Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: Trying to induce his African-American partner into guessing the word 'deer,' a celebrity contestant on Password gives a clue of 'doe . . .?', which fetches the response of 'knob!'
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
An all-time favorite "Super Password" show happened on the watch of host Bert Convy. I was in a bonus round that had escalated to an all time high of $50,000. My partner was a Black woman who had won her way into this bonus round with me. We were both pretty keyed up. After all, a $50,000 prize on this show was very rare.An entertaining story, full of detail and told convincingly. There's one little problem with it, though: Super Password with Bert Convy debuted on
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.
Once, Nipsey Russell was on Password, and the password was "deer." His partner gave him "doe" as a clue, and Russell guessed "knob."Yes, game shows are taped in advance, but Jamie Farr's first appearance on the show wasn't until December 1984, and they aren't taped that far in advance. Celebrities tell urban legends, too.
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:
"Did you hear the joke about ebonics?" the shorter one asked Carill in a booming voice. "Two blacks are on that television game show, Password, and the secret word is deer, so this one says 'doe' as his clue, and his partner looks at him and says: 'knob.'"Last updated: 7 August 2007
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