Sacrifice = opportunity cost

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Thu Aug 2 01:51:25 UTC 2012

I think the scope runs the gamut from important to trivial. For example, the Olympians may very well have decided to select college X instead of an Ivy League because they wanted to be with a certain coach.

The main point, though, is that this appears to be a semantic change that has probably happened in the last few decades, but the OED, AHD and Wiktionary have not yet picked up on it.

Wiktionary does have a 1964 quote that may be relevant:

“Don’t you break my heart / ’Cause I sacrifice to make you happy.” - "Baby Don’t You Do It" by Marvin Gaye

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

On Aug 1, 2012, at 6:13 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> All the Olympians have "sacrificed," in the more traditional sense of the
> word, is time they could have spent loafing and partying, which, let's face
> it, is pretty important by modern standards.
> The current questionable usage, though, seems so well established (at least
> in connection with athletes and celebrities) that it may be pointless to
> worry about it.
> "To put in endless hours of effort at the expense of comparatively trivial
> things" seems to be the more recent meaning. "She's made so many
> sacrifices" = "She's exhibited extraordinary single-mindedness of effort."
> At least that's what these words seem to mean to me. And they must mean
> something.
> JL
> On Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 7:23 PM, Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at>wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: Sacrifice = opportunity cost
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> On Aug 1, 2012, at 9:43 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>> On Aug 1, 2012, at 4:44 AM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>>>> My partner (Japanese native) pointed out today that the use by
>> Olympians of the word "sacrifice" is odd. I had trouble fingering his
>> objection, but then he pointed out that what they are calling sacrifices
>> are choices not sacrifices.
>>>> The OED seems to be outdated. The closest is: " The destruction or
>> surrender of something valued or desired for the sake of something having,
>> or regarded as having, a higher or a more pressing claim; the loss entailed
>> by devotion to some other interest; also, the thing so devoted or
>> surrendered."
>>>> The AHD (
>> says:
>> "Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to
>> have a greater value or claim."
>>>> Olympians and athletes in general certainly do give up a lot in their
>> pursuit of athletics, but this seems to be less lofty: opportunity cost;
>> the giving up of something in the pursuit of something else (more highly
>> valued).
>>> So you're telling me that my assumption that the athletes are referring
>> to having made burnt offerings of oxen and goats to Zeus before the trials
>> is unwarranted?  Who knew?
>> I'm not sure whether this is just a joke, or whether you think that this
>> meaning of sacrifice is so well embedded in the word as to be unworthy of
>> note.
>> I don't know what this word was like 50 years ago, but my sense is that
>> there is a change.
>> Benjamin Barrett
>> Seattle, WA

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