Remarkable Story of the Sports Term "Upset"

Mark A Mandel mam at THEWORLD.COM
Wed Jun 4 18:03:10 UTC 2003

On Wed, 4 Jun 2003, Fred Shapiro wrote:

#This citation is crucial to the question of whether the term originated
#because of the horse Upset's 1919 victory over Man o' War.  It is now
#clear that the term predated the Man o'War loss.  We are then left with
#the remarkable conclusion that the horse Upset was named Upset because the
#owner liked the word or fantasized that this horse would grow up to
#accomplish an unexpected victory (a strange fantasy because it implies
#that the horse would not be that great prior to the upset), and that the
#horse then grew up coincidentally to be in a position to pull off one of
#the greatest upsets in sports history and did pull it off.

No more remarkable than if it had been named "Victory" or "Surprise" or
something else comparable. There are so many events in the universe that
many of them are bound to look remarkable if taken out of statistical

A thought experiment: A stadium with 50,000 people, each of whom has
been given a set of six fair dice. On command, they roll their dice, and
are instructed, "Raise your hand if you rolled six sixes." Since 6^6 =
46,656, we shouldn't be at all surprised if a hand goes up, or even more
than one -- or if none goes up.

Now imagine the same people (suppose they're all game-players) in their
own homes, each rolling six dice in their own games. "Wow, honey, I just
rolled six sixes! What are the odds of that!? It must mean something!"

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data".

And I'm probably misdirecting all of this, because you probably know and
agree with it anyway.

-- Mark A. Mandel

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