Sporting Vernacular 6. Jackpot

WHEN THE Tote jackpot, worth nearly pounds 700,000, was held over last week from the Cheltenham Festival to Fakenham on Friday, a nation's punters went collectively crazy.

Apart from criminal associations (signifying, among other things, a spot of trouble or an arrest), "jackpot" has always been a gambling term, originating not at the race track but round the poker table, where it came to denote a prize pot that had to accumulate until one of the players could open the betting with a pair of jacks or better (the Harvard Lampoon in 1881 wrote: "Poker-playing is not to be learned in one evening, and Jack Pots are often a snake in the grass").

From there, the word was extended to other sports and activities that entailed a prize that will be carried over if there is no winner. So by 1949, for example, a correspondent was recording in Radio Times that "We saw our first American audience-participation show. The prizes included a diamond wrist-watch... The jackpot was $1,250!" Friday's jackpot could have been worth approximately 1,000 times that. But it wasn't...