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I just came across (pdf) this expression:

A Smith & Wesson beats a straight flush

  1. What does it mean?
    Is it the idea of winning via unlawful means when losing?

  2. Is it a common expression?

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    I wouldn't say any variations are exactly "common expressions", but the one that occurs most often is a Smith and Wesson beats four aces – FumbleFingers Nov 11 '11 at 14:22
  • The English-language aspect: a "Smith & Wesson" is a gun. A "straight flush" is a particular (good) hand in a card game known as poker. To "beat" in this context means to win over. – ShreevatsaR Nov 12 '11 at 17:18
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It means a gun will beat whatever you have in a poker game.

That is, if you have a pair of twos and the other person has a straight flush, it won't matter. You have a gun, and you can shoot the person.

Basically, the card game is irrelevant. If you have something powerful (gun, or a monopoly, or a dictatorship) then the rules that everyone is playing by do not apply to you.

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    This explains the literal meaning but not the idiomatic or figurative meaning. – N.N. Nov 11 '11 at 14:32
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    @N.N. IMO this answer does explain the figurative meaning and the principle about it. If you are aware of any strictly idiomatic (non-compositioned) meanings of the phrase, please update your answer. – Unreason Nov 11 '11 at 15:40
  • I am sorry, but I am downvoting this answer. What you are saying is far too literal, and doesn't explain the actual usage of the saying in question. – user6751 Nov 11 '11 at 16:45
  • @EricNaslund Don't be sorry. I've upvoted JeffSahol's answer myself. – LarsTech Nov 11 '11 at 16:50
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    This answer is on the literal side, but I think once you understand the literal meaning, it is not too hard to apply it to other contexts by analogy. A literal explanation is useful because someone (especially if new to English) might not know that the phrase is referring to a gun and a card game. (And now, with the edits to the last section, it really is just completely clear how this phrase would be used.) – John Y Nov 11 '11 at 22:36
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The straight flush is the highest hand in poker: nothing beats it. The meaning intended here is, from the document itself: "In the marketplace, whichever party has the most power gets to make the rules."

Of course, that is also a prime example of argumentum ad baculum.

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  • With the Royal Flush being the highest example. – Sam Nov 11 '11 at 17:21
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Its exact meaning depends on the context. If you read the paper you link carefully the meaning is straightforward. It's an idiom of the "Main idea" for "ELEMENT #3: Rules" (page 5):

Many people simply assume the rules of business - both formal and informal - are set in stone and are not subject to negotiation. That’s incorrect. There’s no reason why you should blindly follow the rules - you can change them at any time.

But, keep in mind that works both ways. At any time, your competitors, customers, suppliers or complementors can change the rules as well. They don’t necessarily have to follow the same rules you do.

In the marketplace, whichever party has the most power gets to make the rules

Thus, in this context it means that in business those with power can opt out of rule following and benefit from it. Or put differently: in business power is such that it allows for benefits by changing or breaking the rules.

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    Or (just when you think you're ahead) get shot. – yoozer8 Nov 11 '11 at 15:57
  • Your answer in no way addresses the power implicit (impunity) in the idea of a Smith and Wesson (a firearm) allowing one to change the game. – horatio Nov 11 '11 at 21:17
  • @horatio Thanks. I've updated my answer to incorporate the aspect of power. – N.N. Nov 12 '11 at 14:34

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