‘Jeopardy!’ Fans Debate Mispronunciation of Larynx — Why It Was Accepted

‘Jeopardy!’ Fans Debate Mispronunciation of Larynx — Why It Was Accepted

‘Jeopardy!’ Fans Debate Mispronunciation of Larynx — Why It Was Accepted

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the July 1 episode of Jeopardy!]

It’s a common debate among Jeopardy! fans: mispronunciations and how they’re judged. It came up during the July 1 episode, with contestant Matt Brooks.

The healthcare IT analyst from Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Zoe Strassfield, a park ranger & writer from Water Mill, New York, faced off with returning champion Cat Pisacano, a nurse from New York, New York (who had a one-day total of $11,500). During the Jeopardy! round, at a point at which Brooks was leading $6,200 to Pisacano’s $4,600 and Strassfield was in the red with -$1,000, he rang in for the $400 clue in Taking You to School. It read: “Anatomy: There are both false & true vocal cords in this hollow, tubular structure, also called the voice box.” His pronunciation of larynx (larnyx) led to host Ken Jennings slowly telling him, “Oh, yes, we will take that” before repeating the word. The debate over that pronunciation dominated the comments of the Reddit thread for this episode.

However, as was also pointed out, it’s a pronunciation that had been accepted twice before: the November 14, 1997 and March 27, 2006 games. In fact, in the latter, host Alex Trebek called it “a common pronunciation.” And in the former, player Sahir Islam’s score was adjusted before Final Jeopardy! following the verification that “’larynex’ is an acceptable pronunciation for ‘larynx.’”

And some fans did agree or find evidence that it is. “Googling shows that it’s one of the most commonly mispronounced words in English. I’m old and never heard anyone use the mispronunciation – but it also rarely comes up in conversation,” one noted, adding, “So, the eternal question is whether Jeopardy should accept a common mispronunciation. Arguably, following the spelling rule that spelling doesn’t matter if the pronunciation is the same – the answer would be no. And yet, we have this today …”

Added another viewer, “In American parlance I feel like it’s extremely common to hear larynx pronounced like ‘larnyx’ – I have to imagine that if a mispronunciation is common enough colloquially they might feel compelled to accept it. So for that reason I didn’t feel super strongly about this ruling either way.”

One fan understands the judges erring on the contestant’s side, noting some other commonly-mispronounced words, including “nuclear” and grouping “larynx” in with it. But that person also notes the “frustrating” part of it “is that there doesn’t seem to be any clear, consistently enforced rule about stuff like that,” citing Austin Rogers’ pronunciation of sherbet and the judges ruling against Rob Russell for foliage.

“I’m inclined to say that if it’s a reasonable pronunciation from the spelling of the word, it should be OK, because that means the contestant has learned it but perhaps only read it, whereas if it’s not a reasonable phonetic-adjacent pronunciation based on the spelling, that should be wrong,” another wrote, agreeing that “the problem is the lack of consistency” on the show.

“I feel like ‘larinex’ is a reasonable way to pronounce ‘larynx’ phonetically though,” one person posted. “It’s just pronouncing the Y a bit differently and ‘nx’ is ‘nex.’”

The question of whether it could be a regional pronunciation also came up, but some fans can’t get past their disbelief that Brooks’ answer was accepted.

“How in the world did they accept ‘larnyx’ as a correct response for ‘larynx’?  They say pronunciation doesn’t count, but they routinely count answers wrong when the spelling and pronunciation don’t go together – ‘larnyx’ is just not a conceivable way to pronounce ‘larynx,’” according to one viewer. “We were expecting them to come back and correct the score on that and they didn’t.  It really soured the whole game for me.” Another agreed “that was unbelievable,” saying the way Brooks pronounced it made “a totally different (nonsensical) word.”

One viewer called it “mystifying” and noted, “It flies in the face of a lot of the rulings I’ve seen (although, of course, I can’t think of a specific one now) which seemed more minor.”

In other words, what seems to be a common thread is a call for consistency when it comes to ruling involving pronunciation. But what do you think? What did you think of Matt Brooks’ pronunciation? Let us know in the comments section, below.

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