02/24/2009 4:04PM

More Sex


You're going to start seeing a lot more sex in this space, but don't get too excited: I'm only talking about a language error I just found out I've been making for years.

Gender I always thought the words "sex" and "gender" were interchangeable, and I often opted for the latter in describing races for fillies, writing things like "running against her own gender" or "restricted by gender." But Teresa Genaro, a high-school English teacher and author of the excellent racing blog Brooklyn Backstretch, brought to my attention that the words in fact have different meanings. "Sex" refers to biological and physiological differences, while "gender" tehnically refers to behavioral and cultural roles assigned by society. Thus, races are restricted by sex, not by gender.

I feel sheepish (rammish? eweish?) for perpetuating this mistake because I'm usually the nitpicker on this sort of misusage. Two of my pet peeves: The use of "decimate," which people routinely use to mean "devastate," when it actually means to reduce by 10 percent. In racing, people often say a race is "decimated by scratches" when a field of 14 scratches down to 6. Another is "the lion's share," usually invoked to describe any simple majority when it really means 100 percent. It's actually an ironic phrase, because the lion doesn't "share."

Oscar --Perhaps the best-known handicapper in the country these days is not a horseplayer but a statistician: Nate Silver, who until a year ago was known mostly for his development of some of baseball's hottest number-crunching sabermetrics, such as QERA (Quick ERA) and PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Comparison Algorithm.) Then Silver broke through to a wider audience when he took on the 2008 Presidential elections, using reams of voter data from past elections to produce what were by far the most accurate predictions of the election season.

Last Sunday, though, Silver's stock tumbled after he tried his hand at predicting the Oscars. In the five big awards, he got the three cinches right ("Slumdog Millionaire", Kate Winslet and Heath Ledger) but whiffed on the other two. He had rated Mickey Rourke 71 percent to win the Best Actor award that went to Sean Penn. More glaringly, he said that obscure longshot Taraji P. Henson was better than 50 percent to win Best Supporting Actress, an award that, as largely expected elsewhere, went to Penelope Cruz.

Silver, who seems like a smart and good-humored guy, wrote a self-deprecatory morning-after mea culpa, questioning his model and assessing his performance, that's worth a look even if you haven't seen a movie since "Seabiscuit" came out. His thoughts on learning from mistakes and developing predictive systems, apply to horseplayers as well as film buffs.

I'd love to see Silver try to come up with a Kentucky Derby line.

--A commenter on the last post pointed out the weird betting action on Enter Acting in Sunday's 7th race at Aqueduct. The hapless maiden had been beaten 68 combined lengths in his four statebred maiden-claiming starts and figured to be at least his ML price of 20-1 or higher in a similar spot Sunday. Then he suddenly went from that neighborhood down to 7-1 in a single flash, reflecting a single win bet of around $5,000.

Three It's inconceivable that anyone expected the horse to show spectacular improvement and he didn't, running 7th, beaten 37 lengths. Here's an alternate theory on the big bet: Enter Acting was #3, as was Tiger's Frolic, the 3-to-10 favorite in the 6th race at Gulfstream in the same time window that day. So maybe the bettor or teller entered the bet for the wrong upcoming race.

If so, at least the bettor with the wrong ticket didn't get an unpleasant $6500 surprise: Tiger's Frolic, like Enter Acting, ran 7th. So if the bet was a mistake, the bettor may still not know it.

Bernard Downes More than 1 year ago
I am struggling on this language thing regarding "decimate". Presumably we are dealing with the ENGLISH language so, forget Websters, check out the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. The first definition of the word decimate is "kill or destroy a large proportion of" or "drastically reduce the strength of". The second definition about killing one in ten soldiers relates to ancient Rome. This derivation is out of date. The last time I was in Italy the place was fairly civilised and I don't believe they have capital punishment any more. Regards - Bernie
Forego76 More than 1 year ago
God bless you, Steve! I have been peeved about the gender/sex thing for years. Every time I hear somebody blow it on TV or in a lecture or a speech I automatically roll my eyes and wearily mumble "sex." My spouse has heard me do that so much over the last ten years that she tries to beat me to it. Here's the thing: it's just as pervasive here at the university--and I'm talking about with professors--as it is anywhere else, and these people ought to know better and they ought to be teaching their students better. It's even written as "gender" on some applications. So thanks for doing your little bit to help educate the masses. My dream is to be standing at the paddock rail at the Spa this August watching fillies getting saddled for the Alabama and hearing guys with Queens accents and cigars correcting Kenny Mayne and Randy Moss when they inevitably talk about the fillies' gender.
bestrades More than 1 year ago
Not what I expected...but such an enlightening column.... :-)
Pete Pistol More than 1 year ago
Irregardless of your comment, here's Websters take on DECIMATE. #3 Looks kosher to me. 1: to select by lot and kill every tenth man of2: to exact a tax of 10 percent from 3 a: to reduce drastically especially in number b: to cause great destruction or harm to
dorothyp More than 1 year ago
In fact, I think there is something ironic about "the lion's share." Ironic, when last I checked, meant something like "characterized by often poignant difference or incongruity between what is expected and what actually is." One expects the lion, who takes the lion's share, to share, but he does not. He takes it all. QED: irony.
PaulieWalnuts More than 1 year ago
Question for the blog. A bar tab wager hangs in the balance. Can anybody provide an official rule for when a horse balks at the gate? It's my belief that a refund is only given when there is evidence of a gate malfunction, starter error, etc. My fellow degenerate believes that a refund is given even if a horse just stays in the gate once the race starts. If anybody could provide a link or evidence of this rule it would be greatly appreciated.
putting_green More than 1 year ago
to pauliewalnuts I work in customer service for NYRA at the Spa, and the rule in New York State is exactly how you stated it in your post. You get no refund unless the gate doesn't open, or unless an assistant starter is still holding the horse when the gate does open. If the horse simply doesn't leave the gate, that is considered to be the same as he simply ran poorly. Other states might be different, and I think I know why you ask. Didn't that happen somewhere recently and refunds were granted after the track announcer said the horse refused to run? My best answer is that if it isn't the fault of NYRA, then no refunds.
Buffalo Joe More than 1 year ago
Paulie- Your fellow degenerate owes you the bar tab, when a horse "refuses" to leave the gate there is no refund as long as the gate opened promptly and he was not impeded by the handler (gate crew). That would fall under the rule of "common Sense" although in NY I've heard that the stewards must check their's in at the door when they go in to work.
Bruce More than 1 year ago
pauliewalnuts : 4009.21. Refund-- non-starter.(New York State Racing and Wagering Board) (a) When a horse starts - Every horse shall be considered a starter when the stall gates open on the signal of the starter, unless the stewards declare a horse or horses non-starters because, in their opinion, the horses’ chances were compromised leaving the starting gate. If so, all bets on the non-starters will be refunded unless the horse wins. For placing and program purposes, the non-starters will be considered to have run for purse only.
Evan Gewirtz More than 1 year ago
Owen, Mr. Webster gave the english definition of decimate and words assimilate over time. Give Mr.Webster a call and report his response in the blog. I certainly do not profess to being the king of grammar. That fact can be backed up simply by looking a few misspellings in my pet peeve post. None of us are immune from grammatical errors. Lighten up.