Feb. 27, 2007
By Dru Riley Evarts
That was the first sentence thrown on the screen for the first team at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism's fourth annual Grammar Smackdown last Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Contestants armed with reference books gathered in Scripps Hall early on game night to nosh on pizza and drill teammates in final preparation. Anything in the AP Stylebook, the Precision Language Handbook or Webster's New World Dictionary is fair game for this language-skills contest.
(The correct verb for the opening sentence, by the way, is stanch. Staunch is an adjective meaning steadfast in loyalty or firm in principle.)
Contest items, given to the on-deck team at the same time they are flashed on a screen for the audience, can be word choices or spelling challenges. Sometimes these are wrapped in short sentences in which the problem is obvious and a team need only choose the right answer. In other cases, the challenge is buried in paragraph-length material and the team must spot the problem (misplaced modifier, lack of agreement, etc.) and suggest the best fix.
Each four-member team has a specified number of seconds within which to answer a question.
Team prizes are $400 for first place, $300 for second and $200 for third. Prizes also are awarded for individual "fish-bowl" questions and clever costumes or team names.
The AP Stylebook is the primary authority. For instance, in the sentence, "The Scalia Lab accurately (forecast / forecasted) last week's storm," the answer is "forecast" because the Stylebook prefers this verb for both present and past tense. There's no point arguing that The New World dictionary allows either verb for past tense. The Stylebook trumps all.
Grammar Smackdown runs flights of three teams at a time handling five questions each. The team with the most correct answers wins the flight. In case of a tie, teams get the same question simultaneously to see which can come up with the answer the quickest and dispatch a team member from a starting line to the judge's table to smack down the answer. The final round pits the flight-winning teams in a contest to determine the first-, second- and third-place winners.
Winning teams this year were: first, The Post-Op's (Jeff Smith, Ellie Behling, Brittany Kress and Caitlin Price); second, the Campus Master Players (Sean Gaffney, Rick Rouan, Laura Bernheim and Bethany Furkin; and third, the Ampersandwiches (Linda Stricker, Jaclyn Lipp, Gina Reynolds and Susannah Elliott).
The Master Players won the "best costume" competition. One team member wore a Provost Kathy Krendl mask and all wore Vision OHIO insignias and carried file folders labeled with various aspects of the university's strategic plan. The "best team name" prize went to the Miss Grammaricas (Emily Carroll, Jackie Best, Nicole Franz and Angie Weaver), whose members sported winning banners of their own as Miss Appositive, Miss Conjunction, Miss Ellipsis and Miss Modifier.
Smackdown committee members were Herb Amey, chair, and Pat Cambridge, Cary Frith, Ellen Gerl, Mary Beth Gillam, JoAnn Amey, Renuka Suryanaran and Bill Reader. University Editor Dru Riley Evarts was the "Smackmaster" or final judge. Costume and team name judges were Scripps Howard Visiting Professional Mark Prendergast and graduate associate David Schreindl.
Dru Riley Evarts is the university editor with the Office of the Provost and a long-time faculty member with the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.