Jeopardize. What a strange word. To jeopardize something is to put it in danger. We can jeopardize our relationships through obsession or neglect. Politicians tell us we can jeopardize our country’s standing with one policy proposal or another. We jeopardize our health and sometimes even our lives with certain choices we make. Still, it’s a word that doesn’t roll off the tongue. In my writing, I would even go as far as making a different word choice, maybe risk.
The word itself is a back-formation of the word jeopardy, which again, to me, is a very awkward word. The only time I think of it is when considering law and trials and the idea of double jeopardy, of not prosecuting a person twice for the same offense. Alternatively, the word brings to mind the TV game show Jeopardy, a show I don’t watch often, but if it’s on, I’ll be the first one to shout out the answers.
The word itself comes from a French phrase jeu parti, which also means danger, but in its earlier formations meant “a cunning plan or stratagem.” Personally, I like the word so much more as a French phrase. I mean, French is so chic, so sophistiqué. Adding to the exotic nature of the phrase the whole idea of plans and strategies brings to my mind the political intrigue of the Middle Ages, though the word may never have been associated with politics. It is associated with a form of entertainment, a lovers’ debate in which each side was argued in front of a referee of sorts, a game performed for the amusement of the French nobility. It’s a phrase that is also associated with games like chess, referring to a point in the game where the player has an equal chance of winning or losing, where the game hangs in the balance.
So the next time your job is in jeopardy because you constantly punch in late or you put your health at risk by eating pizza or ice cream for breakfast every day, think of jeu parti and choose wisely, lest you tip the balance in this game we call life.