Betting On 'Table Stakes'

Jun 18, 2013

In the poker world, table stakes is a term that puts a limit on bets. In other worlds, it usually connotes the basic necessities. The table stakes for a baseball player: a ball, a bat and a glove.

It's one of those gambling phrases that seems, like gambling places, to be popping up more and more. A recent Boston Business Journal story speaks of table stakes "for enterprise mobility." Around 90 percent of Americans favored the passage of some sort of bipartisan legislation requiring universal background checks for gun buyers "which many considered table stakes for any serious effort to thwart the spread of gun violence," observes The Huffington Post.

The Nexis database shows a steady increase in the phrase since 2010. Word blogger Jan Freeman tells NPR, "That would go nicely with the increase in double down, right?"

In fact, says Katherine Martin, head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press, table stakes and double down continue "a long tradition of gambling — and particularly poker — terminology taking on figurative use in English." She adds high stakes, up the ante and go all in to the list.

"Gambling metaphors are a natural fit for the business jargon," Martin says. "The core concepts of investment, risk and return apply just as much at the poker table as they do at the conference table."

You can bet on the fact that, she adds, "as with any business-speak, table stakes has its detractors." She points out that it has already been flagged in the Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary.

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