Debate Glossary

Please review the glossary terms below that provide details about key terms related to Debate.

Defining Debate (wikipedia)
Debate or debating is a formal method of interactive and representational argument. Debate is a broader form of argument than logical argument, which only examine the consistency from axiom, and factual argument, which only examine what is or isn’t the case or rhetoric which is technique of persuasion. Though logical consistency, factual accuracy as well as some emotional appeal to audience are important elements of the art of persuasion, in debating, one side often prevails over the other side by presenting superior “context” and/or framework of the issue, which is far more subtle and strategic.

In a formal debating contest, there are rules for people to discuss and decide on differences, within a framework defining how they will interact. Informal debate is a common occurrence, but the quality and depth of a debate improves with knowledge and skill of its participants as debaters. Deliberative bodies such as parliaments, legislative assemblies, and meetings of all sorts engage in debates. The outcome of a debate may be decided by audience vote, by judges, or by some combination of the two. Formal debates between candidates for elected office, such as the leaders debates and the U.S. presidential election debates, are common in democracies.

Policy Debate (as defined by Wikipedia):
is a form of research-based speech competition in which teams of two advocate for and against a resolution that typically calls for policy change by the United States Federal Government. It is also referred to by institutions such as the Cross Examination Debate Association as cross-examination debate (sometimes shortened to Cross-X, CX, or C-X) because of the 3-minute questioning period following each constructive speech. Affirmative teams generally present a plan as a proposal for implementation of the resolution. However, many teams also partake in alternative forms of argumentative presentation that do not focus on the acceptance or rejection of a specific plan.

Urban Debate Leagues (wikipedia)

(Latin for “let it be done”) is a theoretical construct in policy debate—derived from the word should in the resolution—whereby the desirability rather than the probability of enactment and enforcement of a given plan is debated, allowing an affirmative team to “imagine” a plan into being.

There are different theories regarding fiat:

“Normal Means”— Going through the same political process comparable with normal legislative processes. There is no overarching, accepted definition of the legislative pathways which constitute “normal means,” but clarification about what an affirmative team regards as “normal means” can be obtained as part of cross-examination by the negative team.

“Magic Wand” aka “Pixie Dust”—The plan is instantly instituted and enforced. It avoids politics disadvantages because it avoids the part of the process that goes through the government and subsequently avoids any sort of political affiliation. However, such fiat is generally considered abusive and is generally not used. It is still subject to disadvantages having to do with the effects of the plan.

Public Speaking (wikipedia)
is the process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners. The art and science of public speaking, especially in a North American competitive environment, is also known as forensics. The word forensic is an adjective meaning “of public debate or argument.” The word is derived from the Latin forensis, meaning “of the forum.”

In public speaking, as in any form of communication, there are five basic elements, often expressed as “who is saying what to whom using what medium with what effects?” The purpose of public speaking can range from simply transmitting information, to motivating people to act, to simply telling a story. Good orators should be able to change the emotions of their listeners, not just inform them. Public speaking can also be considered a discourse community. Interpersonal communication and public speaking have several components that embrace such things as motivational speaking, leadership/personal development, business, customer service, large group communication, and mass communication. Public speaking can be a powerful tool to use for purposes such as motivation, influence, persuasion, informing, translation, or simply entertaining.

Civic Engagement (wikipedia)
has been defined as “Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.”

“Civic engagement” can mean not only a set of actions and efforts, but a feeling of belonging, an experience of investment and ownership in the local, regional, national, and/or international communities to which citizens belong. According to the New York Times, “Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.”

Beginning in 2001, a major international research initiative on civic engagement was initiated by the Global Service Institute (GSI) at the Center for Social Development, at Washington University in St. Louis to more carefully define this term.

Other Common Debate Terminology
(cited from

Break – verb
Speech & debate usage: to qualify into (a) elimination round(s).

Example: “Hey, Taman, did you break in Extemp?”
“Why yes, I broke into semi-finals.”

Wild Card – noun
Speech & debate usage: a privilege earned by doing well at a League tournament which allows you to attend the State Qualifying tournament in addition to our allotted slots.

Example: “Gosh, Mohit is practicing every day this month! He is definitely going to get a wild card at League!”

Out Rounds – noun
Speech & debate usage: elimination rounds such as finals, semifinals, quarterfinals, etc.

Example: “Hey, Grace! You made out rounds… again! Congratulations.”

Postings – noun
Speech & debate usage: pieces of paper that are posted on the walls before each round; these tell competitors where their next round will be and against whom; postings have magnetic powers for speech and debaters, and are known for creating buffalo stampede-like phenomena in high school cafeterias.

Example: “Hey Zade, postings are up!”
“Alright Ronak, let’s do this!”

Pick Up – verb
Speech & debate usage: to win a debate round.

Example: “I’m so happy I picked up that debate round!”

Drop – verb
Speech & debate usage: to lose a debate round.

Example: “Geez, Brian! I can’t believe you dropped that debate round! There goes your letter of recommendation!”
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Brasher! I really should have practiced more!”

Flow – verb
Speech & debate usage: to take notes during a debate in shorthand; also flowsheet – the piece of paper you take notes on; also flow judges – judges who are familiar with debate format and jargon and can take notes in flow.

Example: “Hey Aparna, my flow looks like random scratches.”
“Hmm, you’re right Ryan. I think you should practice flowing more often.”

Spread – verb
Speech & debate usage: in team debate, to read your cases and evidence as fast as humanly possible, in an attempt to cram as much information into a given time span as possible.

Example: “Wow, Edwin is really good at spreading in debate rounds!”

Picket Fence – verb
Speech & debate usage: to earn first places from all your judges in all of your rounds at a tournament; on tabulation sheets, the ones resemble a picket fence.

Example: “Oh, wow! Sam picket fenced at the last tournament!

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