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When it's hard to phrase a trivia question

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When it's hard to phrase a trivia question

Postby skullturfq » Fri Feb 20, 2015 5:13 pm

Maybe some of you on this board can relate to this:

Sometimes I notice a trivia fact, or think of a trivia question, that I think is interesting, but then I realize that it's very difficult to phrase it in a way that's both natural and precise.

Let me try to explain what I mean.

The Oscars are a good source of trivia. Let's consider the winners of Best Actress in a Leading Role. The last few are Cate Blanchett (for Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (for Silver Linings Playbook), and Meryl Streep (for The Iron Lady). Not surprisingly, all three of those performers are still alive.

So a potentially half-decent trivia question is: How far back do you have to go in that list before you find an actress who is now deceased? (By the way, if we ask the corresponding question for Best Actor, we don't have to go back very far.)

How should this question be phrased, though? If you go for relative brevity and conversational naturalness, you might say something like

"Name the most recent Best Actress Oscar winner to be currently deceased."

The trouble is, that can be interpreted various ways. It might be taken to mean "Name the most recent death of a person who held the title of Best Actress Oscar winner." I think the answer to that question is the December 2014 death of Luise Rainer, who won the Best Actress Oscar for 1936 and 1937. But the thing is, there are plenty of actresses who won in the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s who are now deceased. I want the most recent winner among the deceased ones.

When we try to phrase the question, one problem that comes up is: Does the word "recent" refer to the death, or the winning of the Oscar? I think a case can be made that the wording "most recent Best Actress Oscar winner" suggests that the words "most recent" should apply to the winning of the Oscar, but I can also completely understand that in conversational English, someone might assume that the words "most recent" apply to the death.

So sometimes what I do is just give up and not ask the question.
skullturfq
 
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Re: When it's hard to phrase a trivia question

Postby skullturfq » Fri Feb 20, 2015 5:15 pm

After posting that, it occurred to me that maybe a good phrasing would be:

"Among Best Actress Oscar winners who are now deceased, she won most recently."

But it took me a while to come up with that. Sometimes you really have to play around with them before you happen upon phrasing that's both precise and natural.
skullturfq
 
Posts: 3969
Joined: Tue Aug 07, 2007 5:05 pm
Location: Miami

Re: When it's hard to phrase a trivia question

Postby skullturfq » Sat Feb 21, 2015 1:14 pm

You'd be welcome to use it.

Here's another trivia question where you have to be careful with the phrasing:

"Who was the first U.S. President born in the 20th century?"

Does that mean

"Among people born in the 20th century, who became U.S. President the earliest?"

or

"Among people who would become U.S. Presidents, who was the first one born in the 20th century?"
skullturfq
 
Posts: 3969
Joined: Tue Aug 07, 2007 5:05 pm
Location: Miami


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