"Rick Perry _double_ _downed_ on his denial of climate science."

Neal Whitman nwhitman at AMERITECH.NET
Sun Oct 2 03:10:47 UTC 2011

I've been thinking about writing up something on the phrasal verb "double
down". It seems to have gained prominence with the increased visibility of
gambling (world poker tournaments, online poker, casinos in locales other
than Las Vegas and Atlantic City, etc.), and I was wondering when it would
become frequent enough to exhibit edge-inflection like this. I know that
it's a phrase from blackjack, and I know that the metaphorical meaning is to
make a bold (and possibly foolish) move when an earlier action has gotten
you into trouble, and that this bold and possibly foolish move is to do more
of the earlier action that got you into trouble. For example, a recent
Clarence Page column talked about how politicians' usual reaction when
called on an outrageous statement (e.g. that HPV vaccine causes mental
retardation) is to "double down on stupid", i.e. say it again in stronger
terms. However, I don't know if this metaphorical meaning has a foundation
in the blackjack meaning. Maybe someone more familiar with the finer points
of blackjack can explain how it does.

There IS a gambling-related "double" expression that seems more semantically
related to "double down" than the blackjack meaning: "double or nothing".
That is, you've successfully done whatever it was that someone bet you
couldn't do. The loser suggests, "Double or nothing?" meaning that if you
can do that thing again, you'll win double the amount wagered, but if you
fail the second time around, you get nothing. So there's the element of
repeating an action, with greater reward and greater risk. On the other
hand, there is no pressure to accept a double-or-nothing offer, since you're
already winning. Doubling down (or double-downing) in its metaphorical sense
seems to be something you do when you're under pressure.

There is another gambling-related term, without the word "double", that
seems to have the same meaning as metaphorical "double down": to chase your
losses, that is, keep gambling in hopes of recovering the money you've
already lost.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Wilson Gray" <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Saturday, October 01, 2011 12:10 PM
Subject: "Rick Perry _double_ _downed_ on his denial of climate science."

> ---------------------- Information from the mail
> header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      "Rick Perry _double_ _downed_ on his denial of climate
> science."
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> That is, NOT _doubledowned_, but _double downed_, without even a hyphen.
> --
> -Wilson
> -----
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint
> to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> -Mark Twain
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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