There’s a term that seems to cross my path every couple of years: second guess. What makes me notice the frequency is the fact that I have never found out what it means – if indeed it means anything. I think the reason it comes and goes as it does is that no one really understands it.
The Online Oxford Dictionary, The Pedant’s preferred reference work now that too many long-distance moves have resulted in the loss of all paper books (apart, bizarrely, from one by the late Peter Taylor about his football management partner, Brian Clough). For decades no desk of The Pedant’s was without The Concise Oxford and a Roget’s Thesaurus, but the internet makes such things expendable.
Anyway, second guess. The Online Oxford gives these examples:
Anticipate or predict (someone’s actions or thoughts) by guesswork: he had to second-guess what the environmental regulations would be in five years' time More example sentences
Good art institutions should not be about second-guessing the public's taste.
But while clothes shoppers are revelling in the dozens of new alleys open to them, manufacturers are despairing as they try to second-guess the kaleidoscopic public mood.
We've been trying to second-guess Augusta all week but there's no sense in trying any longer.
I don’t know about you, but to these eyes they look like examples of the single word ‘guess’.
There was a glimmer of hope a couple of years ago, when someone somewhere suggested it meant literally having the second guess, or prediction, so if the question is who is going to win the European Championship in football and one person says Germany, you can use your guess, i.e. the second, to say Belgium.
Merriam-Webster Online offers:
“to criticize or question the actions or decisions of someone”
which at least is different, even if it is not convincing.
Meanwhile over at Urban Dictionary, infamous home of the puerile and crude, they racked their brains and cobbled together this attempt at grownupness:
To predict, criticize often after results are know. This normally occurs from a person who you are having a conversion with and is trying to demerit someone else or you. From Showtime series Weeds Season 3 Episode 7-He Taught Me How to Drive By Marvin: Are you second guessing me bitch?!
Thanks, guys, you really are the natural reference work of the illiterate internet.
So, I guess, as the Americans would have it, that second guess doesn’t mean anything at all. Somebody used it once and it sounded good, so other people used it, but only once, because they couldn’t make it work.
It’s nonsense, it’s a myth. Unless you know better, in which case please let us know with a comment or email.