Corporate buzzwords tend to come in and out of style, their popularity waxing and waning with the rise and fall of new management strategies and boardroom wordsmiths. For example, just as "open kimono" or "automagically" are emerging as the terms of tomorrow, the old standby "synergy" is growing a bit musty and tired.
But "double down" appears to be hitting a high point. A popular boardroom buzzword for a couple of years, the term has spread its way through politics, corporate communications and the media. In early November, New York Congresswoman Yvette D. Clark (D-NY) invoked it, declaring that America needs to "double-down our efforts and bring the Haitian people some semblance of security." A few days earlier, her colleague, Congressman Mark Schauer (D-MI), told an audience that America needs "to double down on education." Late in October, Microsoft project manager Peter Orullian announced that "PC games is a place where we are doubling down," while Kansas City Star reporter Derek Donovan's warned, "Journalists need to double down not to propagate myths."
To top it all off, KFC has aggressively promoted its now-infamous Double Down sandwich, a pile of bacon and Monterey Jack cheese that uses two slabs of deep-fried chicken breasts in place of a bun.
Double down has come a long way from its original incarnation. A gambling term from blackjack, it describes a strategy in which a blackjack player who is sufficiently convinced of the strength of his hand can choose to double his original bid. In this context, "doubling down" means making a calculated gamble in order to maximize the potential yield of a project.
But, in its more recent forms, the meaning of doubling down has gotten a little fuzzy. In the case of Congresswoman Clark, for example, the term suggests that aid groups and the U.S. government need to commit more workers and resources to help Haiti. Similarly, Congressman Schauer's speech suggested that America's education policy is insufficient, and needs more support.
The reporter Derek Donovan took a slightly different tack. In his editorial, the need to "double down not to propagate myths"indicates that America's journalists have become lazy and must pay attention to their fact-checking. Put another way, Donovan seems to be exhorting his colleagues to "settle down" or "simmer down," "drill down" or maybe even "get down to brass tacks."
In fact, of the media figures that have recently invoked "double down," Microsoft's Orullian got the closest to the original meaning of the phrase. After all, PC games are one of the company's most lucrative endeavors, and Microsoft's decision to throw more money at them could offer great rewards for the company. On the other hand, some critics -- notably Brian Crecente of Kotaku -- have argued that Microsoft's decision to "double down" on games translates into little more than a re-launch of its Games for Windows marketplace. If so, this move may offer a slight increase in revenue for the software company, making it more of a halfhearted sales push than a major bet on huge future revenues.
So what does double down mean in popular usage? Well, depending on who's talking, it could mean anything from a bold decision to advance a company's prospects to a stern warning to cover one's hindquarters. Unless, of course, you're KFC, in which case it means 540 calories, 32 grams of fat, and 1340 milligrams of salt.