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In a tweet, Donald Trump said:

"She spent big money but, in the end, had no game!"

DT tweet about Hillary Clinton's new book

I looked up the term game on the US version of Oxford Dictionaries but turned up empty-handed. Among many, it offered the following expressions: beat someone at their own game, game over, the only game in town, and ahead of the game.

  • I was wondering what did he mean by Hillary "had no game"?

  • And where does this slang derive from? What ‘game’ or sport does it refer to?

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  • @Mari-LouA I took that comment back. You did okay: Editing Questions, Adding Research, and Reading the Original Poster's Mind – NVZ Oct 1 '17 at 12:51
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    To 'have a good game' means to be a skilled player, with a real chance of winning: << Juan Martin del Potro: First round - The Championships, Wimbledon ... wimbledon.com/.../… 4 Jul 2017 - JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Yes, it was really tough match. That's what I expected before the match. He has a good game to play on grass, ... >>. To 'have no game' is the opposite. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 1 '17 at 14:03
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    I am not sure about the rules on stackexchange but I've actually tried researching many places but I could not find the meaning of "had no game". So i decided to ask it here. – LarryS Oct 2 '17 at 3:29
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    Even with (someone else's) research included, this question looks like a better fit for ELL; most adult native speakers (at least in the US) will instantly recognize and understand this variation on the common phrase "got game" (M-W). – 1006a Oct 7 '17 at 18:13
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Meaning

In this context “game” is a noun referring to a mass of skill and talent, such as would make you a competitive opponent. To have game is to have the qualities needed to win. By saying that she had no game, Trump is stating that she did not have what it took to win the presidency -- in this case he is asserting that it is because she riled some of her political opponents when a leaked tape came out where she referred to some of them as a "basket of deplorables:" he is saying that precisely these same people came out to vote for Trump and that is what decided the election. (He is also probably trying to posture by positioning his victory as a victory against "big money.")

Etymology

The weirdness in the phrase “got game” comes from the fact that the usual usage of “game” is as a count-noun, hence you would say “got a game” or “got games.” This usage is that of a mass-noun like “water,” as one might say “he got water from the faucet, and brought it to her.”

However, it is hard to trace the origin of the phrase because game is a mass-noun in English, specifically as it refers to animals (usually birds) who are hunted for sport. So if you try to trace this idiom back you will find many, many results from the 1800s but they are not pertinent, having to do with game birds. If you persist you may find some very early usages of a mass-noun “game” gotten by card players, where “game” is an abbreviation for “gameplay:” but it was possibly dominated by the alternate abbreviation "play" as the 1900s wore on.

The modern idiom “got game” that you're referring to likely comes from ~1990s (and possibly 1980s or earlier as the spoken usage tends to be older than the literary appearances) African-American vernacular. It originally referred to the sport of basketball playing as far as I can tell; it was probably a new minted use of "game" unrelated to the card-playing usage, which was rare and not particularly associated with that subculture.

It spread beyond its niche most notably with the Spike Lee film He Got Game (1998), after which it appeared as the title of the book Kel Got Game (1999) and in several other places. A McSweeney's article documents several appearances as references to that movie, suggesting that Spike Lee may have coined it, but at least one 1997 mention in the National Catholic Register predates this:

When word circulated that “Mr. Gerson got game,” I had passed the first test necessary to begin earning the trust of many of my students. Having successfully challenged them at their game, I could not be dismissed easily—on the court, in the classroom, or out of school altogether. I continued to use basketball as a way to continually accumulate trust.

Of course it had been thoroughly whitened far before Trump got to it; the Stargate SG-1 episode “Citizen Joe” (2005) contains the phrase (“Bowling league Thursday nights? You got game, son!”). It has now come to refer to any sort of skills or superior talent or the like, not just on the basketball court.

  • @CR_Drost Great work! DJT's background in the gambling industry more so than his affinity for African-American subculture might tilt the interpretation towards card games: `she had a bad hand and no game plan.' I'd be surprised if DJT is so hip as to use and improve on current vernacular. A key part of the interpretation should also be that his Tweet is exactly 140 characters–even skipping a space to stay within the limit! – Sven Oct 10 '17 at 13:57
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    @Sven. "Got game" is not so hip and not so obscure that DJT would be expected to be unfamiliar with it. "He Got Game" was a major studio film in 1998, and by 2002 a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette nominated "got game" for one of the most trite sports cliches of the year, only to lose out to football players "running downhill." See Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 29, 2002, page 35. If anything it's so dated and passe that it is unsurprising that an older man might resurrect it. But it's also useful and expressive enough that I hear it all of the time. – PJB Oct 13 '17 at 19:38
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The OED has game as an adjective, with the earliest attribution in 1752:

1. Of a person or animal: full of pluck, spirit, or fight; spirited, plucky; intrepid. Also applied to actions, attributes, etc.

  • 1752 Ordinary of Newgate's Acct. 13 July 110/1 They would send for some Surgeons to give them Money for their Bodies, for, by G—d, they were resolved to die game.
  • 1911 F. E. Crichton Soundless Tide 265 She's going to a regimental dance at Dundalk on the twelfth, and says she'll be heart-broken if anything prevents it. She's a game old thing, really!
  • 2002 N. Cooper Out of Dark 116 She was a game old trout, too, but I didn't ever love her, and when she kicked me out I never looked back.

As an adjective, it was formed within English from game as a noun. The OED isn't overly clear where it derived from, but suggests an origin of Germanic inheritance:

Cognate with Middle Dutch (rare) game prank, mockery, Old Saxon gaman jollity, entertainment, amusement, Old High German gaman pleasure, amusement, something that causes laughter, joy, delight (Middle High German gamen fun, play), Old Icelandic gaman sport, play, pleasure, amusement, Old Swedish gaman, gamman, gammen joy, pleasure, delight (Swedish gamman), Old Danish gammen joy, pleasure, delight, joke, mockery (Danish gammen), further etymology uncertain and disputed.

Late Old English gæmen, Middle English (Kentish) gemen (see α. forms) perhaps show a by-form with i-mutation of the stem vowel; compare Old English gæmnian (see α. forms at game v.).

One of the OED's listed variants is:

j. A person's performance in a particular game; the normal standard of a person's play. Also in extended use. to be on one's game: to be playing well, to be on good form; similarly to be off one's game: to be out of form. to raise one's game: see raise v.1 Phrases 5.

  • 1848 Cork Mag. Jan. 145 I wasn't a bad hand at a cue either—not that I'm getting old, and my sight is as sharp as a needle; but I'm thrown off my game somehow, by those new inventions.
  • 1920 Westm. Gaz. 16 Oct. 2/2 Their disregard of the recognized rules was accentuated by the fact that neither man was on his game.
  • 2005 GQ Sept. 244/1 Ronaldo..describes English defenders as ‘strong and intimidating’, but that certainly hasn't put him off his game.

Perhaps Trump meant that Clinton wasn't up to standard, despite her spending (which would normally be a signal of success).


Urban Dictionary has this for got game, and this for have game, if that's any help, meaning to have a high degree of skill. Sadly, the OED hasn't quite caught up (most recent online entries are from 2013, and it tends to be biased towards written rather than spoken language use). The UD relates 'got game' to basketball, but I doubt Trump was condemning Clinton's basketball skills (but who knows..?) - instead, it was probably used in the more general sense of 'skill', suggesting that Clinton wasn't skilled enough.

However, after the covfefe tweet, I'd suggest taking Trump's tweets with a creative approach. ;)

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The original poster asks what Trump meant in his tweet of September 14, 2017, where he says that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election because she "had no game. I think this is a question worthy of a careful answer because there's some merit in understanding what the President of the United States thinks about why his opponent lost.

The full tweet is:

The 'deplorables' came back to haunt Hillary. They expressed their feelings loud and clear. She spent big money but, in the end, had no game! - Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017

A related tweet the same day reads:

Crooked Hillary Clinton blames everybody (and every thing) but herself for her election loss. She lost the debates and lost her direction! - Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017

He's commenting, it should be noted for context, on Hillary Clinton's book on the 2016 election, "What Happened," published September 12, 2017.

The second tweet throws light on the first–"lost her direction" suggests that "had no game" addresses not just her abilities or skill as a campaigner, but her game plan, her strategy to win the election.

The term "got game" does indeed relate to skill (although it's not the term Trump uses). The Merriam-Webster definition (U.S., informal) is:

skill at playing a particular game or sport, such as basketball
Example: In playing against her older brother, she showed that she's got game.

The negative of the term–"got no game"–shows up in forums on the topic of success in relationships with the opposite sex, usually a man wanting to establish a relationship with a woman. While the posters meet women, they fail to get anywhere. They get turned down.

M-W's definition of "game plan" is:

a strategy for achieving an objective (first use 1941) and a plan for playing a game (such as American football or soccer) a plan for doing or achieving something

The governor is developing a game plan to lure businesses to the region.

Even "game" itself includes the sense of strategy and purpose:

The Online Slang Dictionary notes:

Game is also a term used to describe a "design of action", played with charisma and gumption, angled for a specific purpose.

And this sense of "game," rather than lack of skill, is what I would conclude Trump meant by "had no game."

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From Geneva Smitherman, Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner (1994):

GAME 1) A series of activities and maneuvers to achieve a goal. 2) A story or RAP for obtaining what you want, used for manipulative and deceptive purposes. 3) a style of carrying and expressing oneself that enables one to achieve a desired end; to lack this style is referred to as "not having any game." 4) Criminal activities.

The relevant definition above is the third one, a non-pejorative sense of having the capacity to do what one desires to do. The specifically sporting sense of the term seems to have emerged a bit later, but Smitherman offers a syntactically similar "got X" formulation in her entry for hops:

HOPS The ability to leap and jump high, especially in B-BALL. "That Brotha got good hops." Also springs (newer term); rise, sky (older terms).

An early example of "has no game"—perhaps in the sense of "lacks the necessary skills to achieve greatness"—appears in "You didn't learn this alphabet in school," in the Columbia [University, New York City] Spectator (April 17, 1991):

(Thanks for lasting. By the way, I really wrote the other article on this page with my name on it. I figured I might as well write one more real sports story before I leave. Until next week.) Also, one more note. Everyone should buy the hit new single from Delicious Vinyl, "Shake It," by the up-and-coming rap star, Jesse Jaymes. Too bad he has no game.

An example where "has game" means something like "has high-level skills" appears in "Entrapment avoids genre traps," in the [Boston College] Heights (May 4, 1999):

Although the age difference between Zeta-Jones and Connery is four decades, the two maintain a mutual respect amidst the discrepancies in age. Connery proves through his salty charm that he still has game, while Zeta-Jones is absultuely luminous and plays her role as an enthused rookie with refinement.

Explicit application of the phrase to athletic ability appears in Jeremy Sideris and Brittany McWilliams, From Grill to Dome: A Dictionary of African American Slang Words and Phrases (2005):

Got game: To possess the ability to persuade verbally; to navigate easily cultural mores, social hierarchies and system; to turn ambition into success; moxie; athletic prowess. [Internal cross references to other terms omitted.]

General (non-black) awareness of the expression, especially in its sporting sense, undoubtedly owes a great deal to Spike Lee's movie He Got Game (1998), which is about a phenomenal high school basketball player and his father, who is in prison for murdering his son's mother. Nevertheless, Lee didn't invent that sense of "got game." Here is an example of the phrase used in the narrow sense of possessing athletic prowess from Dominick Mastrangelo, "Teamwork is a novel idea for Mavs," in the [Fort Worth, Texas] Rambler (December 4, 1996):

In the near future, maybe one of the three "J's" ([Jamal] Mashburn, Jason Kidd, Jimmy Jackson) will have to be dealt, for the betterment of the team.

Whether it makes [coach Jim] Cleamons' job of playing pacifier any easier, that's in the future. For now, the [Dallas] Mavericks need to grow up and stop acting like they're 13-year olds on some asphalt court crying over who's got game.

The Rambler was (and may still be) the student newspaper of Texas Wesleyan University, a fair distance from Brooklyn, New York.

Also, from "Lads defeat Sam Houston and UT," in the [Houston, Texas] Rice [University] Thresher (October 31, 1997):

Two recent wins put the men's soccer club in a tie for first in the Southeast bracket of the Texas Collegiate Soccer League. Its 4-1-2 record qualified the team for the TCSL Championship Tournament this weekend in Austin.

"A&M, Baylor, UT, Tech—they ain't got no game." senior goal keeper Mike Tuckinan said. "After spanking UT last weekend, we rediscovered our passion for the game—there's not a team out there that we can't take."

Earlier still is this headline from the Indianapolis [Indiana] Recorder (June 10, 1995):

Merrillville native Lloyd McClendon still has game


Conclusions

To "have no game" is to lack the athletic ability, creativity, persuasiveness, dedication, moxie, or other crucial characteristic that would enable one to succeed in a particular endeavor. The expression "got no game" is a formulation of the same idea that seems especially associated with athleticism and that probably owes some of its popularity in general U.S. slang English to Spike Lee's 1998 movie, He Got Game. Both expressions evidently originated among African Americans.

The phrase "has no game" appears in a slang sense in a U.S. student newspaper in April 1991, seemingly in the sense of "has no special skills, abilities, or style"; and the phrase "has game" appears in the Indianapolis Recorder, an African American–focused newspaper, in June 1995 in the sense of "has valuable athletic talents."

I doubt that Donald Trump understands "had no game" in precisely the sense that Geneva Smitherman cites in her 1994 book Black Talk—namely, to have lacked "a style of carrying and expressing oneself that enables one to achieve a desired end." But that definition certainly makes sense in the context of his derisive Twitter comment about Hillary Clinton.

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Okay, here's my response. The idiom "has no game" doesn't refer to one sport in particular (but wiki searches come up with baseball a lot). It's just a phrase. If Hillary, or anyone for that matter, "has no game" it simply means, he/she isn't doing something well enough to communicate, is lacking finesse, and simply just fails at getting what he/she wants. The "have game" idiom means to be able to play successfully at the contest in which one is engaged. Another, close idiom would be something like, "Hillary wasn't speaking their language." From the quick research I did, it's used a lot referring to getting a girl. That's as in, a guy went to a bar to get a date, hit on (tried to get a date with) a woman, but he had no game (was turned down, denied due to a failure to impress her). As for the its first use as an idiom, I have no idea. If anyone knows, please comment.

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