The Thinking 

Words Matter

February 26, 2011



Respecting “Game,” the very name “Game” suggests insincerity and deceit.  In that way it is an egregiously counter-productive term.  Insofar as those who use the term “Game” actually mean masculinity, decency, chivalry, constancy, moral integrity, and the classical virtues, maybe they should refer to those things explicitly by name.  When I hear the word “game” I think of Las Vegas, the casinos, the public women, the fatuous college boys who are attracted to that scene, and everything else summed up in the vulgar advertisements for Nevada’s heart of darkness. 

I have a measure of respect for a slang-term that some of my male students use: “Man up” (also, “grow a pair”).  If the advocates of “Game” spoke of “manning up” (or of “growing a pair”), then it might be possible to take them more seriously.  Words not only have meanings and consequences; they also have connotations, and the connotations have meanings and consequences.

Laura writes:

Chess and bridge are games too. Why do you automatically think of Las Vegas instead of two people pondering a chess board and thinking before they make a move?

I don’t think of the goal of this game to be the advantage of any one party. The winner should be the family. The game is won when the family survives.

Mr. Bertonneau responds:

It’s a fair question. I have an answer. When I intend to play chess, I say, “chess,” not “game”; and if I played bridge, I’d say “bridge,” not “game.” In context, specificity is itself meaningful. The word “game” is general and a bit vague, and part of the vagueness is the suggestion of trickery or one-up-man-ship or chance; or of winning for its own sake, merely to prevail. (“I’m the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo!”) Then too neither chess nor bridge has a moral implication, as far as I can tell, so that someone like the late Bobby Fisher could beat everyone at chess and at the same time be a moral idiot, in the old Greek sense. Indeed, a super-computer (“Big Blue,” or some such name) now routinely beats the best flesh-and-blood chess players. 

The term “game,” applied to marriage, even to a faltering marriage, connotes a contest of craft and of the crafty. Perhaps I’m being old-fashioned or idiosyncratic, but I prefer plain terms; and I prefer terms that have a moral rather than a rhetorical implication, reductively. 

Thank you for the thoughtful challenge, which I respect.

Mr. Bertonneau adds:

Regarding chess, the “mate” in “checkmate” comes from the Old Persian word for death; “checkmate” means, “the king is dead,” more or less.

Laura writes:

I understand your objections and I very much respect them. I also believe many people do use the term “Game” to mean a form of trickery. I approve of the term with great reluctance and serious reservations.

Again, we have to remember that there is a vast industry that is prejudiced against the survival of marriage. If couples went to therapy, and the therapist worked within a moral context, and respected the absolute necessity of keeping marriages together, and if we also did not have a government that was actually profiting financially from the dissolution of marriage, I would be less inclined to see any necessity for the sort of strategizing that is implicit in Game.

We do not live in that world.  

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