bargaining chips

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Apr 16 02:39:43 UTC 2004

Back in 2002, some of these same ideas were tossed around.

Maybe the metaphor does involve poker, or at least gambling, but only to
the extent that chips are the requisites, the "ammunition" used in the
game. One wants to have a lot of poker/roulette/bargaining chips when he
goes to the poker/roulette/bargaining table. Perhaps there's an implicit
additional poker connection in that bluffing/intimidation is to some extent
expected in "bargaining".

The metaphor does not need to extend to what exactly happens to the chips
during the game; still the metaphor can be extended a little bit. One wants
a lot of chips when he enters the poker game not exactly so that he can
lose a lot of chips; i.e., the function of a chip is not simply to be lost,
although it is understood that the possibility of losing some of the chips

The man who has a lot of chips (regardless how readily he bets them) has a
psychological advantage in many cases; he can bluff better, and he is
harder to bluff.

Here is a related (I think) metaphoric use from 1937 (editorial "How A
Bigger Navy May Lead to Peace", in _Edwardsville Intelligencer_, 3 Nov.
1937, p. 4, at N'archive):

<<The Washington conference bought for the world a decade of peace, as well
as an end to a ruinously costly arms race. / It was able to do those things
largely because Uncle Sam was the man who could put the most chips on the

If there's a poker metaphor here, I'm not sure what it is: it's "on the
table", not "in the pot" ... maybe there's a better metaphor in table
stakes poker (which I've never played).

But even if the game/protocol is not narrowly specified, it's not hard to
see the general idea: "Sam's got a huge bunch of chips/ships, so he is in a
strong position."

It is not entirely necessary that Sam's warships be disposable in order
that they have force as "chips" in this bargaining. For example, in
principle Sam can say EITHER

(1) "I have 100 capital ships, you have 10. If you agree to build only 10
more, I'll agree to build none, and even to decommission 10 of mine. (I can
afford to make this concession: I have plenty of ships.)"

OR (an extreme example but not unthinkable)

(2) "I have 100 capital ships, you have 10. If you agree to build NO more,
I'll agree to build only 10 more. If you build even one, I'll build another
100 ... and you see that I can do it."

I will not go so far as to speculate that "chip" was originally "ship"!

-- Doug Wilson

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