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.
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.
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.
Would you consider yourself a basically truthful person? (Discounting, of course, the little white lies that oil the gears of conversation.) What about Americans as a whole?
Politicians have always embellished the, um, facts, to make their cases. But some would say the recent presidential election was a watershed moment, with major politicians showing a startling disregard for truth. Certifying this trend, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was recently inspired to name post-truth the 2016 word of the year: The OED defines post-truth as “denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Likewise in the British vote to leave the European Union (otherwise known as Brexit, which, coincidentally, was Collins Dictionary’s word of the year), the winning campaign used highly emotional appeal but included, according CBS news reports, “numerous factual evasions.”
So, is it just politicians who’ve lowered the bar on facts, or is dishonesty more widely acceptable today? A 2002 study by the University of Massachusetts suggests it may be. Researchers there observed 60 percent of test subjects telling two to three lies in a 10-minute conversation.
However, honesty won the day in a study by Honest Tea Company in 2013. They set up 61 self-service tea stands, covering each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., offering cups of tea for $1 each. Payment was made on the honor system. On average, 92 percent of Americans in the study paid for their drinks. Women were more honest than men — 95 vs. 91 percent — and Alabamans and Hawaiians were the most honest.
The least honest people, with 80 percent payments, were from Washington, D.C.
For some additional perspective on the matter, take a look at a 1925 essay from the Post, “Is Common Honesty Common?” in which the author argues that Americans were “99% on the level.” (Article below).
Featured image: Shutterstock