Thursday, June 5, 2008

"What exactly is the metaphor?"

The folks over at Freakonomics posted a damned interesting question:

Here’s the most recent guest bleg from Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations...

For years I have been posing a question about the term “bargaining chip” that no one has yet answered.

This is widely assumed to be a poker metaphor, but I do not know of chips being used for bargaining or trading in poker or any other game. What exactly is the metaphor?

Any guesses? Post them at Freakonomics. The current crop of 17 comments cover the role of chips in poker and various other games, but they fail to adequately explain the role of bargaining in the metaphor. One does not use chips to bargain in poker.


Chris said...

After reviewing the now 22 comments on the Freakonomics site, I have concluded that silly people leave comments. Not one of them have bothered to analyze what the original saying means before trying to figure out its origins.

My interpretation of the phrase "bargaining chip" is that it refers to a side deal that someone is willing to negotiate in order to get a bigger or more important deal to go through.

If I want to buy a car from you and I know that you really need me to help you with your math homework, my tutoring is a bargaining chip I can use in the car deal.

Again, I don't see the relationship to poker. Poker players don't talk about "bargaining", so I don't see how the phrase could have emerged from that genre. I don't give a damn about game theory analysis about poker; I care about the historical linguist path that the phrase took.

The theory of games is irrelevant. what matters is how people talk about games. If poker players don't talk about bargaining, it's highly unlikely that the phrase emerged from that sub-culture.

Pat Allen said...

I would also like to know the answer to this question, as a friend has just asked the same thing. She says that from what she knows, it was a phrase used in mediaeval times - so possibly it was some form of bartering tool. Maybe it was stone chips used to keep count of how many cows were being used in a bargain??? Good luck in your quest and I hope someone can answer this for you.

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