The old Password game show, and what’s-his-name whispers to the audience,
The story is further verified by the teller (but I wouldn’t bank on it) by describing the way the other contestants, and pretty much everybody else laughed their asses off. The victim has her day in court, however, and wins a (insert $$ amount here) lawsuit against the producers.
Back in the early Eighties, I remember seeing one of those word-association quiz shows (don't remember if it was Password or the $25K Pyramid). The following exchange took place:
Female guest star partner: "Doe" (i.e., young female deer)
Black/Negro/Afro-American guy partner: "Knob"
. . . 2 second pause . . .
Howls of laughter from the audience & moderator.
. . . cut to commercial . . .
I still remember the look on the guy's face. He didn't catch on until after the laughter erupted from the audience. Boy, was he mortified.
Origins: Ho ho ho, another one of those "blacks sure do talk funny" legends; in this case the laugh comes at the expense of an African-American game show contestant whose speech patterns trap him into making the wrong word association. His chance to earn some easy money is blown because he doesn't talk like the white folks do. Not only does he lose the cash, he's also roundly laughed at. His humiliation is crushing and immediate.
Many of us grow up believing there's only one correct way to speak our native language, and people who don't speak like us demonstrate a deplorable lack of culture and education. As such, dialect speakers are commonly characterized as being of lower intelligence or just plain lazy, and this characterization is often used to stigmatize blacks. Linguistic arrogance sometimes becomes a tool racists use to further acceptance of the common unflattering stereotype of African-Americans as unintelligent, lazy objects of fun.
Descriptions of this game show event
Although the incident described is plausible for Password, it makes little or no sense as an anecdote about The $10,000 Pyramid (or one of its higher-priced incarnations). In The $10,000 Pyramid, a contestant had thirty seconds to get his partner to guess
This legend also propagates the mistaken linguistic notion that people cannot recognize dialectal pronunciations that differ from their own. A person who pronounces the words "earl" and "oil" as homophones isn't incapable of distinguishing between those two words when he hears them spoken by someone who doesn't pronounce them as homophones; likewise, a person who pronounces the words "doe" and "door" identically doesn't necessarily assume that anyone who says "doe" really means "door" instead. But, of course, a person might make this mistake if he were really ignorant and dim-witted, which is the ugly point behind this tale.
Sightings: Jamie Farr propagates this legend in a first-person account found in his autobiography
So now we begin. Behind her, I could see a list of
So, I look up and I see the first word on our list is "deer." She sees, behind me, the
But she comes back, just as quick, with, "Knob."
I blink. "Doe . . . knob?" Well, aside from the fact that "knob" doesn't begin with a "d," I didn't say "door." I said "doe." But she heard "door." I couldn't go on. I just started to laugh so hard that Convy had to restrain me. The audience was dying. The only who didn't know what was happening was the contestant. But Convy and I had to compose ourselves, and just try to go on. Needless to say, we didn't win the $50,000. But the producers really loved that show and talked about it for years. It provided more laughs than if we had sailed through it without a hitch. They should have given us the $50,000 on the side.
This legend turns up in a 2000 (non-fiction) book about Las Vegas, offered not as a true story but as an "ebonics joke" one wealthy gambler tells another at the Luxor:
Earley, Pete. Super Casino: Inside the 'New' Las Vegas. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 2000. ISBN 0-553-09502-1 (pp. 291-292). Farr, Jamie. Just Farr Fun. Clearwater, FL: Eubanks/Donizetti Inc., 1994. ISBN 0-9640775-0-7 (p. 34). Wolff, Alexander. "Bo on the Go." Sports Illustrated. 5 September 1984 (p. 134).