I found the expression “Check and mate!” in the following sentence describing furious exchange of words between CNN host Piers Morgan and rightwing radio host and anti-gun-control propagandist Alex Jones on gun-control in the video titled “Shoots off his mouth on Piers Morgan” in Time magazine’s (Jan 8) Entertainment Section.

When Morgan managed to work in a question like, “How many gun murders were there in Britain?” Jones answered, “How many great white sharks kill people and yet they’re afraid to swim?” Check and mate!

From the definition of ‘checkmate” in Cambridge English Dictionary, "noun (2) a situation in which someone has been defeated or a plan cannot develop or continue", it is obvious that “check and mate” here means Jones’s answer was the finish blow that shut Morgan’s mouth up.

However, I was unable to find “check and mate” in any of Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam-Webster English dictionary, though they all register “checkmate.”

Google Ngram registers “check and mate” at an average 0.00000006 incidence level since circ 1850, but I don't know how significant this number is.

Can I use “check and mate” interchangeably with “checkmate” to mean being driven into a corner?

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    @FumbleFingers: link to reference? – Mitch Jan 9 '13 at 3:03
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    @FumbleFingers: You claim this is gen ref. I'm asking for some kind o link that supports it as being so basic. You brought up rules of chess; those are (most likely) irrelevant. How could an non-native speaker have any idea what one says at the end of a game of chess? – Mitch Jan 9 '13 at 3:22
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    @FumbleFingers: Stop it! You're voting to close every single question on the site! This question is perfectly fine. Why did you change? You used to be a lot milder. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 9 '13 at 3:26
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    @Cerberus: The point is well made. I was feeling a bit crabby before. I still think it's not the most interesting question Yoichi has asked here, but I shouldn't have closevoted. Apologies to you, Yoichi, and anyone else who's irritated by my lapse. – FumbleFingers Jan 9 '13 at 3:38
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    Serious chess player here. There are only two times I ever hear someone say "check and mate" in a game: when they want to be really cocky and draw the phrase out (mostly in TV shows or movies: "Check..... annnnnd.... mate." Actually, I usually hear it to end a discussion/argument by the obvious winner, unrelated to chess); or (only in actual chess games, obviously) when the player says 'check' and didn't realize it's also mate until after they had already said it! – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jan 9 '13 at 12:16

Oishi-san, "Check and mate!" is just a way of drawing out the word checkmate to make it sound more dramatic.

In American English, we often split words and put whole words in between the parts

That's fan-freakin'-tastic [That's fantastic]

or draw the syllables themselves out for emphasis

That is one bee-yooo-tiful car! [That is one beautiful car]

(Remember that English is unlike Japanese in that vowels can be of any duration.)

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    Actually, I think this might be the wrong answer, although I can see why you might give it that analysis. It might do well to remember that checkmate is a compound word meaning “the sheikh (king) is dead” that ultimately came to us from Arabic by way of Old Spanish. Although modern Spanish is jaquemate, one still can hear jaque y mate, from Old Spanish xaquimate from Arabic shāk-māt. The same occurred in Old French, with eschec et mat. The OED calls these versions without the intervening “and” particle aphetic forms. So it was lost, not added. – tchrist Jan 9 '13 at 3:38
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    @tchrist: Whatever the etymology, what I said is right about current usage. – Robusto Jan 9 '13 at 4:11
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    @Robuso: Not it isn't. Check and mate exist as separate words in chess terminology. – Pitarou Jan 9 '13 at 4:48
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    @pitarou: aren't 'mate' and 'checkmate' exact synonyms in chess? – Mitch Jan 9 '13 at 5:09
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    @tchrist: If you agree it was lost, then how was it added back? The fact that it was at one time different in another language has no bearing on English. – Robusto Jan 9 '13 at 11:23

I'm a chess player and saying "check and mate" only happens in films or on TV, or people just trying to add humour in a friendly game. The word checkmate is not derived from check, it's from the Persian shah-mat (the king is dead). Good players never announce check or checkmate when playing each other.

The term checkmate is an alteration or Hobson-Jobson of the Persian phrase "Shāh Māt" which means, literally, "the King is helpless" (or "ambushed", "defeated", or "stumped", but not "dead").

-Wikipedia entry for "Checkmate" (emphasis mine)

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    That may be, but I think it's important to point out that the O.P. in this case is asking about the use of the word in the context of a debate on gun control, not a chess match. – J.R. Jan 9 '13 at 10:37
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    I agree with this. It's mere emphasis added (usually) by non-serious players. As an A-class player, I never heard anyone say "Check and mate!" in a tournament, though you hear it in media representations all the time. It's like "I'll see your $200 and raise you $1,000" in poker: more dramatic for film, perhaps, but totally out of place in a "real" game, where players simply call or raise (or fold) in that situation. +1 – Robusto Jan 9 '13 at 12:36
  • +1 for giving the origin of "checkmate". I've also added a wikipedia source. – Urbycoz Jan 9 '13 at 14:14
  • What @J.R. said. It's not really relevant that chess players wouldn't normally say "check and mate" - as others have pointed out, "serious" players wouldn't normally say anything. What matters is that in metaphoric usages, a standard mechanism for providing emphasis can suddenly become much more appropriate. – FumbleFingers Jan 9 '13 at 23:06

I hope chess fans will forgive me for oversimplifying the rules and terminology of chess.

Short answer: checkmate is really an abbreviation for check and mate. We can use the expanded form for emphasis.

Long answer:

In chess, the objective is to capture your opponents King but, because it is a game played by gentlemen, the game stops at the point just before the King is captured.

The situation in which the King is under direct threat is called check ("the King is in check"). The player whose King is in check must get his King out of check immediately. If he cannot, he loses.

The end of the game is known as mate. There are two kinds of mate:

  • stalemate -- a draw
  • checkmate -- a player cannot get his King out of check

So checkmate is pretty much synonymous with check and mate.

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    Your etymology research is illuminating, but I think we should concentrate more on contemporary usage. – Pitarou Jan 9 '13 at 3:50
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    Isn't mate short for checkmate? – coleopterist Jan 9 '13 at 5:06
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    For some time (at least in Britain), a stalemate was considered a win, hence a "mate". So by that convention, you can indeed be mated without being checked. books.google.com/… – Chan-Ho Suh Jan 9 '13 at 7:49
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    -1 "mate" in chess is synonymous with "checkmate." No one says "mate" for a stalemate. And Zugzwang has nothing to do with this discussion... – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jan 9 '13 at 12:08
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    No one says "mate" for a stalemate. Nevertheless, a stalemate is a type of mate. No one says "entity" for a dump truck, but a dump truck is an entity. (A "mate" is an undesirable end result, from the middle English "mat".) – David Schwartz Jan 9 '13 at 14:26

An analysis of the technical meanings of 'check', 'mate', and 'checkmate', and how people use them in the game (those are different) is good motivation for how to solve the problem. But it doesn't address how non-players mean and use those words metaphorically.

To non-players, 'check' means "I've put you in danger (but I'm not sure if there's an escape)", 'checkmate' means "I've won the argument/situation". 'Mate' is just not used alone in this context. 'Check and mate' means "I've cornered you -and- there's no escape" or "I've finished my argument and you have no means of rebuttal"..

No one would say 'mate' alone to signify that they've won an argument. The clever word play is that one leads with 'check' to worry the other and then ends with the final blow that they've succeeded.

(in this example, it is somewhat difficult to understand who is involved with the sharks, but 'they' are the people who might swim)

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    This is just not true. In most of the games I have seen at local tournament level, as well as more professional ones - the only word used for end of game "mate" - if a word was used at all. At very high level, no-one said anything - they just knew when they were beaten. 'Check' is used on its own when putting a king in check. – Rory Alsop Jan 9 '13 at 13:55
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    @RoryAlsop: I don't disagree with you that in chess tournaments people use the words as you say. My answer is not addressing the meaning and usage in chess but in the metaphor as used outside of chess (and possibly by informal chess players). – Mitch Jan 9 '13 at 16:03
  • @Rory: I don't see how this is "not true" in the context of the Morgan-Jones debate. Whether or not these words are uttered aloud during a tournament is irrelevant; that doesn't change their general meaning when the expressions are borrowed by debaters and political wonks. – J.R. Jan 9 '13 at 17:40
  • @J.R., sure, but if you read Mitch's comment he makes several references to the actual game: "analysis of the technical meanings", "how people use them in the game", "no one would say 'mate' alone to signify that they've won the game". Thus, I agree with Rory. If Mitch wanted to only address the expressions as borrowed by debaters and political wonks, then he should not have made claims about usage in the domain of the actual game, as he did. – Ben Lee Jan 11 '13 at 20:45
  • @BenLee: Yes, Mitch talks about the meanings of the words, but there's nothing to argue over on that point. Checkmate means checkmate, whether the word itself is spoken aloud, or assumed to be understood with nothing but utter silence. Mitch goes on to mention how "non-players" use the terms. – J.R. Jan 11 '13 at 23:23

It's worth noting that the first definition in OED for mate is for the chess-related context...

The state of the king when he is in check and cannot move out of it (involving the loss of the game to the player whose king is so placed): = checkmate.

So “check and mate” is effectively tautological repetition for emphasis - which is in no way, shape or form unusual in English. And OP's figurative use of a chess-related expression has a counterpart deriving from tennis tournaments...

“Game, set and match!” (also often used figuratively in similar situations to indicate total victory).

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    Nice tennis analogy. Other borrowed sports, board game, or recreational expressions often used figuratively would include rolling snake-eyes (alluding to a risk that turns out exceptionally bad), hitting a home run (used to describe an exceptionally well-delivered and well-received speech or sales pitch), threw me a curve ball (when something unexpected happened), go directly to jail - do not pass go (to get on something right away), and going once... going twice... (to indicate time is running out, and a deadline or decision time is imminent). – J.R. Jan 9 '13 at 17:41
  • @J.R.: Now I'm really embarrassed about having closevoted! I know snake-eyes, though I'm not familiar with it being used figuratively. But all your others are very familiar usages for me personally. And how on earth would anyone figure out something like "I want you to leave the house right now! Do not pass go, and do not stop to collect your personal possessions!" if they don't know the cultural reference? Games and sports are indeed a rich source of potentially opaque metaphoric usages. – FumbleFingers Jan 9 '13 at 22:59
  • I think this is the best answer. – Pitarou Jan 9 '13 at 23:10
  • @FF: From this blogger: "So we rolled the dice on this trip but it came up snake eyes as there was no chance of seeing the northern lights .. the fog layer was blocking out the sky." Now you can say you've heard them all used figuratively. :^) – J.R. Jan 10 '13 at 0:02
  • Following "check" with "mate" is not tautological; it is possible to check without mating. – Acccumulation Jan 30 '18 at 20:57

Another serious chess player (and tournament official) heard from here. First, in all usage other than a game being played, checkmate is the only choice. You will never read "He moved his Queen to the last rank and threatened check and mate". Second, even amateur games seldom go all the way to mate, the player in the lost position resigning when his position is hopeless. Then there is no announcement of a checkmate, nor is any required by the rules.

The dramatic announcement of "Check and Mate!" is more a staple of TV shows that have some pretend chess game in them. This may be good theatre, but in the few cases of master games I have seen go to a mate, the winner merely stopped the chess clock (rather than starting his opponent’s) and extended his hand.


I play Chess a bit and in friendly games that I play a lot I tend to say check and mate! to tell my opponent that his king is attacked and there's nothing he could do to defend. The game is over. I could say checkmate instead but I feel that would sound rather indifferent or droopy, even lethargic, if you will, and I wouldn't want my victory to look so. Having said that, check and mate and checkmate are often interchangeable.

In official games with professional chess players, however, one wouldn't usually say check and mate for the reason that the phrase has a hint of arrogance and bragging. Checkmate sounds more professional and modest – a simple proclamation that the game has been won (by someone).

To sum up, check and mate is more used in friendly games of Chess while checkmate is used more in official games.

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    The and part does seem to be rubbing it in a bit, doesn’t it? – tchrist Jan 9 '13 at 3:54
  • @tchrist: Yes, I agree. Whenever I said check and mate my opponent shot me a disapproving look. – user32480 Jan 9 '13 at 4:02
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    I don't believe the distinction given exists. I've played in clubs and tournaments and generally it's considered rude to announce "check", "check and mate", "checkmate", or anything really, except to offer a draw. This etiquette extends to friendly games too, at least between players that take the game seriously. – Chan-Ho Suh Jan 9 '13 at 7:58
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    Upon reading this question, I initially assumed that "check and mate" was short for "check, and checkmate". @Chan-HoSuh: You comment about being rude surprised me; I always thought it was common to say "check" when you're putting your opponent in check, but I guess that's the difference between casual and tournament play, as this chess player asked about. I would have never dreamed it would be considered rude, but, I can see how it would be, in a room full of serious players. You never know what you'll learn on EL&U. – J.R. Jan 9 '13 at 8:41
  • Although, I'd like to add, getting back to the question at hand, I think the expression "checkmate" (or, perhaps more often, "check and mate") is often used to announce that you've proved your point; it's a sort of "QED" in a logical debate. (The usage that the O.P. has inquired about really has little to do with chess etiquette, even if that is the origin of the phrase. Although this has been both interesting and informative, the issue of "to announce or not to announce" is really a bit of an aside in this matter.) – J.R. Jan 9 '13 at 8:45

I think checkmate is the word and not "check and mate".

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    Please give some reasoning as to why it should be checkmate and not check and mate to add value to your answer and make it distinct from other similar answers. – Mohit Jan 9 '13 at 8:57

In chess, it is possible to checkmate. It is possible to stalemate. And it is possible to fool's mate.

These are all different ways to win, though these days stalemate is considered usually a draw.

Check and mate by conventional usage means checkmate.

  • "fool's mate" is simply a subset of checkmate. – Acccumulation Jan 30 '18 at 20:55

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