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Taking us behind the scenes, Paulson shows, day by day, how the U.S. government and Federal Reserve got sucked into a vertiginous game of chicken with Wall Street bankers (link)

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I just want to note that the sentence you cite mixes its metaphors rather badly. First we have "behind the scenes" conjuring up acting, then we have "sucked into a vertiginous" giving us whirlpool imagery, then we have a "game of chicken" which invokes a teenage driving game from the 1950s (see imdb.com/title/tt0048545). The editor should be chastised for not reining it all in. –  Robusto Dec 20 '10 at 14:48
    
Yes, George Orwell would include it in his index. mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm –  mickeyf Dec 20 '10 at 15:28
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Building on the definitions cited by RegDwight, I would explain the sentence as follows.

The bankers' actions put them on a collision course with the government and the Fed.

The potential for disaster was so great that all involved got dizzy thinking about the worst possible results.

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From Wikipedia:

The name "Chicken" has its origins in a game in which two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve, or both may die in the crash, but if one driver swerves and the other does not, the one who swerved will be called a "chicken," meaning a coward; this terminology is most prevalent in political science and economics.

Vertiginious comes from vertigo, so it's something that's whirling around, causing dizziness.

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+RegDwight - why does being "chicken" mean being a coward? It is also prevalent on the playground. Maybe it should be its own question? –  ukayer Feb 14 '11 at 6:36
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