Trivia · Word of the week

Word of the week: pass

The word “Pass” has been a feature of quizzes and quiz shows since the 1970s at least, popularized by the BBC show “Mastermind”. There is a point to it in “Mastermind”. If a contestant doesn’t know the answer to a question they can say “Pass”. The show’s presenter (currently John Humphrys; it was Magnus Magnusson before that) moves straight onto the next question and waits till the end of the round to give the correct answer. If the contestant gives a wrong answer (instead of saying “Pass”) the presenter gives the correct answer during the round, thereby taking up valuable quizzing time. However, “in the event of a tie the number of passes is taken into consideration”. (I’ve seen the show often enough to type those words from memory.) If scores are tied at the end of the show, the contestant with the fewer (or fewest) passes wins. If the number of passes is the same there’s a tie-break.

Among all current and recent TV shows the option to pass rather than give an answer during any round is unique to “Mastermind”. In all other shows, even if you say “Pass” the question-master will give the correct answer; you don’t save any time, so you might as well have a guess. In the final round of “Alphabetical” you can pass on a question and come back to it later by saying (and there are five syllables in this one) “alphabetical”. You can say it in earlier rounds too, the first two of which consist of 60 seconds’ worth of questions per contestant, but Jeff Stelling will still give you the answer during those valuable 60 seconds. He doesn’t wait till the end of the round. You might think you’re passing, by saying “alphabetical”, but you’re not. You might as well give a one-syllable wrong answer.

I wrote about “Alphabetical” two weeks ago, in this piece, and, for the record, the current series has just come to an end. The jackpot was not claimed in the final episode last Friday, and has grown to £58,900 (the largest available jackpot for a single player on any UK quiz show). I assume it rolls over to the next series.

On a different note, I was also thinking of the word “pass” in the rather out-dated sense of “making a pass” at someone. Does anyone under the age of 60 use this phrase? I recall, back in the 1980s, a friend at college telling me that someone we both knew had “made a pass” at her. I was surprised, not because it had happened, but because of the language she had used. I would have expected her to say something rather less dated, like “he came onto me” but, no, he “made a pass” at her. Suzanne Moore in today’s Guardian (“Complicity in the sexual abuse of women is built in to the heart of our politics”) mentions “clumsy passes” in her opening paragraph, which suggests that Westminster “and much of the sycophantic media that buoys it up” have progressed only as far as the 1970s in their “enormous effort to enter the modern age”. The full paragraph is:

In an enormous effort to enter the modern age, Westminster and much of the sycophantic media that buoys it up appears to have progressed to the 1970s. While the rest of us are discussing rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in every workplace following the Weinstein “revelations”, in the parallel world of politics there is talk of “sex pests”, “high jinks” and the pathetic nature of women who cannot bat away clumsy passes.

The only place where I see “clumsy passes” these days is watching football. Many of them have led to my team losing 6 of the last 8 games, dropping from first to fifth in the Championship along the way. There were some shockers against Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday in the last few weeks especially. But, to rephrase my question from earlier, when it comes to describing unwanted sexual advances does anybody under the age of 60 still use the expression “making a pass” at someone? Pass.




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