winning by default

Win by default: looking for an Alternative idiom

I’m looking for a word or an idiom expressing the fact that an agent (Athlete, Company, Country, etc.) suddenly ranks first, not because he performed better but because the former champion’s performance slumped.

(Something other than winning by default/forfeit)

Here is the context:

Many think that soon enough the USA is going to produce more oil than Saudi Arabia. But others think that it’s going to be because SA’s production is going to decrease. It’s like saying your country is going to bring renewable energies from 10% to 50% of the national energy mix. If you reduce overall energy consumption while keeping the same volume of renewables, then statistically you become a much more eco-friendly country.

See what I mean?

3 Answers 3

In sports, a team which achieves a victory by virtue of luck or of a supposedly superior opponent’s failures is often said to have backed into (or in to) the win or the playoffs or the championship. The idiom is common enough to have been extended beyond sports:

Not even Bob Dole’s dismal 1996 candidacy generated less enthusiasm in GOP ranks than McCain’s 2008 effort. In winning the nomination when he’d been counted out after the disintegration of his campaign structure, he showed more fortitude than skill. He was blessed by weak competitors, who eliminated each other and left him the last man standing. . [Recent polls] have prompted speculation by GOP political practitioners that McCain can back into the presidency, as he backed into the nomination. —‘Can McCain Back In To Another Win?’, Robert D. Novak, New York Post, July 28, 2008

[Other factors]can also have a substantial impact on the fortunes of a new small business. [. ] Blind Luck — The Small Business Hall of Fame contains more than a few stories of people who backed into success because of their incredibly good timing. —John L. Duoba, ‘Are You Ready to Be Your Own Boss?’, Small Business News, July 03, 2012

If by “winning” you mean “leading”, and if you mean to say that the numbers don’t necessarily tell the full story, then there is an expression (with some variations) that may apply:

Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.
Statistics never lie but liars use statistics.
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

The quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, who reportedly gave credit to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

These wry expressions underscore how some people will use numerical data to present a conclusion that may be factual from a strictly mathematical perspective, but in a way that is somewhat misleading. One example might be a resumé that says:

Our sales doubled in the two months when I was manager of the showroom.

when, in fact, the showroom had only sold one unit previously, and two more while the person was manager. When dealing with sales statistics, we don’t usually imagine a single-unit increase when we hear the word “doubled” – but that word was chosen because it sounds more impressive than the actual results.

Such truth-bending happens quite often in politics. For example, a candidate running for reelection might boast, “Our city was once the worst city for crime, but now, we are no longer in the Top 10!” (In reality, though, the crime rate has gone up – but, because it went up even faster in 10 other cities, in terms of ranking, that city fell from #1 to #11.) Yet notice how the words were carefully crafted, so that the reality of crime being still on the rise is never even mentioned (until the opposing party runs their ad, which will probably skew the data in a similar manner, only in the other direction).

Win by default: looking for an Alternative idiom I’m looking for a word or an idiom expressing the fact that an agent (Athlete, Company, Country, etc.) suddenly ranks first, not because he

Word for winning because the competitors were miraculously all worse

What’s the word in the phrase

To describe the scenario when one enters a form of competition and their entry or performance, whatever it may be, happens to be fairly below par but they still win because by happenstance the rest of the competitors were miraculously all worse?

Because it describes the scenario of winning because the rest of the competitors happened to not show or were disqualified.

25 Answers 25

Actually, I think “win by default” IS often used to refer to this situation. Perhaps metaphorically: We didn’t win because there was LITERALLY no competition, but because the competition that existed was so weak that it hardly counted. People will say “practically won by default” or “virtually won by default”. But still, nothing in that phrase implies that you (or your team) was weak, just that the competition was very weak relative to you.

Barring that, I don’t know of a phrase in that form that explicitly means, winning because the competition was so weak. I can’t swear that there isn’t one, but nothing comes to mind.

People say “it was an easy win” meaning you were much better than the competition. Again, though, doesn’t necessarily indicate that your side was weak.

“The competition was weak”.

That’s all I can think of.

In Australia the phrase doing a Bradbury was born following Steven Bradbury’s amazing Gold medal win in the speed skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

It denotes achieving an improbable victory through circumstances beyond one’s control.

You can watch here Basically, he was in last position for the whole race, except for the last quarter lap when all four skaters ahead of him fell, allowing him to coast through to the gold medal.

Probably the Idiom: by chance. (TFD)

Without plan; accidentally: They met by chance on a plane.

Possibly; perchance: Is he, by chance, her brother?

  • without advance planning
  • Synonyms: accidentally, circumstantially, unexpectedly
  • through chance, “To sleep, perchance to dream..”

Winning by dearth [of competition]:

A scarcity or lack of something: there is a dearth of evidence

Dearth would not normally be used to describe the mediocre performance of the winner, leaving the implication of scarce competition in the fore:

In the pitiful National League East the Mets are winning by dearth.

When the OP asks users to complete the phrase “winning by _____”, while explicitly rejecting “default” as an acceptable answer (“It isn’t winning by default”), the unavoidable implication is that the OP has some idea of what they are looking for, something similar to “happenstance” (“they still win because by happenstance the rest of the competitors were miraculously all worse”), i.e., an unexpected and rationally inexplicable turn of events: accident, chance, fluke, fortuity.

divine intervention” is a fitting phrase (even if it’s tongue in cheek) to account for an otherwise unexpected, and rationally inexplicable, turn of events.

divine intervention : 3. The belief that a heavenly being will interfere in human situations so bad that nothing but an act of God could change the outcome for the better.

Now, the Browns winning the SuperBowl – that would take some serious divine intervention.” See, the Urban Dictionary

Sorry Cleveland, don’t mean to kick you when you’re down.

But, for the serious secularist, perhaps the noun “anomaly,” or its adjective form “anomalous,” would be a preferable term to account for what is totally unexpected and otherwise inexplicable, i.e., “winning by anomaly.”

anomaly noun; anomalies plural noun: 1. something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected. “there are a number of anomalies in the present system”

synonyms: oddity, peculiarity, abnormality, irregularity, inconsistency, incongruity, aberration, quirk, rarity. See, Google

As cleverly alluded to by @Hugh in a comment above, closely related to “winning by default” is “winning by/in/with a walkover,” which according to Wikipedia is a term having its origins in the “Sport of Kings” to describe a race where the winning horse need only “walk over” the finish line to be officially declared the victor of a race “because there are no other [horses], or because the other [horses] have been disqualified or have forfeited.”

Quoting further from Wikipedia (emphasis added):

The word is used more generally by extension, particularly in politics, for a contest in which the winner, although not the only participant, has little or no competition.

For a phrase that I think goes well either alone or with “winning in/with/by a walkover” (and with “winning by default,” for that matter), and which doesn’t require extension of the literal meaning or modification of either of those terms (with “virtually,” for example) there is “winning by just (or simply) showing up”:

They won [in a walkover] by just showing up.

This is not the expression as it is used in this “Evolation Yoga Blog” in the sense of winning a moral victory or as part of a philosophical observation or pep talk (like Woody Allen’s “Eighty percent of success in life is just showing up”); but rather as it’s used in a scenario as you describe, where the level of quality of the competitor(s) makes it possible for someone/some team to win (or not, in the case of the Penguins mentioned in this ‘Trib Live’ report) by just showing up.

Finally, again borrowing from terminology used in the “Sport of Kings, the notion of “running in/winning a maiden race” could describe your scenario, where a “maiden race,” as “confirmed” by Wikipedia is a race where none of the horses have ever won a race.

This LA Times article describing the 1987 Kentucky Derby describes well the [un]importance of “winning a maiden race” as follows in paragraph 12:

Winning a maiden race [at Turfway Park, the racing equivalent of the old Three-I League,] is not enough to make an owner think he will some day see his colt’s name in gold on the clapboard walls of Churchill Downs.

Just in case you’re still looking for other options, the 1987 Kentucky Derby, judging from the article’s interesting description of it, greatly resembled your scenario, and the author used several colorful terms & expressions that you might find helpful, including:

“[it wasn’t so much won, as it was “inherited”] (winning by inheritance?);

“[winning] in/among a field of nobodies”;

“[winning] by surviving it/survival”;

“[winning] by being the most sober waterfront bar patron at closing time”;

“[winning] by being the best dancer in _____”; and

“[winning] by being the best skier in _____.”

(the last two being of an offensive nature, in my opinion, you’ll need to read the article to see how the article’s author filled in the blanks).

Word for winning because the competitors were miraculously all worse What’s the word in the phrase To describe the scenario when one enters a form of competition and their entry or