from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun The strap of a horse's harness that connects the girth to the noseband and is designed to prevent the horse from throwing back its head.
  • noun Nautical Any of several parts of standing rigging strengthening the bowsprit and jib boom against the force of the head stays.
  • noun Games A method of gambling in which one doubles the stakes after each loss.
  • noun A loose half belt or strap placed on the back of a garment, such as a coat or jacket.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun In a horse's harness, a strap passing between the fore legs, fastened at one end to the girth under the belly, and at the other to the bit or the musrol, or forked and ending in two rings through which the reins are passed, intended to hold down the head of the horse. See cut under harness.
  • noun Nautical, a short perpendicular spar under the bowsprit-end, used for guying down the headstays. Also called dolphin-striker. See cut under dolphin-striker.
  • noun A mode of play in such games as rouge et noir which consists in staking double the amount of money lost.
  • noun In fencing, a bit of twine, fastened to the hilt of a foil, which is caught round one finger of the sword hand to prevent the foil from falling to the ground in case of disarmament.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A strap fastened to a horse's girth, passing between his fore legs, and fastened to the bit, or now more commonly ending in two rings, through which the reins pass. It is intended to hold down the head of the horse, and prevent him from rearing.
  • noun (Naut.) A lower stay of rope or chain for the jib boom or flying jib boom, fastened to, or reeved through, the dolphin striker. Also, the dolphin striker itself.
  • noun (Gambling), Cant The act of doubling, at each stake, that which has been lost on the preceding stake; also, the sum so risked; -- metaphorically derived from the bifurcation of the martingale of a harness. Called also Martingale strategy. Such a betting strategy does not change the overall likelihood of winning, but in a short run it increases the probability of winning a small sum, balancing it against an increased probability of losing a large sum.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A piece of harness used on a horse to keep it from raising its head above a desired point.
  • noun nautical A spar, or piece of rigging that strengthens the bowsprit.
  • noun mathematics A stochastic process relating random variables to earlier values
  • noun A gambling strategy in which one doubles the stake after each loss.
  • noun fencing A strap attached to the sword handle, preventing a sword being dropped if disarmed.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a harness strap that connects the nose piece to the girth; prevents the horse from throwing back its head
  • noun spar under the bowsprit of a sailboat


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[French, martingale, from Provençal martegalo, martingale rigging parts, martingale harness strap, game in which the stakes double after each loss, from feminine of martegal, person from the town of Martigues in southeast France (the game being so called from the reputation of the people of Martigues for naiveté and extravagance, due to the town's unconventional, isolated location on a canal linking a lagoon to the Mediterranean Sea).]


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  • Under all bowsprits on schooners, to guy the headstays, thrusts downward a short spar, at right angles to the bowsprit; it is called the martingale or dolphin-striker.

    Blow The Man Down A Romance Of The Coast - 1916 Holman Day 1900

  • Your example of 'martingale' is a good one - I vaguely know that it's a piece of horse harness, but I don't know exactly where it goes, what it does or why it matters.

    Archaic terminology in historical fiction Carla 2006

  • Her back hit the stem and seemed just barely to scrape the martingale, yet the Mary Turner sat down till the sea washed level with her stern-rail.

    CHAPTER XV 2010

  • He shook his head at the martingale, but yielded to the dealer's advice and allowed it to go on.

    Chapter XI 2010

  • I decide to make it a cycle using the same martingale system.

    Nov Stories | SciFi, Fantasy & Horror Collectibles 2009

  • Her restless head-tossing and pitching attempts to rear (thwarted by the martingale) never ceased, save when she pranced and sidled and tried to whirl.

    CHAPTER XXV 2010

  • After ten hopeless minutes of it, Daylight slipped off and tightened the martingale, whereupon Bob gave an exhibition of angelic goodness.

    Chapter XI 2010

  • And just before he arrived back at the stable he capped the day with a combined whirling and rearing that broke the martingale and enabled him to gain a perpendicular position on his hind legs.

    Chapter XI 2010

  • Discovering that his martingale had more slack in it than usual, he proceeded to give an exhibition of rearing and hind-leg walking.

    Chapter XI 2010

  • One pair of eyes would be enough to satisfy when the martingale parted and the mare reared and toppled backward upon him into the brush.

    CHAPTER XXX 2010


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  • A stochastic process in which the conditional expectation of the next value, given the current and preceding values, is the current value.

    Originally, martingale referred to a class of betting strategies popular in 18th century France. The simplest of these strategies was designed for a game in which the gambler wins his stake if a coin comes up heads and loses it if the coin comes up tails. The strategy had the gambler double his bet after every loss, so that the first win would recover all previous losses plus win a profit equal to the original stake. Since a gambler with infinite wealth will with probability 1 eventually flip heads, the Martingale betting strategy was seen as a sure thing by those who practised it. Unfortunately, none of these practitioners in fact possessed infinite wealth, and the exponential growth of the bets would eventually bankrupt those foolish enough to use the Martingale. Moreover, it has become impossible to implement in modern casinos, due to the betting limit at the tables. (This strategy is related to the St Petersburg paradox)

    October 6, 2007

  • Usages:

    "Captain Aubrey pondered, staring at the dolphin-striker." (379)

    "'How do you find your martingales answer, led single like that?'" (380)

    "The captains were back at their martingales and dolphin-strikers when a tiny shrill young gentleman... came running forward and said 'Uncle William, she wants you in the cabin.' Then recollecting himself and blushing he pulled off his hat and said 'If you please, sir, the lady in the cabin's compliments to Captain Babbington and would be glad of a word with him at his leisure.'"

    —Patrick O'Brian, The Surgeon's Mate 380

    February 9, 2008

  • "In all the local cafés he gave out his visiting card, which described him as "Head of Practical Services at the Ecole Pyrotechnique," and he offered his services generously; he obtained innumerable orders for superactive hair and carpet shampoos, stain-removers, energy-saving devices, cigarette filters, martingales for 421, cough potions, and other miracle products."

    -- Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos, p 23

    June 2, 2008

  • A martingale also is a piece of tack used in training horses. It helps them learn to keep their head down when jumping.

    June 2, 2008

  • A betting game with a long history, seen here.

    October 7, 2008

  • "Martingale, in a ship, a name given to the rope extending downwards from the jib-boom end to a kind of bumkin, and generally fixed perpendicularly under the cap of the bowsprit; its use is, to confine the jib-boom down in the same manner as the bobstays retain the bowsprit."

    Falconer's New Universal Dictionary of the Marine (1816), 262

    "In a square-rigged ship, a lower stay for securing the jibboom or flying jib against the upward pull of the foretopgallant stays. Sometimes applied to the dolphin-striker itself."

    A Sea of Words, 294

    October 12, 2008

  • In fencing: a strap attached to the sword handle to prevent a sword from being dropped if disarmed.

    October 12, 2008

  • Martingale breeches: breeches held to belt with buttons and points, having a movable panel between legs. (Renaissance)

    Makes me think of farthingale.

    October 12, 2008