“Jeopardy!” apologizes for using offensive, “misogynistic” nickname for medical condition

The clue occurred in the category for “Plain-Named Maladies”

By Kylie Cheung
Published June 23, 2021 6:30PM (EDT)
Jeopardy Game Show Board (Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)
Jeopardy Game Show Board (Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

"Jeopardy!" has apologized for its use of an offensive nickname for a medical condition, used in one of its questions seen on Monday's show. In the episode, guest-hosted by NBC journalist Savannah Guthrie, one category was "Plain-Named Maladies," and asked a question about postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, with the hint, "Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is also known as Grinch syndrome because this organ is too small."

POTS affects blood circulation and can result in lightheadedness, fainting, and rapid heartbeat, and can be debilitating. The correct answer to the aforementioned question is, "What is the heart?"

But beyond what the clue was actually asking, its use of the dated, offensive nickname the "Grinch syndrome," drew immediate attention and backlash. Some doctors had called POTS the Grinch syndrome, as a reference to the heartless antagonist of the classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," but actual people with POTS, who are more likely to be women, have called this comparison both inaccurate and offensive.

In a Tuesday tweet, the show has since apologized, writing, "Yesterday's program included a clue about postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). After hearing from the community, we found we used an outdated and inaccurate term for this disorder, and we apologize."

Social media users called the term "bizarre" and "inaccurate," noting no one really even uses the term, or ever has used it. Dysautonomia International, a nonprofit that promotes awareness of nervous system disorders like POTS, also criticized "Jeopardy" for calling POTS the "Grinch syndrome, noting the inaccuracy and "misogyny" of this term.

"Promoting outdated misogynistic terms to describe a debilitating autonomic nervous system disorder that impacts millions of Americans is not cool. We request an apology on behalf of our community. Do better," Dysautonomia International tweeted on Monday evening. 

In a follow-up tweet, the organization added, "Grinch syndrome is an offensive term. Can you imagine Jeopardy making light of cancer or MS [multiple sclerosis] patients with a 'funny' name for their debilitating health condition? Not acceptable."

The organization has since accepted the trivia show's Tuesday apology, and called on "Jeopardy" to include more "autonomic nervous system clues in the future."


Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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