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A coworker and I are friendly rivals who play Foosball almost daily. I won a few games in a row and was celebrating my three-game win streak. He then won a single game, and has been celebrating his "one-game win streak".

I'm contending that it's not a win streak if he's only won a single game. A win streak is a trend, a linear pattern, and you can't spot a trend, pattern, or streak in a single data point. Similarly, you wouldn't say you've won "one game in a row", simply because one point cannot be "in a row". My argument is that you need at least two games in succession to establish a "win streak", and that a single game is just a "win".

He's pointing to the Wikipedia definitions of a win streak, which states that "In sports, a winning streak is winning one or more games in succession".

Which one of us is correct?

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    Oh, please. One is not a streak. Even two seem insufficient. At least three. Sure he has a 'run' of one. – Mitch Jun 15 '17 at 19:35
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    How is it possible to give an objective rather than opinion-based answer to this? You've rejected the idea that Wikipedia is an authoritative reference--what kind of reference would be sufficient to convince you that you are wrong, or that you are right? – sumelic Jun 15 '17 at 19:40
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    Without weighing in on one side or the other of your debate, I have noticed that some sports websites, when displaying a table of a conference or division's current standings, including a column for "current streak." Said column can contain entries such as "1W" and "1L." – cobaltduck Jun 15 '17 at 19:40
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    "In succession" requires at least two or there is no succession. So it can't be one based on that definition. One in succession implies two total. – fixer1234 Jun 15 '17 at 19:42
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    Wikipedia itself concedes 'This article has multiple issues.' Using it as an authority here is ridiculous. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 15 '17 at 21:21
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Which one of us is correct?

That depends on what you think is being discussed.

Your friend is, as friends do, making fun of your claim that 3 wins makes a streak worth celebrating. His claim of a 1-win streak is a fine example of irony.

His use of the Wikipedia article is, I'd have to say, wrong, since the article is clearly not well-formed. Note that "one game in succession" is logically inconsistent, much as a "4-sided triangle" is inconsistent. So, technically, you are correct.

On the other hand, his implicit claim that 3 wins in a row is not worth celebrating as a streak is one which I would favor in general, although you seem to think otherwise. As a long-time speaker of American English, I cannot remember having run across the phrase being used seriously. The only exception I can think of might be a team which has had a very long (multiple years) losing streak and which has started winning. A supporter might hopefully refer to a third victory as "extending their winning streak", but this would only make sense in the context of truly awful performance prior to the victories. So in celebrating your streak you only emphasized your overall poor record. Sorry, but that's the way it is.

  • I have, unfortunately, heard sports commentators talk serious about 4-game streaks, maybe fewer. Although to be fair they have to be experts as saying a whole lot about nothing and trying to make it seem exciting. – DJClayworth Jun 16 '17 at 21:37
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The earliest matches for "winning streak" that appear in Elephind newspaper database searches come from the 1880s and involve the sport of baseball. Of the 26 unique matches that Elephind returns for "winning streak" from before 1890, 25 involve baseball and 1 horse racing.

Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (1989) has this rather odd entry for the expression:

winning streak n. Consecutive victories by a team as an individual pitcher.

1ST [occurrence] 1897. (New York Tribune, August 3; EJN)

"EJN" is Edward J. Nugent, Historical Dictionary of Baseball Terminology (1939).

Two victories in a row certainly meets the technical definition of "consecutive victories," so it would seem that, back-to-back wins in baseball should suffice to constitute a (very modest) winning streak. By the same standard, however, one victory should not. In retrospect, if the team or starting pitcher won the next game played, you might reasonably argue that the first win marked the start of what later proved to be a winning streak.

The earliest match for "winning streak" from my Elephind search involves just such a two-game streak. From an untitled brief item in the Champaign [Illinois] Daily News (August 24, 1885):

—The Deers ball nine have struck a winning streak at last. Saturday they defeated Sidney by a score of 11 to [4(?)], and Tuesday they beat Blackberry 35 to [6(?)].

(Unfortunately, although Elephind includes the entire excerpt in a search results snippet, the newspaper itself is inaccessible for viewing.)

But another early instance suggests that the notion of "entering upon a winning streak" may have been viewed as something of an aspirational state of mind. From "Base Ball News" in the Lancaster [Pennsylvania] Daily Intelligencer (August 12, 1886):

Speaking of the Athletic club, their scorer says through the Press "Miller's victory yesterday has inspired the team and himself to enter upon a winning streak." It is nearly time for something of the kind to happen, as the club is thirteen games behind the next highest.

There is no clear indication here that Miller and the Athletics had won more than one consecutive game at the time of the report.

A number of early accounts of baseball games use the expression "struck a winning streak"—in some instances where we might today expect to see "started a winning streak." One especially interesting instance involves game 7 of the 10-game World Series of 1888 between the St. Louis Browns and the New York Giants. After splitting the first two games of the series, New York won games 3, 4, 5, and 6. But after St. Louis broke its losing streak at four games, the St. Paul [Minnesota] Daily Globe (October 25, 1888) offered this headline:

Turning the Tables: Von Der Ahe's Browns Strike a Winning Streak at St. Louis

That can only refer to a winning streak of one game, since game 8 (which St. Louis lost) was played on the day of the 25th.

On the other hand, less than 60 days earlier, the term "winning streak" had appeared in an article in the New York Sun (September 2, 1888) in the context of a skein of victories that even a person with a very high threshold requirement would acknowledge qualifies:

The Buffalos suddenly struck a winning streak and won thirteen straight. Among this number were two victories at Syracuse.

Whatever the earliest understanding of "winning streak" may have been, it seems clear that today either the reality or the expectation of two or more consecutive wins is a prerequisite for claiming a streak or the start of a streak.

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If you take the geometric approach, you have a single point. A line is defined as a connection between two points. Therefore, a point is not a line. By definition, a streak must be a line. Therefore, you must have at least two points to create a streak.

Def from Merriam Webster: "a long, thin line" synonyms (band, line, strip, stripe, vein, slash, ray) It applies to more than a single point, a single win, a single dot made by a pen, pencil, etc.

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    I feel that "By definition, a streak must be a line" is the fallacy of petitio principii. By what definition? – sumelic Jun 15 '17 at 20:29
  • Merriam Webster – J.H. Jun 15 '17 at 20:33
  • Can you quote the definition and explain why it applies in this situation? – sumelic Jun 15 '17 at 20:33
  • "a long, thin line" synonyms (band, line, strip, stripe, vein, slash, ray) It applies to more than a single point, a single win, a single dot made by a pen, pencil, etc. That is all I have time for. – J.H. Jun 15 '17 at 20:41
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    This answer feels as if it's only halfway done. I think if you expressed how a line can be analogized with the meaning in question, which is 4c a consecutive series your answer to illustrate the metaphor, it would be more useful. – Tonepoet Jun 17 '17 at 4:22

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