object doesn't have to refer to something dead. I personally dislike "thing" for aesthetic reasons, but I guess you could use that too. You sure don't want to write something like "this plant" since that just gives away the question; "location" works well enough in this case too, since various things are notably located in or around Yggdrasil.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by grapesmoker » Wed Apr 01, 2009 4:16 pm

Anti-Climacus wrote:This mythological organism, mabye? Or is that too transparent?
That's not good because most questions on other mythological organisms of Norse myth will almost certainly say something like "this beast" or "this creature." Yggdrasil is neither, so by elimination it's almost the only thing left. I think for weird things like that, "object" is the right choice.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Wed Apr 01, 2009 4:21 pm

Whig's Boson wrote:What pronoun would you use for Yggdrasil? It's not an object. It's kind of a location, but not really. Is it a "thing"?
"Object" is probably the best option, but good luck writing a non-transparent tossup on Yggdrasil without a hilarious difficulty cliff.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by theMoMA » Wed Apr 01, 2009 4:43 pm

"entity"
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Not That Kind of Christian!! » Wed Apr 01, 2009 4:49 pm

Entity is best.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Susan » Wed Apr 01, 2009 4:52 pm

I propose people start using "phenomenon" and "varmint" for identifying pronouns. Between those two you can cover a lot of stuff.
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by BuzzerZen » Wed Apr 01, 2009 5:28 pm

myamphigory wrote:"varmint"
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Re: Identifying Pronouns

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Apr 01, 2009 8:12 pm

myamphigory wrote:I propose people start using "phenomenon" and "varmint" for identifying pronouns. Between those two you can cover a lot of stuff.
Notably won't work for, say, And Quiet Flows the Don, which is neither. I add "screed."
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