What's in a Word | All Blogs

A game or a peril?

By Debra Dobbins

Jeopardy’s just a game, right? Or does it mean great danger or peril? Actually, it has meant both since it came into English in the 14th century.

According to www.word-origins.com, the word comes from two Old French words: jeu and parti.

Here’s more of the word's history from the same source: “The semantic focus of jeopardy has changed subtly over the centuries. Originally it meant ‘even chance’, but gambling being the risky business it is, and human nature having a strong streak of pessimism, attention was soon focussed (sic) on the ‘chanciness’ rather than the ‘evenness’, and by the late 14th century jeopardy was being used in its modern sense ‘risk of loss or harm, danger’. The word originated in the Old French expression jeu parti, literally ‘divided play’, hence ‘even chance’. It was to begin with a term in chess and similar board games.”


Two chess players try to put each other into jeopardy.


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