Laura Ashby, a Georgia attorney — and, more importantly, the author of a rock ’n’ roll version of Much Ado About Nothing — dominated the competition on Jeopardy! earlier this month and was invited back for last night’s episode. That’s much to the chagrin of Twitter, which couldn’t handle the “interesting” inflection of Ashby’s voice.
“Where is she from?” people demanded to know. She’s from Georgia. That was established in the interview at the beginning of the show. But it has nothing to do with her distinctive manner of speaking, a pronounced “uptalk,” marked by a rising intonation as she ends her sentences.
Uptalk is most closely associated with the classic ’90s “valley girl” speech pattern, and although people of all genders use it, it’s held against women in particular as a sign of low intelligence or lack of assertiveness — to the point that some say it’s hurting their careers.
Ashby is both sharp and sure of her answers, though: She’s now a two-day Jeopardy! champ with total winnings of thirty-six thousand eight hundre-eh-hed dollars. Haters to the left.
Although Laura Ashby may be the most high-profile example of uptalk in Jeopardy! history, she’s far from alone. So far, in fact, that there’s been an entire study on contestants who pitch up the ends of their responses.
William and Mary sociologist Thomas Linneman reviewed 100 episodes of the show in 2012 and noted that “overall, Jeopardy! contestants use uptalk 37 percent of the time.” For men, it seemed to indicate uncertainty — they were more likely to employ it when they were failing on the show. For women, it was the opposite: The better their performance, the more likely they were to use uptalk, as if to apologize for winning the game.
Laura Ashby’s not apologizing for anything, nor should she be. She uptalked practically every answer, whether she was ahead or behind. She was ahead most of the time.