"(one's) to lose"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Oct 2 19:48:59 UTC 2011

Even if Louis really did wish to lose his crown (did he?), I don't see how
the 1916 nuance could differ more than slightly from what is now current.
Maupeou thinks Louis is making a mistake - but that's his problem and

But whatever the literal meaning of the seemingly straightforward phrase "X
is Y's to lose," that elementary string of words, which individually are in
the vocabulary of every three-year-old, seems not to exist in print in the
English language before 1916. That means that effectively it had no
existence. That situation apparently persisted for about another 80 years.

After the mid '90s, it became a staple in political and sporting discourse.

The encapsulization and the prompt routinization, through a simple
phrase, of a fairly subtle, and fairly cynical, concept should be of some

There is a pat assurance in the idiom that only an egregious blunder by the
agent in question could lead to a loss. In other words, he/she/it is in
seeming command of events and, at the same time, rather likely to blunder,
or to be blindsided by something.  (I think the idea of "blundering" is more
to the fore, but that may just be my feeling.)

The drama of the fantasy undoubtedly has promoted the popularity of the


On Sun, Oct 2, 2011 at 1:04 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at gmail.com>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "(one's) to lose"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I'd go further--your interpretation of the old quote is influenced by
> current usage. And, for all we know, the expression may be a
> calque--certainly was for Cacoyannis's line.
>     VS-)
> On 10/2/2011 12:33 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> > But the Louis XV's "crown" is both actual and metaphorical: his reign
> even
> > more than the thing on his head. Moreover, the entire context admits of
> the
> > suggestion that if he were to lose it, it would be his own damned fault:
> >
> >
> http://www.archive.org/stream/eighteenthcentur00stryuoft#page/218/mode/2up/search/%22his+to+lose%22
> >
> > (The awesome quip that immediately follows is also worth noting:
> >
> > "Terray was dismissed on the same day. Everywhere it was said : 'It is
> the
> > Saint
> > Bartholomew of Ministers,' and the Spanish ambassador is reported to
> > have answered
> > :
> > 'Yes, but it is not the Massacre of the Innocents.'")
> >
> > My SWAG is that the Dickinson-Stryienski quote spent decades as the
> property
> > of professors of French history, quoted occasionally in person but
> seemingly
> > not in print (though I haven't checked JSTOR, for example).  Cacoyannis
> may
> > or may not have been inspired by it.
> >
> > Of course, the current use may be completely independent of these
> citations.
> >
> >   JL
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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