9 Mispronunciations That Could Cost You on Jeopardy!

The popular TV game show Jeopardy! began 2017 with a bit of controversy. For the category “Music and Literature Before and After,” host Alex Trebek offered the answer, “A song by Coolio from Dangerous Minds goes back in time to become a 1667 John Milton classic.” Contestant Nick Spicher was on the right track when he rang in and gave the question, “What is Gangster’s Paradise Lost.”

“Yes,” said Trebek, which added $1,600 to Spicher’s score.

But a few moments later, competition paused and Trebek announced that Jeopardy!’s judges had ruled Spicher’s response incorrect. It should have been “Gangsta’s Paradise Lost.” Spicher’s score dropped $3,200.

Part of the judges’ justification for the ruling was that the Oxford English Dictionary lists separate definitions for gangster and gangsta. And to be fair, that’s how Coolio both spells and pronounces the word in the song. Regardless, Spicher was still triumphant after Final Jeopardy and returned for the next episode.

This isn’t the first time Jeopardy! judges’ pronunciation expectations have cost players chunks of change. In 2015, Rob Russell was ruled incorrect for pronouncing foliage as “foilage.” And just last October, Austin Rogers lost out when he pronounced sherbet as “sherbert,” a pronunciation that is all too common here in the Midwest — and apparently in Rogers’ home state of New York.

If you’re trying to get on the quiz show yourself, the following Jeopardy!-style clues can serve as good practice. Finding the right questions is only the first part — you have to pronounce them correctly, too. (The clues get more difficult as you go along.)

Category: Rock Around the Clock

Except in Arizona and Hawaii, this eight-month-long period will begin on March 11, 2018

What is daylight saving time?

A common mispronunciation is “daylight savings time,” with an unnecessary s. Some even hyphenate the phrase daylight-saving time to make it clearer.


Category: Royal Weddings

Prince William refused to sign this type of legal document to protect his assets in case of divorce before marrying Kate Middleton

What is a prenuptial agreement?

It’s an all-too-common mistake to pronounce nuptial [\NUP-shuhl\ or \NUP-chuhl\] as if it were spelled nuptual — perhaps because a prenuptial agreement is a contractual agreement? Regardless, prenuptial contains only three syllables, though Jeopardy! judges might let you get away with the common two-syllable abbreviation pre-nup.


Category: Trademarks

Anyone can sell a house, but to call yourself this, you must be a member of the N.A.R.

 What is a Realtor?

Realtor [\REEL-tuhr\] is a two-syllable word that sometimes gets a superfluous vowel jammed into its pronunciation [incorrect: \REEL-uh-tuhr\]. Likewise, real estate is also known as realty [\REEL-tee\, not \REEL-uh-tee\]. And FYI: The NAR is the National Association of Realtors.


Category: Life Sciences

It’s the branch of biology concerned with the classification, properties, and vital phenomena of animals

What is zoology?

The first syllable of zoology [\zoh-AHL-uh-jee\] is similar in pronunciation to the first syllable of coordinate and cooperate. Don’t pronounce that first syllable like zoo, which is a more recent coinage — an abbreviation of zoological [\zoh-uh-LOJ-ih-kuhl\] garden.


Category: The Winter Olympics

This two-part Olympic competition has its roots in survival skills from snow-covered Scandinavia

Was it the biathlon?

Remember that biathlon [\bahy-ATH-lon\] — the name of the shooting-and-skiing competition — is a three-syllable word. Some people insert an extra vowel sound in there, as if it were spelled biathalon. That extraneous vowel can slip in for a number of athletic terms, including triathlon, decathlon, athlete, and athletic, so watch your tongue.


Category: Operettas

This Franz von Suppé operetta, today known primarily for its overture, is named for a group of horse-riding soldiers

What is The Light Cavalry?

A slip of the tongue can quickly turn the word cavalry [\KAV-uhl-ree\] into Calvary [\KAL-vuh-ree\], a very different word. The former is a group of mobile soldiers — originally on horseback, but in modern times behind the wheel or in helicopters — and the latter is, in Christian doctrine, the site where Jesus was crucified.


Category: Four Consecutive Consonants

Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and Cleveland all lost children to this disease also known as “malignant croup”

What is diphtheria?

There should be no P sound when you pronounce this word. The ph in diphtheria [\dif-THEER-ee-uh\] makes an F sound instead. Likewise diphthong [\DIF-thong\].


Category: Cutting Epithets

In the TV Western Maverick, the title character is often accused of being this because he so rarely loses a poker game

What is a cardsharp?

The 1980s-era game show Card Sharks certainly didn’t help people remember that the 19th-century expression for a person who habitually cheats at cards is actually cardsharp, but you can be sure that the Jeopardy! judges know the truth.


Category: HBO Series

The theme song for this comedy about California tech entrepreneurs is called “Stretch Your Face”

What is Silicon Valley?

What a difference an E makes! Silicon [\SIH-lih-kuhn\ or \SIH-luh-kon\] is a common chemical element that is used extensively in computers and electronics; that connection to computers is how the tech hub Silicon Valley got its name. Silicone [sih-lih-KOHN], on the other hand, is a water-resistant polymer used in everything from hydraulic oils to cosmetics to, yes, breast implants.


“JEOPARDY!” is a registered trademark of Jeopardy Productions, Inc. 

Firsthand America: “I Was a Game-Show Champion!”

An excerpt from our new “Firsthand” column, which premiers in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of the Post.

I’ve been a know-it-all since I was a kid, but last year I found a way to make it pay.

I’ve watched Jeopardy! for years, calling out my answers to host Alex Trebek, as if he could hear me. My wife, Danielle, watching with me, would sometimes say, “You know, you could clean up on this show.” I shrugged. How do you get on a game show, anyway?

Then one day, Jeopardy! announced an online qualifying test. It seemed like a good opportunity to put up or shut up. I was interested mostly in satisfying my curiosity, and—let’s be honest—in the money, too. So, on the appointed night, I sat at the computer, calm and focused—until the phone rang, dogs started howling outside, and the kids began crawling on my lap. I made a good effort—or tried to. I won’t say I forgot about the test; but I downplayed it ruthlessly and got on with life. Then, two months later, I got an unexpected e-mail: Could I come to Boston for a live tryout in six weeks?

At the audition, everyone was personable and good-looking, while I felt crushingly ordinary in my discount-store necktie and cracked glasses. We all took another quiz, got our pictures taken, then played some practice games. I didn’t freeze up or babble—but neither did I dominate in any way. They thanked us, told us that our applications would be held for up to 18 months, then they let us go. It was late. I raced across town to catch the outbound train back to my family, but missed it. Alone in the empty station with no money to take a cab, I entertained unkind thoughts about Jeopardy!

Spring passed. Summer was a haze of late shifts and reheated dinners. When autumn came, I had not watched Jeopardy! in months. And then, just before Halloween, I got the call inviting me to California as a contestant on the show. Already I was calculating airfares and hotels, thinking, Can I afford to do this?

To read the full article, see the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, on newsstands throughout January and February, subscribe now, or purchase the issue at ShopThePost.com.

Want to be a game show contestant? Check out our exclusive tips only at saturdayeveningpost.com.


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