Query: "$64,000 quesiton"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed May 9 14:57:41 UTC 2007

At 7:44 AM -0400 5/9/07, Grant Barrett wrote:
>On May 8, 2007, at 17:55, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>Jerry is correct. "The $64 Question" was a radio show with (you'll
>>laugh) $64 as the top prize.  A simpler time.
>In a nice coincidence, last night I was reading the autobiography of
>Jack Paar, who was host of the radio show. According to Paar, by
>1959, when the book was published, "64-dollar question" was already a
>catchphrase. It seems the show was called "The $64 Question" after
>the catchphrase caught on, not before. For what little it's worth,
>Wikipedia seems to confirm this.

During the mid-1950's, my parents used "the $64 question" as a
catchphrase.  I was only familiar with the TV quiz show with the
$64,000 question as the goal and treated their usage as one
associated with...well, old coots (of course they were significantly
younger coots than I am now), in the same category as "icebox".
(Jack Paar was a major presence in our household back then too, along
with the icebox and the $64 question.)


>Here he's writing a little self-mockingly but also indignantly about
>the quiz shows and their scandals:
>"In 1950 I replaced Eddie Cantor on radio as emcee of 'Take It or
>Leave it'--the predecessor of the rigged '$64,000 Question.' [...] On
>'Take It or Leave It' the top prize was $64. There was some reckless
>talk, before I took it over, of upping the prize to $640. However,
>cooler heads prevailed and the spendthrift notion was vetoed. [...]
>My modest little quiz, whose phrase 'the $64 question' has passed
>into the language, soon passed from the scene. It couldn't compete
>with the big quizzes, passing out loot with the abandon of a dying
>tycoon with a guilty conscience." --Jack Paar, "I Kid You Not," pp.
>189-190, Little Brown, New York, 1959.
>Grant Barrett
>Double-Tongued Dictionary
>editor at doubletongued.org
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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