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a zero-sum game American English

Meaning: A zero-sum game is a situation in which any gain by one side or person is at the expense of a loss to another side or person involved in the situation.

For example:

  • The stock market has become a giant zero-sum game in which one investor gains what another investor loses.

  • In a zero-sun game, if you add the total gains of the participants and the total losses of the participants, the sum will always be zero.

Origin: From game theory, a branch of applied mathematics that is used in the social sciences, especially economics.

Variety: This idiom is typically used in American English but may be used in other varieties of English too.

Quick Quiz:

In a zero-sum game, any gains made by one player will
  1. be greater than their losses
  2. increase the sum in the game
  3. equal the losses of another

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