Part 1: Introduction

In the U.S., we have a game show called Jeopardy!, where contestants answer trivia questions in certain categories. This television program, which has aired for a few decades now, has an interesting gimmick, where "answers" are given, and contestants must provide the right question. For example, in once recent episode, in the category "The Story of English", one answer was:

In Chaucer's day, "boot" was pronounced "boat"; the change to modern speech is called the GVS, "great" this "shift"

and the correct response was:

What is vowel?

Also, categories with quotation marks embedded in their name require those letters to be included in each response. For example, in the category "RR" CROSSING, a clue was

To lose assets in large quantities, or to bleed profusely

and the correct response was

What is hemorrhage?

Every once in a while, a contestant's response is initially ruled incorrect, but a panel of judges will override that initial ruling, deeming the answer sufficiently correct. (Perhaps there's another valid word for something that the framers of the question didn't anticipate.) In these cases, scores are adjusted. Since negative scores are given for incorrect answers, these corrections can have a fairly strong impact on the competition. For example, a $1200 question reversed causes a $2400 swing for one contestant.

Part 2: The Debate

The January 10th episode had a category called:


One clue was:

It's the opposite of leeward

and the correct response was:

What is windward?

Now, the part of the game that prompted a lengthy debate between my wife and I, and my question here. The clue was, quite simply:

Honest & direct

to which one contestant replied:

What is forward?

But the host responded, "No," and then gave the correct response:

What is straightforward?

As we watched, we were pretty sure that we'd see a scoring change after the commercial break, and we were surprised when we didn't. This prompted us to start looking up both words in the dictionary (actually, more than one dictionary; I'll give a few excerpts here):

straightforward (adj.) clear and honest

forward (adj.) very confident and direct about saying what you think, in a way that is not socially suitable

straightforward (adj.) (of a person) honest and frank: a straightforward young man

forward (adj.) (of a person) bold or overfamiliar in manner: I am not usually a forward sort of person

In the end, the debate between my wife and I ended in a split decision: one of us thought the contestant had been given a raw deal, while the other thought the judges had made the correct ruling.

Part 3: My Question

What do you think? Is forward close enough in meaning to straightforward, that the judges should have accepted that response? Or do the two words differ enough that you would stick by the judges in their refusal to deem that response correct?

  • 3
    I have viewed the taping of an episode of this program, though not this specific episode. When there is a scoring change they do address it during commercial break. They can take as much time as is necessary. One time they spent 15 minutes deciding what was the correct answer and then determining how they would address it. If it is late in the game they can even go to the moment of the mistake and then edit it a new start. During the period the judges are discussing their options, the contestants have their back to the game board so they can't try to map out their future strategy. Jan 26, 2013 at 12:38
  • I think that "straightforward" is correct and "forward" is not. But if you watch Jeopardy you have to accept that its premise is a bit silly: only a crazy person would answer the question "What is [a] vowel?" with comments about how "boot" was pronounced in Chaucer's day - note the supposed "answer" doesn't explain what a vowel is at all. Your description, '"answers" are given, and contestants must provide the right question' - explains it pretty well: they're not really looking for any question that fits, they're looking for a specific answer that has been clumsily reworded as a question.
    – nnnnnn
    Jul 26, 2020 at 11:03

4 Answers 4


Normally with these sort of things, I like to hit a lot of different dictionaries. Here though, the definitions you give tell it all:

very confident and direct about saying what you think, in a way that is not socially suitable

(of a person) bold or overfamiliar in manner: I am not usually a forward sort of person

(Emphases mine)

In the definitions you give, the fact that forward contains an excess that makes it unwelcome is given clearly of the definition. It's also implied in the example, as it wants to deny the quality - which we would of a negative excess, but not of being honest and direct.

The classic example of a straightforward person, is the sort of characters James Stewart used to play; politically open rather than manipulative, not given to intrigue, and likely to say "well, 'cos I think you're a fine looking woman so I'd be mighty pleased if you'd accompany me" rather than subtly seductive.

That last bit is the closest those characters to being forward, but they'd be horrified and apologetic if it was suggested that they were. A forward person shares the bluntness of the straightforward person, but will continue with advances to a degree that seems creepy, or where the a straightforward person would be honest about personal matters, the forward person would be honest about personal matters that have no bearing on the conversation and at a time when it is not appropriate to bring them up.

So while the forward person is indeed honest and direct, this unpleasant excess is a core part of the definition. Since honesty and directness are generally considered positive qualities, it's not reasonable to consider it a valid Jeopardy answer for that definition.

  • No argument from here that straightforward is a better answer than forward, but as you mention, they are close. Had the clue read "TOO HONEST & DIRECT", then forward would have probably been a better answer.
    – J.R.
    Jan 26, 2013 at 18:29
  • I would go so far as to say that if the clue had "Too..." in it, then forward would be correct, and straightforward incorrect.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 26, 2013 at 23:57
  • That was a $1600 question, so the judges' no-call had a relatively big impact on the game. It was sad to see such a heavy price paid for such a close answer. Thanks for weighing in.
    – J.R.
    Jan 26, 2013 at 23:59
  • As much as I enjoy the spaces that exist between subtly different senses of similar words, I wouldn't want to depend on one for $1600. That said, I'm the sort to write in the margins of multiple choice tests and I think University Challenge is about the only one that I rarely think "ah, but you could say..." to.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 27, 2013 at 0:02
  • Also worth noting: this wasn't a multiple choice question. (If it was, forward would clearly be the better answer.) So, the issue is not "Which of the two answers are better?" but, "Should both answers be considered acceptable?"
    – J.R.
    Jan 27, 2013 at 0:05

The OED has five main definitions for straightforward as an adjective. The one that applies to people is

Of persons, their dispositions or conduct: Consistent, undeviating in purpose, single-minded. Also (now usually), free from duplicity or concealment; frank, honest, outspoken.

There are nine main definitions for forward as an adjective, of which the eighth is

In bad sense: Presumptuous, pert; bold, immodest.

and the ninth is

Of persons, opinions: Advanced, extreme; in modern use, favouring vigorous aggressive action.

The difference in meaning is quite clear, and I don't think any native speaker would confuse them in actual use.

  • Are you saying that only one means "honest & direct," and the other clearly doesn't have that meaning?
    – J.R.
    Jan 26, 2013 at 12:19
  • @J.R. I trust my edited answer will make things clearer. Jan 26, 2013 at 12:46

"forward", just by strict definition, should have been an acceptable answer given the clue, however in my experience, "forward" has an additional element of aggressive, almost bullying quality to it.

In contrast, "straightforward" is synonymous with "straight shooter" - in other words, someone who's going to be fair and direct, with no hidden agendas.

That being said, again, based strictly on the dictionary's definition, if I were a judge, I would have to allow "forward" as an acceptable answer.


The relevant MW3UDE definition of forward is this:

2 a : strongly inclined : ANXIOUS, EAGER, READY [always forward to criticize his neighbors] b archaic : ARDENT, SPIRITED, ZEALOUS c : tending to push oneself forward : lacking proper modesty and reserve : BRASH, BOLD, INDECOROUS [badly disciplined children are often distressingly forward] [a flashy forward young woman]

I think the judges made the correct decision and that straightforward is the correct answer but that forward is incorrect.

  • It seems that FORWARD could map to BLUNT, and BLUNT could map to HONEST & DIRECT, so that maybe there aren't enough degrees of separation between the clue and the contestant's response – perhaps they are close enough that a bit of leniency might have been in order.
    – J.R.
    Jan 26, 2013 at 18:27
  • @J.R.: My experience says that forward is always a negative judgment when one says "He's very forward". I think it's strictly a matter of predominant usage, nothing else. I wouldn't mind being called straightforward, but I'd worry if someone called me forward.
    – user21497
    Jan 26, 2013 at 23:08
  • It seems like HONEST & DIRECT could fork into either of those areas, like if I told my elderly aunt Linda that she was wearing an ugly floral dress. That's forward, that's impolite, but it's also honest and direct. :^)
    – J.R.
    Jan 27, 2013 at 0:02
  • 1
    @J.R.: In Japanese there's an expression "bakashoujiki" (the Chinese characters are horse and deer) that means "stupidly honest" (forward, impolite, honest, & direct). My 4th ex-wife was fired from a few of her jobs in Japan because she was bakashoujiki far too often. Perhaps this is a cultural as well as a language problem (most of culture involves language). I've adopted many Asian values after having lived here for 30+ years, so "forward"'s a bad word to me, & honesty & directness are equivocal characteristics rarely seen here, except in the bedroom.
    – user21497
    Jan 27, 2013 at 1:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.