QI: Semantics

"QI" Logo My new favorite entertainment item/obsession is the British comedy quiz show “QI” (short for “Quite Interesting”). I won’t get into a detailed explanation of the format and rules, but briefly: host Stephen Fry asks his panel of four “contestants” questions on a variety of topics. Since the questions are usually very obscure, almost no one is expected to actually know the answers. Instead, the show and its appeal are more about the resulting, “quite interesting” and usually funny, often hilarious commentary and banter among the participants– especially since the guests are, by and large, comedians. And finally, I refer to the guests as “contestants” because, although points are awarded and deducted, the point system is, for the most part, seemingly arbitrary and irrelevant, much like that of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?“, another one of my favorite shows. For more complete and detailed info on the show, just check out the Wikipedia article.

Short "QI" Questions Animated GIF The show is a rather good example of the value in focusing on or enjoying the journey, not the destination. Interesting facts plus comedy– the perfect combination for me!* The show is a lot like many of my conversations except that, instead of among my friends and me, it’s among professional comedians, actors, etc. (and almost everything is in some kind of British accent). And luckily, even though (and because) I’m coming extremely late to the game, there are many years worth of series/episodes for me to watch and enjoy since the show has been running since 2003**. Of course, this is only thanks to YouTube since “QI” doesn’t air in the States– though there is a petition to get BBC America to broadcast the show to US viewers. If you’re a fan of the show, I encourage you to sign it– this tactic has already succeeded at least once when fans submitted a petition to get the first series released on DVD.

In any case, to the primary point of this post: Semantics and specifically a clip from Series A, Episode 4. Here’s a great example of one of the show’s many spontaneous, witty and amusing moments– in this case, a delightful bit of wordplay between host Stephen Fry and comedian Jeremy Hardy (jump to the 6:55 mark in the video):

… I refute that with every fiber of my being. The actual answer is–

No, you can’t refute it– that’s bad grammar, that, Stephen. To refute, you have to provide evidence. You mean “rebut”.

No, I mean “repudiate”.

Fair enough.

(during applause/laugh break)
Very good point.

If you weren’t showing off, you could have said “reject”.

Yes, indeed. You’re absolutely right. Though it’s not bad grammar, is it? It’s just bad semantics.

Yeah, whatever.

And since we’re on the topic of language, here’s a hilarious clip on spelling (spoiler alert: “i before e except after c” is wrong):

* I particularly avoided using the term “trivia” here. While the questions/answers on QI may not be terribly useful for most people in their everyday lives, these facts are certainly not useless, unimportant, or inconsequential– i.e., “trivial”. Let’s just say they’re the finer details.
** It’s actually a (ambitious!) 26-year long project with each series covering topics that begin with a different letter of the alphabet.

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