Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Buzzy Cohen

Buzzy Cohen’s winning streak on Jeopardy! was interrupted first by the Teacher’s Tournament and then by Power Players week, and I was happy to see him back on Monday night. I like Buzzy. I like his appearance—tall, slim, dark hair, captivating smile, and round glasses, which give him a cartoonish appearance, like a character my youngest son would draw. I like Buzzy’s persona—intelligent, witty, charming, and bold in teasing Alex Trebek. Buzzy works in the music industry in Los Angeles.

A week of Buzzy's smiles
As faithful Jeopardy! watchers know, after the first commercial break Alex chats with the contestants. After five days of chatting with Buzzy, Alex finally got around to asking him about his real name. It turns out Buzzy is Austin, so named because his parents liked to watch the Six Million Dollar Man. Buzzy’s sister is Lindsey, because they also liked to watch the Bionic Woman.

But it was the way Alex asked that stunned me and had me yelling at the TV. (Actually, I yell at the TV a lot during Jeopardy! I yell the answers.) But Monday I yelled because Alex said to Buzzy, “Surely you weren’t christened with that name.” I was amazed by Alex’s gaffe.

I discussed this with my Cults & World Religion students today (because they are a captive audience) but the youngsters were clueless as to just what I was so passionately reacting to. So I asked them if they knew what “christen” means. Someone mentioned champagne and a yacht, while a few others thought it might have something to do with a baby dedication. So I explained “christen” pretty much the same way www.dictionary.com does, emphasizing the first two definitions:

verb (used with object)
I'm a Baptist. We wait until they're much older
and then hold them under water until they bubble.
to receive into the Christian church by baptism; baptize.
to give a name to at baptism:
They christened her Mary.
to name and dedicate:
to christen a ship.
to make use of for the first time.

The students still didn’t understand my reaction, so I explained, “I can’t believe Alex Trebek asked a Jewish man about his christening.” 

And my students said, “How do you know he is Jewish?”

How do I know a man named Cohen is Jewish? 

I proceeded to tell them pretty much everybody named Cohen is Jewish, and possibly even descended from the Levitical priesthood. I couldn’t believe they didn’t know the first part of the previous sentence. (I would have been stunned had they known the second.)

But then I remembered how mystified I used to be when my mother would tell me the ethnicity or nationality of a person just by his or her last name. I would mention a kid at school and she would say he was Italian or Polish or Jewish. How did she know all the Levines were Jewish? 

Then as I grew into adulthood, I developed the same mysterious gift. In college, I knew the Ferrara boy I dated for a few months was of Italian heritage without anyone telling me. The Reinertsen boy? Some kind of Scandinavian. The Brosius boy? I couldn't figure that out, but I married him.

May the odds be ever in your favor.
May you surpass Ken Jennings.
So I realized I must give my students a break and appreciate, maybe even celebrate, their youthful naïveté. 

As for Buzzy Cohen, I was relieved to celebrate another victory with him. I have a tender spot in my heart for Cohens.


  1. LOL! Good point about christening a Jewish person... I missed that! You made me laugh right when I need a giggle today. Thank you!

    1. Thank you! I'm always glad to inspire a giggle.