Saturday, October 30, 2010

Romeo and Julia

Let me tell you the story of the day TV's Jeopardy! became my enemy. No, it wasn't the Vilnius/"Vilnuis" controversy, though that guess is not far off.

Not long after the Ken Jennings period, I believe, there was an episode with a clue seeking the name of the actress who portrayed "Elaine" on Seinfeld, a '90s NBC sitcom. One contestant immediately buzzed in and answered, "Julia Louis-Dreyfus," which earned a nod from me. Instead of awarding him the money, however, Trebek left the dude hanging and befuddled until his time expired. Then another contestant buzzed in with "Julia Louis-Dreyfus," which Trebek acknowledged as the correct answer.

You see, the first guy had actually pronounced it "Louise-Dreyfus," and the judges had determined that the mispronunciation made the answer unacceptable. The second person had correctly pronounced it more like "Lewis-Dreyfus," which was judged the correct pronunciation.

I didn't entirely agree with the decision, but I was not going to argue against the Jeopardy! judges on the arbitrary rules of their own game. Rather, my complaint at the time was that I didn't think "Lewis" was the correct pronunciation. I could have sworn that I had only ever heard it pronounced "Louise," and I had never really paid it much mind that it didn't match the spelling. I thought maybe it was some odd preferred, or at least commonly accepted, mispronunciation unique to this actress. I figured the judges were adhering to conventional phonics and had never heard "Louis" pronounced in the context of her name specifically, and I awaited a correction and apology from them after the commercial break.

Well, the correction never came, the poor guy who said "Louise" lost the match by a narrow enough margin that it could have been the difference, and I could only sit at home feeling powerless to correct what I still perceived to be a grave injustice. I watched the next week's worth of episodes just anticipating some kind of apology, but it was never mentioned again.

Mind you, I didn't care enough to actually do research and confirm the pronunciation of her name myself. It was only when the actress appeared recently on 30 Rock, and I again thought I heard her name pronounced "Louise," that I finally decided to do some digging.

As it turned out, I was wrong, but so too was Jeopardy! According to the actress herself, her name is actually pronounced "LOO-ee," like the French monarchs. It's quite possible that, all those times I thought I heard "Louise," they were actually saying "LOO-ee." But it certainly wasn't "Lewis." In any case, according to their rules, the judges were correct not to award points to the first guy. But what about the second guy, who said "Lewis"? He didn't pronounce it correctly either. All he proved was that he had seen the actress's name in print and knew how it was spelled. And he didn't even really prove that! Maybe he thought it was spelled "Lewis." (And maybe the lady who was dinged in "Final Jeopardy!" for misspelling "Vilnius" as "Vilnuis" actually knew the correct pronunciation, but just had poor spelling.)

If the show were really testing knowledge (and pronunciation), then neither guy was truly correct. For that matter, the judges proved to me that they didn't know a damn thing themselves, and they were not fit to be deeming one wrong answer less incorrect than another.

No, I'm still not satisfied.

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