BBC English: a flawed quiz – the questionable question


I wrote in yesterday’s post about the BBC’s English quiz, which wasn’t up to scratch in my book. My score was docked because of my answer to question number 3, concerning a certain androgynous sibling called Hilary, which went as follows:

“Read this sentence carefully. “I’d like to introduce you to my sister Clara, who lives in Madrid, to Benedict, my brother who doesn’t, and to my only other sibling, Hilary.” Which of the following is correct?

1) Hilary is male

2) Hilary is female

3) It’s impossible to tell from the context”

Well, it’s not just impossible to tell from the context, but the sentence itself doesn’t make sense. Given the way it’s punctuated, it states pretty clearly that the speaker has more than one sister (“my sister Clara” means that there is another sister; “my sister, Clara” would have identified Clara as the only sister) and more than one brother (“Benedict, my brother who doesn’t” identifies Benedict as the only one of two or more brothers who doesn’t live in Madrid). So the speaker is kidding himself if he thinks he has only one other sibling: it just doesn’t follow logically. Either that, or he doesn’t understand how to punctuate.

And it seems that I’m not the only one who found fault with the quiz, which was doling out 9/10s by the dozen to undeserving souls. And it wasn’t just question 3 that raised eyebrows and tempers. The internet lit up with confusion and outrage; linguist Peter Harvey had a field-day with the quiz on his blog; and there was a lot of healthy discussion among Facebook fist-shakers who felt similarly wronged.

The moral of the story seems to be this: check your own proficiency before testing others’ …

2 thoughts on “BBC English: a flawed quiz – the questionable question

  1. Jim Kendrick

    Dear Glossophile,
    I’ve never in my life made lists for my laundry. Yet I continue to hear the phrase, “laundry list,” as in “laundry list of complaints.” Whazzup? Did folks once need to inventory socks and underpants, etc. before laundering them?
    Jim in New York


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