I came across this sentence: (from Magoosh GRE)

Though mostly unknown, the 19th century novels of Edward Bulwer-Lytton are subject to an inescapable opprobrium, since today the author, for the opening line—“It was a dark and stormy night”—has been awarded the distinction of an annual contest, in which the winning entrant is the one who concocts a faux opening line that is by turns the most groan-inducing and prosaic.

My questions are:

  1. What does "the distinction" mean here?

    Perhaps, it seems to mean "the 1st place" because of the definite article. However, in this reading, I am nonplussed to read the following lines about the winning entrant... If the winning entrant refers to Edward, how do we really know that this boring opening line is faux?

  2. What does the winning entrant mean here? Does it mean Edward or someone else?

  3. Last, the whole prompt just feels very bizarre. How come the contest awarded the winner for a faux and prosaic opening line? A competition for the worst?

  • 1
    Humorous competitions are a thing; there is in the UK a 'bad sex award' for the worst passage describing sex in a novel: Example of a 2020 contender: She was burning hot and the heat was in him. He looked down on her perfect black slenderness. Her eyes were ravenous. Like his own they were fire and desire. More than torrid, more than tropical: they two were riding the Equator. They embraced as if with violent holding they could weld the two of them one from Pax by John Harvey (no relation) Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 13:26
  • We can use 'the' (definite article) to introduce a newly specified or mentioned distinction: I have the distinction of having dated three Booker Prize winners (not true; made-up example). Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 13:29

2 Answers 2


Bulwer-Lytton was not the winning entrant of the 'competition' - it was named after him because of the famously boring opening line of one of his novels - 'It was a dark and stormy night...'. The term distinction is being used ironically.

The competition is for a (humorously) bad opening sentence for an imaginary novel. Yes, it's a competition for the worst. You can find links to the winners here.


It is an overly long and complex sentence. It packs in much to much information in subordinate clauses and uses words only because they are long and hard to understand. Using complex vocabulary unnecessarily is poor writing. You can extract the following information from that sentence:

  • Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote novels in the 19th century.
  • The novels are mostly unknown today.
  • The novels are harshly criticised by everyone (subject to inescapable opprobrium).
  • There is something special about this author (a "distinction").
  • The author has an annual competition named after him. (awarded the distinction of an annual contest)
  • In the competition, authors try to write the worst possible first line to a novel (but they only write the first line).
  • By "worst" I mean "it makes you groan" and "lacks poetry" (not bad grammar or spelling, for example).
  • The reason for naming this contest after Bulwer-Lytton was the first line to one of his novels. We think this is a very bad first line.
  • That first line was "It was a dark and stormy night".

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