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For a skill that hinges on unblurred communication, debating can be brutally muddled. Thank unexplained debate jargon, thrown around in every speech. In the 20th century, cultivated primarily by guides who experienced debate as debaters rather than audience, debate developed its own language. Though technical, this language is for something simultaneously simple and deep: how to make a decision.

Debate is about advising people’s decisions. Decisions are steered by critical thinking, while the words you use tunnel the mind down information highways. In debate rounds, you feel like the decision will be in favor of the most intelligent. But in real life, people make decisions in favor of what they understand. Your audience is already accustomed to making decisions. Think about it. From what you’re going to do when you first wake up (make coffee or tea? check email or work out?), until that decision to hit the hay, each day is comprised of constant decisions.

That means your audience’s brains have already been steered with critical thinking patterns required for decisions. Many, many times. We’ve put words to these concepts for thousands of years to break down the challenge of persuading. But rather than expecting audiences to spend an hour or more learning words that the debate community uses for decisions, debaters should use words folks are used to.

In favor of normalized terms for more relatable, common-sense debating, here is the Ethos Glossary of Normalized Terms. Don’t just use it sparingly. By all means, print it out and keep it in your debate box.


Significance (stock issue), especially as “Harms” or “Ills”: Remember the first time you heard the word “Harm”? It sounds as weird to everyone else, still, as it did to you at first. Everyone knows what a “problem” is though.

  • Problems 
  • Pros and Cons 
  • Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Effects 
  • Benefits 
  • Results 
  • Downsides 
  • Dangers 
  • Failures

Inherency (stock issue): This word is such a booger. See Dr. Srader’s post on What Inherency Used to Mean to understand the concept better. Here are words Isaiah used to label his points and explain the issue. Even when using attitudinal, existential, and structural explanations – the sub-parts of inherency – it works. A “policy trend” is structural inherency, whereas “popular opinion” is attitudinal inherency.

  • Trends 
  • Root causes 
  • Causes 
  • Attitudes 
  • Opinions 
  • Direction 
  • Facts

Solvency (stock issue): To be honest, this word is the simplest to understand and kind of works without modification. But you can change it to get more specific.

  • Root issue
  • Workability
  • Specificity
  • Solution

Topicality: This word also makes sense, but audiences don’t necessarily connect the “topic” piece of the word to the bounds of the topic. They’re usually thinking “the resolution” instead of “the topic”. Try:

  • Resolutional/Non-resolutional
  • On topic/Off topic
  • In/Out of topic bounds

Contentions/Observations/Justifications: debaters have started owning the ideas they’re advocating. It’s silly. You don’t “have” a contention; you contend that something is true.

  • You can start saying “firstly, I contend that drones are evil,” or you could just keep it simple and have points. IF you “own” the idea, then it can be “your point,” “my point,” “their point.” 
  • Let us know how many points you’ve got and tell us when you get to your second one.
  • The name of the point is what we care about, not whether it’s an observation or contention.

Mandates and Planks (parts of a plan): Planks make no sense. Imagine the President’s Daily Briefing, where a general says “we propose four planks.” Like when you first heard that term, Obama is thinking of pirates at that moment.

  • Points – I have a three-point plan that will fix EVERYTHING.
  • Steps – There are two steps to take
  • Parts – The first part of our plan is…

Agency (part of a plan): Try “authority” or simply say “passed into law by” without even saying “agency” in a weird, blocky way that nobody expects.

Disadvantage Parts: Even if you just said “causes” and “effects,” you’d be less confusing.

  • Link – Cause, link, direct link, reason
  • Internal Link – Sub-cause, indirect link, reasoning, reason
  • Brink – Trend, Externality, Threshhold, Last Straw
  • Uniqueness – Direct Link, Unique Cause, Causality (or just get the content of uniqueness into your original link, which is way better)


  • Support
  • Warrants
  • Reasons
  • Supporting information

Value, Criterion:

  • Lens
  • Perspective
  • Worldview
  • Priority/Priorities
  • Test

Putting it Together: Hey, parents reading this! If someone built a case that looked like this, would you find it easier to follow?

World’s Shortest Jury-Nullification Case

We’re here to advocate that you reform the federal court system. There are two problems worth solving:

  • Problem 1: Too Many Laws – you’re probably in violation of three or four right now, and don’t even know it.
  • Problem 2: Crush the Little People – The rich and powerful are fine with complex law, and their Armani-suited lawyers that help them navigate it all. But as law loses common sense, it crushes the little people.

The question is, what is the root cause? Well there are two:

  • Root Cause 1: Overlegislativeness – yeah, that’s a word. It means too much lawmaking. We should try and stop this from the top down.
  • Root Cause 2: Hidden Nullification – With a hard-earned jury of your peers, your peers will never be told they have the right to recognize you violated a law but call that law guilty and nullify it this time. “Shouldn’t be a law” is what we should try from the bottom up, but courts prohibit it now.

[insert all these boring legal quotes I’m omitting]

We have a simple proposal. It has two parts:

  • Part 1: juries shall be instructed of their right to find guilty, not-guilty, OR nullify the law.
  • Part 2: criminal court procedures shall be modified to include nullification as a non-objectionable argument from defense.

How does this work as a solution? Well, it tackles one of the two root issues, giving you bottom-up protection while we take our good, sweet time to find and elect candidates who can solve the other one.

So what’s the benefit? By voting AFF, you vote for the little people.

One-sentence summary of this entire post: Don’t impress your opponents. Instead, communicate with your audience.


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