• 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. It is a variation of perfecta "picking 1st and 2nd place winners in the correct order". 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 Spanish a quiniela is ball game with five players. It also is the word for "football pool". Spanish quiniela is the diminutive of 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", based on the word for "five", quinque. This word is still around today as cinque in Italian, cinq in French, and cinco in Portuguese and Spanish. The original PIE word for "five" was penkwe-, for it shows up in Greek as pente, as in pentagon. The Germanic languages to changed the [p] sound to [f], producing English five and German fünf. We have two other English words related to the meaning "five", one with an Fickle N, finger, and one without, fist. (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 fascinating.)
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