NEW YORK • Is a gangsta the same as a gangster?
For Mr Nick Spicher, a museum educator from Everett, Washington, it is no minor matter of dialect. His pronunciation cost him a US$1,600 (S$2,127) answer on his Jeopardy! appearance on Monday and the show's decision has since been hotly debated.
The category was "Music and literature before and after", requiring contestants to link two separate titles by a common word. The clue read: "A song by Coolio from Dangerous Minds goes back in time to become a 1667 John Milton classic." "What is Gangster's Paradise Lost," Mr Spicher answered, seemingly correctly. "Yes," Alex Trebek responded.
But soon, the host delivered bad news. "Our judges have re-evaluated one of your responses a few moments ago, Nick," Trebek said. "You said 'gangster's' instead of 'gangsta's' on that song by Coolio, so we take 3,200 away from you."
Indeed, the chart-topping 1995 song is titled Gangsta's Paradise, not Gangster's Paradise. Mr Spicher dropped from first place with US$12,000 to second place with US$8,800.
In its official blog, Jeopardy! offered its explanation. "Although Nick's response of Gangster's Paradise Lost was initially accepted, the hard R sound caught the ear of one member of the onstage team, who immediately followed up with a quick check," the blog post said. "It turns out that 'gangsta' and 'gangster' are both listed separately in the Oxford English Dictionary, each with its own unique definition. Nick changed not only the song's title, but also its meaning - making his response unacceptable."
Sure enough, the Oxford English Dictionary defines gangster as "a member of a criminal gang, esp. one involved in organised crime", while it defines gangsta as "a member of an urban territorial gang".
Ms Alison Shapiro, a spokesman for the show, said producers did not consider it a matter of pronunciation or dialect. "Had we accepted 'gangster', the other contestants would have a very good reason to complain, in that the title of the song is Gangsta's Paradise and we would have accepted something that is not the title," the producers said, according to Ms Shapiro. "Every ruling we make not only affects the contestant who responded, but their opponents as well."
But another leading authority came to Mr Spicher's defence: Coolio told TMZ he thought the answer should have counted. "I probably would have gave it to him," the rapper said.