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I saw the phrase “double-down” in the following sentence of the Washington Post article (June 28, 2011) titled “Why Michele Bachmann is no Sarah Palin.”

“Palin is notorious for doubling-down on perceived missteps, typically blaming a biased media for not telling the whole story.”

I know "double down" is a term of Blackjack meaning the players’ option of doubling their bet and receiving one more card, but what does the phrase exactly mean in this particular context?

Does it mean Sarah Palin makes most of her missteps or gaffes to turn into her political (or campaign) advantages?

Is the use of "doubling-down" like this a casual usage to be applied to anything else, or a kind of "purple prose" that I recently learned?

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1  
It means roughly the same thing it means in Blackjack, risking more in the hopes of getting a big win. –  David Schwartz Aug 24 '11 at 2:21

9 Answers 9

up vote 7 down vote accepted

A fuller quote from that article:

Bachmann, at least so far in the campaign, has shown a willingness to acknowledge mistakes she makes on the campaign trail. Palin is notorious for doubling-down on perceived missteps, typically blaming a biased media for not telling the whole story.

Since he contrasts "acknowledgement" with "doubling-down", it seems clear that Chris Cillizza (the political analyst here) is saying that Palin does not easily acknowledge mistakes. He unfortunately used a term which is rare enough that it is not in dictionaries.

In such cases, we go by context to understand the term. "Doubling-down on" means here that Palin wants to maintain face, and will sometimes not admit when she made a mistake.

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65. Your remark, ‘the writer unfortunately used a term which is rare enough that it is not in dictionaries’ made me feel a bit easier, because I suspected if my question is too primitive to ask to native English speakers in this column. –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 29 '11 at 1:24
    
True. Haven't seen a flurry of answers like that before. I kept expecting to have to delete mine if someone else found the OED reference first, but I managed to get it in time. Congrats on 1K! –  Callithumpian Jun 29 '11 at 1:36

On another site I found someone quoting the OED on the phrase:

intr. Pontoon (Blackjack). to double down: to double the bet after one has seen the initial cards, with the requirement that one and only one additional card be drawn. Also in extended use: to engage in risky behaviour, esp. when one is already in a dangerous situation.

So in this case, Palin, already in a vulnerable position because of her "missteps," is taking a risk by blaming others.

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+1; Of note, the risk of doubling-down in the case of Palin is akin to the risk of gambling. If she pulls it off, she saves face. If she fails, it ends poorly for her. –  MrHen Jul 15 '11 at 4:41
    
@MrHen: Your comment is the best answer. –  Charles Nov 16 '11 at 21:19

If we consider the context

Several readers point out another key difference between Bachmann and Palin — their approach to criticism. Bachmann, at least so far in the campaign, has shown a willingness to acknowledge mistakes she makes on the campaign trail. Palin is notorious for doubling-down on perceived missteps, typically blaming a biased media for not telling the whole story.

I think the meaning is clearer. Palin not only makes political mistakes, but then further compounds those blunders by blaming the media for misrepresenting her, instead of admitting that she said something nonsensical about Paul Revere.

It's a gamble to blame the media, not only because the media is the outlet for her message, but also because if people don't believe the media is to blame, then she looks even worse.

To answer your other question, I have occasionally heard double-down to refer to a situation where someone takes a bold risk when they are already gambling. For instance, I had not studied for an exam and I doubled-down by sleeping until fifteen minutes before class.

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The term DOES come from blackjack, and it means to play for "double or nothing" after a failed bet. Perhaps a better term is "chasing your bet," meaning to make your bet bigger in hopes of turning a bad situation around.

A situation where you lose ALL your bets (and all your money, prestige, or whatever) is called "gambler's ruin."

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You can only double down on your first card, and you can do it for any hand, not just after a failed bet. –  KitFox Jun 29 '11 at 1:14
    
@Kit: That's why I said "a better term is 'chasing your bet'" –  Tom Au Jun 29 '11 at 1:16
    
I mean, I think you've defined double down incorrectly. I agree that chasing your bet would be a better term. –  KitFox Jun 29 '11 at 1:18
    
@Kit: I know that in blackjack, you can only "double" down on the first draw. I also stated my belief that OTHERS took it out of context (blackjack) and (wrongly) used "double down" on follow-up bets. If I'm right, that's how double down would be used in a "context other than blackjack." –  Tom Au Jul 5 '11 at 13:04
    
Double down has specific meaning in blackjack. However, a Roulette player may double down after losing, trying to recoup the loss. (IE - your definition is correct for all games EXCEPT blackjack) –  Chris Cudmore Nov 16 '11 at 21:53

Double your commitment, for good or ill.

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+1 for succinctness –  Ed Guiness Jun 29 '11 at 15:50

"Doubling-down" in gambling is when you double your bet. Used in this context, yes, it does mean that Palin "invests a lot of energy and time into turning her mistakes into advantages.

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In this case it means that she is entrenching herself deeper in her stance in the face of adversity, opposing arguments, and perhaps even facts.

In a positive light, doubling down can be a good thing, where you're sticking to your guns when you're "right." You don't want to always simply give in to other people's ideas and arguments.

In a negative light, it means to continue blindly championing your own ideas in spite of its poor merit. This is the case for this particular story, in my opinion.

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"Doubling down" is a situation in which you believe that you have a better chance of winning than your opponent, so you double your original wager (remark) because you know your opponent, in Sarah's case, the liberal media, are the ones on shaky ground.

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In Black Jack you 'double down', double your bet when you have the best chance of beating the dealer (when the dealer's up card is two through six). A slight (small) percentage disadvantage of the dealer's up card means an additional opportunity for the player to realize a 100% gain (double his wager).

You double when you have the best opportunity to be correct in a favorable situation. It's a matter of strategy and good judgement based on analysis.

In the Palin/Bachman discussion, Bachman backs off when there is a misstep on her part. Palin, though, 'doubles down' on a mistake rather than use good judgement, analysis, and recognizing the situation is unfavorable.

Result: Bachman gets reelected; Palin's a No Show in any race.

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