Question: Rope-A-Dope Strategy

Rick Kennerly rick at MOUSEHERDER.COM
Sun Apr 21 16:18:15 UTC 2002

Just finished with the archives and, while I did find one reference, I
didn't find a definitive answer.

I attended a meeting last week where a participant used the phrase
"rope-a-dope strategy".  From the context of the his usage, I thought that
he'd misused the phrase.  However when I mentioned the supposed gaff to a
fellow employee, we had differing views on it's proper understanding.
Thinking back, I've heard it most often in a political context and intuited
my understand from usage, but I can't find an authoritative reference (no, I
don't have access to an OED).  Anyway, here are the two differing
understandings we have.

One version holds to a cowboy theme, as in calf roping and goat roping. So
in this version of usage, in order for our company to employ a rope-a-dope
strategy we would single out and rope in a new, supposedly unsuspecting,
customer before our competitors offered him a better deal, a kind of winning
by being first among the unsuspecting concept.

The other version adheres to a boxing metaphor where only a dopey boxer
would find himself backed onto the ropes and taking a pummeling with no
route of escape.  In this case, my company's rope-a-dope strategy would be
to keep a competitor so busy in, say defensive legal work, that he'd miss
the fact that we'd surpassed him sales.  In other words, winning by

Are there other understandings?  Which is correct?  Where did it come from
and when?

When I've heard rope-a-dope in a political connection, it usually has to do
with one candidate keeping another candidate so busy defending a district he
thought was secure that he didn't have time or money to campaign in the
first candidate's secure district.

Rick Kennerly

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