English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is there a word, or phrase, to express when someone makes a bet with the intent to lose?

I’m looking for one of two things (or both). Either a verb to express the action of making such a bet, or a word that is defined by this specific type of bet.

An example would be in Seinfeld: Elaine makes a bet with a guy, and if the guy “loses” he must buy her dinner (with the assumption being he made a bet knowing he would lose).

I realize this is basically just a swindle, but I’m hoping there is something more specific.

share|improve this question
I have seen 'donating' used – TROLLKILLER Apr 26 '12 at 17:49
I have seen 'tank' used – GBa Apr 26 '12 at 19:51
up vote 21 down vote accepted

You're throwing it, like a fight.

: to lose intentionally

share|improve this answer
I like this answer, but how would you write a sentence using the term? "Elaine threw the bet." That's not right, is it? – JLG Apr 26 '12 at 17:08
@JLG looks fine to me. – Dan Neely Apr 26 '12 at 17:41
@JLG, I think it perfectly cromulent :) – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Apr 26 '12 at 17:55
"Elaine threw the bet" exactly captures what you're going for here. – Aric TenEyck Apr 26 '12 at 18:19
@cornbread ninja, humorous comment. (I guess I was just thinking the "it" in your answer stood for something other than "the bet.") +1 – JLG Apr 26 '12 at 19:57

This may not fit with your example, but sandbagging is a term for intentionally losing (a bet, game, match, etc.) in order to gain advantage later.

share|improve this answer
Sandbagging is more descriptive of the act of doing badly, while throwing describes the intent of losing a contest on purpose. You might sandbag but still win (for example, to conceal your actual talent level and keep your opponent willing to continue.) – KutuluMike Apr 26 '12 at 15:24
Sandbags are also used as a ballast in balloons. When a balloon starts to lose some of its buoyancy, due to the cooling of hot air or escape of gas, sandbags can be tossed out of he balloon to lighten the load. It may be from this meaning that the term is derived: an initial disadvantage (heavier aircraft) turns to an advantage later (staying airborne). – Kaz Apr 26 '12 at 19:54
@Kaz: That's a theory I haven't heard before (and there are plenty of them out there). It would make a good question, I think. – Callithumpian Apr 28 '12 at 4:08

Hustle might work (both as a verb and noun), especially if the context makes it clear that you are being playful. A couple of meanings are:

To misrepresent one's ability in order to deceive someone, especially in gambling; to misrepresent one's skill in (a game or activity) in order to deceive someone, especially in gambling: hustle pool.

You could say, "Elaine hustled dinner from a guy."

share|improve this answer
This is also what leapt to my mind. – Luke Apr 26 '12 at 20:14
I also thought of hustle but the OP's question seemed to imply the bet was "one and done"; hustling usually means that you do badly for a while and then start doing well after your opponent has underestimated your ability. – KutuluMike Apr 26 '12 at 22:34

Deliberately losing a fight or some other contest is also called taking a dive.

share|improve this answer

I think the closest word or phrase in common usage is long shot (a bet made at great odds). I wouldn't necessarily say that it is used when you intend to lose but rather when you are likely to lose in an honest contest, regardless of intent. If the outcome is certain and the contest is fixed then the betting/gambling aspect is removed and now you're just throwing the bet.

Using your example: Elaine was certain that she was going to dinner with this guy; winning was going to be a long shot for him and she knew it. She just hoped he didn't figure it out first. Elaine had been dying to try the calamari at El Zapato for weeks and this guy was just the window dressing for the occasion.

share|improve this answer

In gambling terms, backing describes betting 'for' something to happen.

Betting 'against' something happening, e.g. betting a horse does not win is known as a lay bet (or simply laying).

So to use the example in the question, you could say Elaine is placing a lay bet that the guy achieves whatever the bet stipulates - essentially backing him to fail.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.