in Money & Stuff, Stuff

‘Gambling’ – when one word means two opposite things

English is a weird and hard language in which we use the same word to describe accurate, considered, scientific, decision making that we use to describe random, self harming, ill conceive & poor decision making. And this leads to a situation where people who may essentially agree on an underlying issue find themselves disagreeing due to language and connotation. Gambling is one such word.

First, gambling is making a prediction about an uncertain event with the intent of receiving something of value based on the outcome of that event. An event / bet may be the winner of a football game, the winner of an election, heads or tails on a coin toss, that the price of gold will rise (or fall), the size of a particular harvest in a particular year, number 17 on a roulette wheel, investing in a particular stock or fund or deciding whether or not to do chemotherapy when diagnosed with cancer. These are all instances where probability, risk and reward are measured against each other. They are also situations where it is not possible to know all of the criteria that will affect the outcome (or even knowing all the criteria the outcome Is impossible to predict with certainty in any individual instance).

The second common usage for ‘gambling is when we make a choice which is inherently uncertain or in which we have an inherent disadvantage in the hopes of ‘coming out on top’ or ‘beating the odds’. Or, if you are slightly mathematically minded, the second definition of gambling is one in which you are hoping to benefit from the temporary variance that may (will) arise when there are repeated events that don’t have a probability of zero or one. You are hoping to land on the favourable side of standard deviation, you are counting, to some degree, on that strange mystical force called luck.

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