March Madness: some chalky reflections

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Mar 23 15:50:37 UTC 2001

There's a standard slang term "chalk" that for some reason isn't in
RHHDAS; it's been used a while to signify the prognosticated favorite
status.  If you go with the chalk, you're betting on (or predicting
the success of) the odds-on or favored player, team, etc.  Presumably
the reference is to a blackboard at the bookies' shop where the
favorite's name (originally for horse races, perhaps?) is written
with chalk.  So the pundits on the radio predicting the winners of
NFL games, say, will go with the dogs (underdogs) or with the chalk.
That's the old lexical item, although it doesn't seem to be recorded
in the OED, RHHDAS or AHD4.  The new item--at least to me--is
"chalky", uttered this afternoon by Mike Francesa on the Mike and the
Mad Dog sports radio talk show (WFAN, New York), informing his
listeners that the current men's NCAA basketball tournament (use
whichever vowel you like on that) "looks very chalky".    The point
is that all four No. 1 seeds are still alive, going into the round of
eight, and for the first time in history the Final Four may end up
comprised by the four teams seeded first, i.e. deemed most likely to
get there (Duke, Michigan State, Stanford, Illinois).  Very chalky
indeed.  (Antonym:  upset-filled.)


P.S.  The commentariat is still and forever struggling with the
notion of "lower seed" vs. "higher seed":   given that the #1 seed is
the most favored and the #16 the least, which is the lower seed and
which is the higher when they play?  Nobody seems to know, but
instead comes up with helpless locutions like "X is a lower seed than
Y--or the higher seed, depending on how you think of it..."  It's the
same with higher vs. lower draft choices:  Is the first, #1, draft
choice the lowest or the highest?  Flip a coin.  Me, I'll go with the
chalk.  As Damon Runyan or someone else said, the race is not always
to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.

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