Friday, October 13, 2006

Danger, Will Robinson!


Aside from being the thinking person’s favorite game show, today jeopardy is a relentlessly one-sided word. It screams danger and peril, the possibility of losing life, property, reputation, freedom, or anything else that we prize.

But when the word started, it was less one-sided; it was more balanced and equitable. In Old French, it was geu parti, and it meant a divided game, divided in the sense of a 50/50 chance for either side to win.

It involved a game that depended upon strategy, such as chess, a game that could go either way. The geu segment derived from the Latin jocus, a jest or a joke. No one's life was in danger.

By the 14th century, jeopardy had picked up the univocal sense of risk and danger, a radical departure from its original meaning.

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