Sunday, 13 November 2011

Reverse Pedantry

Stick with me with this one. I will get to the point in the end. Right, you may well recall that I began to play for the Llangewydd Arms in the Bridgend and District Quiz League back in October 2010. A great season ensued, and I am still very happily turning out for the team this season. Still, the fact was that when I joined , I didn’t really know Andrew and Neil who had asked me to play with them, and I didn’t really know what the questions were going to be like. Oh, I knew that the league was a good one, with several strong teams, of course, but that was about the length of it. So not knowing how strong my teammates were, and how tough the questions were going to be, I made a decision. During the season I would try to take a mental note of what we got wrong. The idea then would be to work on that category of question so that I couldn’t be caught out on it again. Pretty straightforward stuff, and you can only take it so far, but I tried, anyway. When I started playing in the old Port Talbot League over 20 years ago I was with some great players, and I always took it for granted that if I didn’t know an answer at least one of them would, if not more. Usually they did, too. However there comes a time when you have to take a little more responsibility yourself, and so starting last year I went to the books . . . and Google.

It was, I have to say, quite a long time before anything I’d learned specifically for the league came up in another league quiz. Still, the bonus was that stuff I’d learned specifically started popping up in almost every other quiz I attended. Now, in one of the early quizzes in last year’s league we were asked which racecourse was located near a particular town. Its slipped my mind which, and I know that we had it wrong, but the main thing was I saw it as one of those – you got me once, you’re not going to get me on this again – questions. So I set about learning as well as I could the locations of every racecourse in Britain. There’s 60 odd racecourses, so it wasn’t such a chore really.

Fast forward to last Thursday night. Now let me state for the record hand on heart that Howard, our question master on the night, does a good quiz. He’s one of our semi regulars, and hasn’t done one for a while, but when he does it’s a good’un. The last question in round two was “In which county would you find Plumpton racecourse ? “ I gave it a second’s thought, and then the answers – “Plumpton – near Lewes – East Sussex “ popped into my head. So we put it down. The answer was given as “Sussex” and I began congratulating myself. Don’t get me wrong, I like getting any question right, but there’s a special satisfaction in answering something you’ve specifically learned, which you would not have otherwise known. Cue the scores being read out, and we were given one less point than I had thought. I queried it, and was told that he wasn’t allowing East Sussex. It wasn’t the answer he had down on his answer sheet. Sussex was. Being QM myself oft times I should have shut up and sat down there and chalked it up as Just Another Of Those Things. It was, after all, just a social quiz ( I can’t believe that I just wrote that. ) But I couldn’t. I didn’t point out to him that really and truly Sussex does not exist as one county any more. Sussex is actually two counties – West and East. I can’t really remember what his justification was, but I could feel myself getting frustrated, so I told him he was being ridiculous by refusing the point for us being too specific in giving a correct answer, and went off to the gents. What fristrated me was that , lets say it had been the other way round. Suppose the answer given was "East Sussex" and a team had written down "Sussex". Personally I would probably award them the point , because you always err on the side of generosity in a social quiz. But if they had been refused the point, then there would have been some sense of logic behind it. Harsh, yes, but correct. But it doesn't work in reverse.

As it happened he came back after the next round and told us that he was going to give us the point anyway. Whether someone else had confirmed what I said, or whether he was just humouring the naughty boy – me – in order to shut him up, I wouldn’t like to say.

I didn’t feel particularly good about myself for making a fuss in the first place, I will admit. Still, it did strike me as an example of the relatively rare phenomenon of reverse pedantry. I don’t know if this is the correct technical term, or indeed whether there actually is a correct technical term, but it’s the thing which makes a QM reject a correct answer because it’s too specific.

The most glaring example I can think of was a few years ago. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of ‘name the sport which appeared in the London Olympic Games in 1908, and didn’t reappear until 1924 in Chamonix’. Now, as it happened I did know the answer anyway. but if you stop to think for a minute that Chamonix was actually the first Winter Olympic Games, then you’ll be well on the way to getting it. The answer I put down was figure skating. The answer which the QM – who hasn’t been to the quiz for several years now – gave was ‘ice skating’. We were not given the point. The fact is that ice skating encompasses speed skating as well, whereas figure skating is what was actually contested. His reply – “No. My answer is ice skating. You have put figure skating. YOU are pedantic when you do a quiz, so I am being pedantic now !” Leaving aside the abuse, which, while other people might well agree has some validity behind it was rather unpleasant and unnecessary at the time, is it actually pedantry when you don’t accept an answer because it’s too specific ?

Obviously I don’t think that I’m pedantic. Well, I would say that wouldn’t I ? But when I do a quiz, especially for the club, I do always try to be guided by the principal of – if they obviously KNOW the answer, then you give them the point even if they haven’t quite hit the bullseye. I do confess that I still have a bit of a tendency to try to explain why some answers are wrong, and this is actually a bad habit, and has probably led to the accusation as much as perceived meanness over scoring my quizzes.

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