Gambling Metaphors Due To Hit Jackpot

Taepodong missile test raises the stakes…

Tonight’s “Situation Room”, as seen on news-guru CNN, offered this introductory tidbit by host John King:

And all bets are off. It’s 7:00 p.m. in Atlantic City where casinos are the latest target of a New Jersey government shutdown. Will it pay off for the state or break the bank? Wolf Blitzer is off today, I’m John King. You’re in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Gambling has been around since God Himself took a chance and put two naked people in a tropical paradise and told them to behave. Later, Cain took his chances when the fratricidal farmer replied to God’s query with “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. A fifty-fifty gamble, when he probably should’ve just taken the Fifth.

Thanks in a roundabout way to the demise of Prohibition, gambling has been rolling around in its big cut of North American language. Its addictive popularity and spectrum of venues makes it a sleeper sure-thing in most people’s language. Lotteries, horse-racing and slots, among others, have all generated their fair share of metaphors. And, according to the nerdly lingographers of the Metaphor Observatory, a recent all-points promotion of all things poker is bound to stoke up some near-death metaphors.

Gambling metaphors tend to arise when we find ourselves with an incalculatable outcome or have a moment of sudden good or bad fortune. For example, “luck of the draw” may be used when a decision is made arbitrarily or by unknown forces, such as being born into money, or; “hit the jackpot” when landing a valued romantic partner: a hint of outright anarchy belies the certainty of our diction (compare this to the destiny-based phrase “you had it coming“, Karma-based “you deserved that” or fortune-telling “it was in the cards“). Sometimes brilliantly disguised as idioms, gambling metaphors suit those times in our life where chance and unpredictability rule – times when we have no answers.

As the current global political quagmire deepens, and our answers get harder to come by, we can expect to see a corresponding resurgence of such metaphors as “bluff“, “tip one’s hand” or “raise the stakes“. This is especially appropriate for the issues of Iran’s nuclear program and North Korea’s unclear pogrom, both of which are now diplomatic games played blind, with cards of weaponry and sanction slowly being turned over. So far we’re only playing the off suits. Pray that no one plays trump.

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