• trifecta •
trai-fek-tê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A type of bet that is won only if the first three winners (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place) are chosen in the correct order. A variation of perfecta. 2. Any set of three related accomplishments.
Notes: Today's Good Word started out in the racing world only in the 1970s but very quickly seeped out of that domain and into the general vocabulary. It has no derivational family; hence it is a true lexical orphan. Some even use it as a synonym of triple or troika, as a trifecta of political losers, which I heard recently referring to a simple triplet of such politicians. We frown on such usage: a trifecta should have some association with winning.
In Play: Everyone at the racetrack will understand this word used in its original sense: "So, where did Snidely get the money to buy a hunting lodge for his buddies? Did he win the trifecta?" However, we are free today to use this word outside the racetrack so long as it refers to some sort of triple victory: "After a trifecta of gold records, country music singer Carrie Oakley lost her momentum and fell to the bottom of the charts."
Word History: In American Spanish, a quiniela is a bet on the first two winners in a race not necessarily in the correct order. A perfect quiniela (quiniela perfecta) is a quiniela in which the first two winners must be in the correct order, 1st place and 2nd place. For a bet on the first three winners in the correct order, the Spanish adjective perfecta was combined with the common prefix tri- "three", and the middle syllable was then eliminated. So tri-[per]fecta became trifecta. Spanish quiniela is the diminutive of Spanish quina, a word based on French quine, set of five winning numbers in a game of keno. The French word came from Latin quini "five each", mentioned recently in the discussion of quinquagenary. (We can only thank Mary Bouchard for suggesting such a fascinating Good Word and encourage her to shoot for a trifecta by sending us two more equally as fascinating.)
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