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I am looking for a word meaning "a person who asks many questions", with positive connotations (one who is curious about things, which is good). Preferably a noun.

The word preferably should be unambiguous and clear to non-native speakers; preferably a bit humorous, and clearly saying that this person has good qualities, such as curious and eager to learn.

I know such words in other languages: Russian почемучка "a curious child who wants to learn all things and asks his parents many questions" (positive), Spanish preguntón "questioner" (I think neutral).

Context: At a conference, we give several awards. In the audience, there is always somebody who asks questions at all presentations, which is good and shows his/her active involvement and attention. We want to encourage this behavior by giving an award. All other awards are called with nouns:

  • Best paper
  • Best poster
  • Best presentation

so we want to have an award in line with this, like:

  • Best why-boy
  • Best questioner
  • Best inquisitive mind

The award is in a way humorous, so "why-boy / why-girl" would be adequate (if I get right that it has positive connotations), but having the word gender-dependent is not convenient. "Questioner" does not seem to have too positive connotations (and is not humorous enough). Then "inquisitive mind" seems to be the best option, but it is too long and not quite correct ("best mind"? "most inquisitive"?).

This is also why I need a word that is unambiguous (to avoid misunderstanding!) and easy to understand by non-native speakers: most of the attendees of the conference are non-native speakers, so a too fancy word can confuse them more than encourage.

  • @Ubihatt Does asker have clearly positive connotations, encouraging such behavior? – Alexander Gelbukh Apr 2 at 14:14
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    Seems like you want something more along the lines of “Best audience participation” “Best speaker engagement” etc. – Jim Apr 2 at 15:01
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    Do not use "why-boy" unless you want to exclude females. – GEdgar Apr 2 at 16:38
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    @David How can one learn without asking questions? – ab2 Apr 2 at 21:44
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    I present to you exhibit 1: a toddler. – MonkeyZeus Apr 3 at 13:06

10 Answers 10

40

I would say: Most inquisitive:

Merriam-Webster:

1 : given to examination or investigation

2 : inclined to ask questions, especially : inordinately or improperly curious about the affairs of others

Cambridge Dictionary

wanting to discover as much as you can about things, sometimes in a way that annoys people

Someone who is inquisitive asks a lot of questions and is genuinely curious about things. They might take it a little too far, but it's a very weak negative connotation and one that doesn't really apply when you're in any context related to learning.

Particularly within academia, being inquisitive would be considered a badge of honor:

It's partly because humans are naturally inquisitive and exploratory but also, and more significant, because we need the unknown, what historians of religion call "otherness," to lend our lives significance.

— David Nicholson-Lord, Nation, 6 Oct. 1997

Inquisitive really only has a negative connotation when used to describe someone inquisitive about something that isn't their business, for example, inquisitive neighbors:

an inquisitive woman who tends to everybody's business but her own

And, while it shares a root with "inquisitor", "inquisitive" doesn't share any of that word's negative connotations.

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    There are many good adjectives, but the question was rather about a noun. Thank you! – Alexander Gelbukh Apr 2 at 18:54
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    @AlexanderGelbukh That's fair, though superlatives are often used as a noun, with an implied "person": so a "Most inquisitive [person]" award would sound very natural. It doesn't work if you need to maintain the "Best ..." pattern, though – divibisan Apr 2 at 18:58
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    @JasonBassford although keep in mind inquisitor comes with many negative connotations. Inquisitive is positive though – Aethenosity Apr 3 at 3:52
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    @JasonBassford Technically, yes, an inquisitor is just someone who asks lots of questions, but if you say someone won the "Best Inquisitor" award, the first image that will pop into peoples' heads is that they got an award for finding the most heretics. That might be ok, if you're trying to make a joke about how how intense the questioning is (for example, an old professor who always asks intense, but on point, questions of a speaker, or a thesis defense) but you should be aware of the negative connotation. – divibisan Apr 3 at 14:36
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    @JasonBassford "could apply"? yes, but I would be surprised if someone actually used that word for those groups of people (especially your first third and fourth examples. The second one fits, but because of the negative connotation), plus a lot of other words fit much better. Immediate image to pop into most peoples heads? Probably torture, as it is with me. I mean, your own link says "especially : one who is unduly harsh, severe, or hostile in making an inquiry."<- that is the REAL world context that people may have known through history. Based on all that, we'll have to agree to disagree. – Aethenosity Apr 3 at 16:22
10

I would steal from the StackExchange platform. We give good question askers 3 badges:

The last here being somewhat of a joke. Socrates is known as a philosopher for posing difficult "Socratic questions" to people.

As such, if you're intending this to be somewhat humorous, you could also use the term for your award and call it "Most Socratic":

Of or pertaining to, characteristic of, Socrates the Athenian philosopher, or his philosophy, methods, character, etc.

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    'Socratic' questioning implies questions asked to encourage understanding by the answerer; they're not a request for information as the OP describes. – Mitch Apr 4 at 12:33
  • @ab2 I have to disagree, Socratic questioning is more about deep consideration and critical thinking than general curiosity. – Kevin Apr 4 at 16:43
9

I would recommend Inquirer .

According to Cambridge Dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/inquirer?q=Inquirer+):

INQUIRER

​ someone who asks about something

Synonym - questioner

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    "Inquiring minds want to know!" – evildemonic Apr 2 at 22:41
1

You could use "inquisitor".

a person making an inquiry, especially one seen to be excessively harsh or searching.

It does conjur up images (to me at least) of the Spanish Inquisition but if you are looking for a slightly tongue in cheek term it could fit the bill.

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    Not a great idea to name an award as inquisitor :) It has a negative overtone. – Ubi hatt Apr 2 at 14:26
  • Good, but non-native speakers can be confused and even offended. Plus, imagine such an award hanging on your wall: "Martin Smith is the best inquisitor". Sounds scary, I would not display such an award in my office. – Alexander Gelbukh Apr 2 at 14:26
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    Personally, it brings to mind the secret police of the Imperium of Mankind from Warhammer 40k. – nick012000 Apr 3 at 3:12
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    Nobody would expect that – dkwarr87 Apr 4 at 9:49
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    @dkwarr87 especially if the people who receive that award are Spanish. – VLAZ Apr 5 at 7:13
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You might need to make up a word. Some words simply do not have straightforward translations. In German kindergarten names, they sometimes translate почемучка as Warumka ("why-ka") . But in that situation some of the context is quite obvious, e.g. that the word is meant to be cute and that it is some kind of non-native word.

1

You can try:

Best wonderer
A bit more whimsical, but a wonderer is someone who is curious about things.1

1. ✔ocabulary.com

  • Best wonderer is nice, best gumshoe is very unlikely to be understood by non-native speakers – Pierre Arlaud Apr 3 at 7:41
  • I suspect many people will confuse wonderer with wanderer, especially in speech. – Michael Kay Apr 5 at 7:43
1

As you've indicated a wish for a light-hearted gender neutral investitive (yes that's deliberately not investigative) noun I would propose

Questioneer n. (Much in the same vein as Buccaneer) but pronounced question-ear

Definition A person who benefits by asking pertinent questions that add to the greater good. (from KJO's Directory of malapropisms :-)

  • I wonder if native speakers know this word and feel the difference from questioner. A quick Google search suggests that no, and does not help to figure out the meaning of this word, unless one happens to find the dictionary that you mention. – Alexander Gelbukh Apr 4 at 1:27
1

I'm going to suggest Grand Inquisitor:

Grand Inquisitor (Latin: Inquisitor Generalis, literally Inquisitor General or General Inquisitor) was the lead official of the Inquisition. The title usually refers to the chief inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, even after the reunification of the inquisitions. Secretaries-general of the Roman Inquisition were often styled as Grand Inquisitor but the role and functions were different.

The title has also been used in a Dostoevsky poem, and in numerous Star Wars episodes, so it's well-known.

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    I'm not sure "Grand Inquisitor" has strictly positive connotations. And I especially don't think it's associated with "eager to learn". I'd grant you that it's humorous but I'm not sure it's appropriate. – VLAZ Apr 5 at 7:17
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    The Spanish Inquisition (something people in many countries would first think of when they hear the word Inquisitor) has a very negative connotation, more or less like, say, Gestapo. – Rudy Velthuis Apr 5 at 10:24
  • @VLAZ - I think in the context of humorous awards being given at a conference it would go over very well. And it might provide the inspiration to make some of the other award titles less tedious. – Hot Licks Apr 5 at 11:39
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How about just Best questions?

While it is not term for the person, I think it would fit the other awards, as they all are about the end results: paper, presentation and poster, not the individual who made the contribution. It is also clearly positive, though it has more focus on the quality of the questions rather than amount of the questions. However, if this is not too serious award, I don't think that is too big of a problem, especially if it is questions in plural and not just best question. And on the other hand, I think you would not want to award somebody who just spams pointless questions.

Most obvious drawback is that it is neutral/serious rather than humorous.

-2

You could consider Best Poser

Punning on pose as in (from OED):

Raise (a question or matter for consideration) ‘the statement posed more questions than it answered’

And also poser as in (from OED):

A person who poses; a poseur.

Emphasising the potential attention-grabbing nature of questioning.

This depends on exactly the kind of light-hearted tone you're after though, and punning with non-native speakers can be a minefield you might want to avoid, especially with the slight negative connotations in the latter definition.

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    Poser is strongly related to the idea of someone acting like other people to fit in. It's kind of a negative term. – Aethenosity Apr 4 at 14:51
  • I don't think I'd ever think of "poser" as "somebody who poses question". I doubt anybody will. It may work from strictly dictionary definition but it's not in any way a common usage. – VLAZ Apr 5 at 7:12

protected by Mitch May 16 at 16:29

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