Not sure if the tag I've selected is appropriate. Feel free to correct.

Google's definition of gambit is shown below. Interestingly, the ngram usage graph shows that the popularity of the term dropped around 1800 and then rebounded in mid 1950's.

Why is it so? Has the raise any connection to WW2 or the Cold War? Any thoughts on the fall of popularity two centuries ago?

Or is it perhaps due to the way that the popularity is computed?

noun: gambit; plural noun: gambits
(in chess) an opening in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of some compensating advantage.
a device, action, or opening remark, typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage.
"his resignation was a tactical gambit"
synonyms: stratagem, scheme, plan, tactic, maneuver, move, course/line of action, device;


mid 17th century: originally gambett, from Italian gambetto, literally ‘tripping up,’ from gamba ‘leg.’

ngram chart link

An image of the result of the Google search "Define gambit", the text of which is above. The ngram shows "gambit" being relatively highly used around 1800, then dropping quickly in usage until 1850 and nearly unused until 1950, when the usage of gambit increased quickly with a steady high plateau continuing through 2010. There are no horizontal y-axis markings, but the second high point is slightly above the 1800 high point.

  • 3
    My guess is that the first peak is because there were lots of books about chess written in the early 1800s, and the second peak is when "gambit" became adopted by non-chess-players. Jul 4 '14 at 15:19
  • @PeterShor Care to speculate on the relation to geopolitical events? Jul 4 '14 at 22:25

I'm not sure if this is the actual reason, but I think there may be some correlation. Operation Gambit was a smaller part of a very notable WW2 military operation named Operation Neptune - the landing phase of the invasion of Northern France.

I'd assume that perhaps earlier usage of 'gambit' was chess related - and the 1950s revival came about during government and academic post-war analysis of global military operations when the Allied forces declared their victory.

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