Frivolous Theory

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Frivolous theory refers to theory read against arguments that aren't very abusive. Frivolous theory is often considered unnecessary, but it allows the debater reading it to have an additional route to the ballot. Debaters who are proficient at theory might try to find any violation that is even marginally unfair just so that they can read theory.

When theory is evaluated under an offense-defense paradigm (i.e. competing interpretations), frivolous theory can often be difficult to respond to, since it will usually be true that one debater is being marginally more unfair. The debater who is responding to the theory would need to find some way to justify why their practice is actually good, which could often be difficult, especially when some frivolous theory shells aren't even arguing that one debater was being actively abusive – they instead argue that the debater should have done to be more fair.

For example, some frivolous interps might be, "The affirmative debater must specify what role of the ballot they are using to evaluate the round," "The negative must specify the status of the counterplan in a delineated text in the 1NC," or "Debaters must specify which branch of utilitarianism they are using for their framework." Even though these interpretations are read against practices that aren't very abusive, you will notice that it is hard to come up with proactive reasons why violating the interpretation would be good, which would be necessary under competing interpretations. It is important to point out, however, that offensive responses to frivolous theory do exist, though sometimes they are not obvious. For example, against the specification shells listed above, a common argument in response is that forcing the aff/neg to specify would lead to infinite regression of spending an entire speech specifiying.

Responding to Frivolous Theory

Deflating theory is usually the best route to go when attempting to answer frivolous theory. Due to its nature, winning a counter-interpretation against a frivolous shell is often difficult not worth the time investment.

Reasonability is often a reasonable route to go when answering frivolous theory. If you are not actually being abusive, it should be easy to win under a reasonability paradigm, especially if you justify a brightline such as "active abuse" that would answer shells that require you do something more in order to be considered fair.

Drop the argument could be another potential route. Since many frivolous shells are some type of spec shell, dropping the argument would likely drop the nature of the entire shell since it isn't being read against any specific argument that you are running. You should also leverage generic arguments that argue for rejecting spec shells and shells that advocate for norms that can always become more specific to the point of infinite regression.


A. Interpretation: Debaters must have all text in their cases be at least 12-point font.

B. Violation: See their doc.

C. Standards:

1) Readability: Fonts that are at least 12 pt font have been found to be most readable. HLO 16

[“Display Content Clearly on the Page.” Chapter 4 - 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines, Health Literacy Online, 2016,]

The font you choose is important because it affects your site’s readability. Below, we list the most important elements that contribute to making a font readable. Choose a font that’s at least 16 pixels, or 12 points. If many of your users are older adults, consider using an even larger font size—19 pixels or 14 points.6,24 A small font size is more difficult to read, especially for users with limited literacy skills and older adults.

2) Prep skew: When I want to refer back to their cases during my prep time I will a) read the font more slowly hurting my ability to do other prep or b) attempt to change their font size, taking away from my prep time

3) Strat skew: When their font is smaller, I am distracted from what they are actually talking about because I have to put more focus on reading their case

4) Norms setting: If debaters can make certain font sizes tiny and others big, they can reads things in small font in hope the other debater will not hear them and win off of tricky arguments – enforce a better font size norm to stop debaters from winning off these tricky arguments