The $64,000 question

The $64,000 Question was an American game show, broadcast in the late 1950s, in which contestants got the chance to win $64,000 for correctly answering a series of questions. Today, while most of us have never seen the game show, the phrase the $64,000 question remains as an idiom. Its definition is loose, but it usually means the crucial or essential question. Something referred to as the $64,000 question is usually an important issue whose outcome can’t be foreseen and on which much hinges.

There are a few ways to write this idiom—including the $64,000 question, the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, the 64,000-dollars question, and so on. Most writers who use it model it after the game show title, though the and question are usually uncapitalized.

The $64,000 question will probably become less common. It refers to a TV show that is fading from memory, and it’s also a mouthful. Most writers opt to use the briefer million-dollar question.


What kind of store it will be under the new management was the sixty-four thousand dollar question for the Lovettsville cooperative board. [Leesburg Today]

The question of who will speak out as the United States under goes dramatic changes in the 21st century will be the 64,000 dollar question. [Latina Lista]

At £80 a pop, the £64,000 question is, who would steal them? [Guardian]

4 thoughts on “The $64,000 question”

  1. The mutation of $64,000 to million dollar is kind of funny.

    Most people have no knowledge/memory of the game show, so they don’t see any significance in the amount.
    Furthermore, if the show were made today, certainly the amount would be closer to a million.

    So the mutation is perfectly logical, in one way, and yet arises primarily out of ignorance.

    • I would say that the shift is more a result of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, in which there actually is a million dollar question.

  2. The original phrase is “$64 question,” meaning the crucial or most important aspect of an issue. When a pyramid-style game show was conceived, they named it The $64,000 Question in reference to this phrase.

    Incidentally the game show is still in existence on American television and is very much in the public eye.


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