Arms race

An “arms race” is any competitive situation where two or more parties are each trying to out-do each other.

Lesson #
December 28, 2020

Transcript

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Arms race

Today’s expression is “arms race.” In fact, I used this just a few weeks ago, too. Here is the traditional meaning of an arms race: two enemy countries each want to build armies. Each one of the countries wants an army big enough to defeat the other country if necessary. One country builds a strong army. The other country matches it, and goes just a bit further to be stronger than the first. The first one responds and buys more weapons, or “arms,” looking to gain an edge. Not to be outdone, the second one also buys more weapons. And so they go back and forth, each increasing their armies, navies, air forces, and weapons stockpiles, each one trying to be a little stronger than the other. That’s an arms race. They usually end with some kind of major disruption.

The most famous arms race in modern history was between the United States and the Soviet Union during what’s now called the Cold War. That was a nuclear arms race, where each side continued to build their nuclear weapons stockpiles, never wanting to have fewer arms than the other side. Prior to that, arms races were common throughout European history, though with more traditional arms, more traditional weapons.

Many arms races go to absurd limits. There would be no reason to continue building up arms, except for the sake of competition. The US and Soviet Union each had enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other many times over. There was no point in continuing to stockpile weapons, except to have more than the other side. The two sides pushed each other to absurd limits. I said an arms race ends with a disruption: in this case, it was only the collapse of the Soviet Union that put a stop to the nuclear arms race.

Today, we use “arms race” to describe any competitive situation where two or more parties are each trying to out-do each other. This usually leads to an absurd outcome. A few weeks ago, I said that American retailers were in an arms race to open earlier and earlier on Black Friday and offer deeper and deeper discounts to shoppers. That means one store would open at 6 am; the others followed. The next year, a store would try to get an edge and open at 5:30; a competitor would open at 5. A few years later, stores were opening at midnight. Then, they opened the day before and stayed open all night. This is an arms race: each side wanting to gain an edge, they both push each other to absurd limits. Nobody really wanted to open at midnight, but they couldn’t allow their competitors to gain an advantage, either. The consumer backlash against opening so early and the advent of online shopping were the disruption that put a stop to this arms race.

Now, there’s an arms race to offer the earliest Black Friday discounts online. What was once a single day became a week, then a month. It now starts in October and goes through Christmas Eve. Perhaps in a few years, Black Friday itself will be the beginning of the next year’s Black Friday discounts! That’s the sort of thing that happens in an arms race.

Just before COVID hit, major streaming platforms were in an arms race for content. Disney+, HBO Max, and Apple all wanted to get better movies and TV shows than the others; they were all taking aim at the industry leader Netflix. Netflix started stockpiling new content, too. Fine by me: that means everyone’s competing to offer more and better entertainment options, and I can sit back on my couch and enjoy it all. I’ll let those companies fight it out while I finish The Crown.

For the men in the audience: how many blades does your razor have? Mine has two. When I was in college, Gillette found out I had just turned 18 and mailed me a free Mach 3 razor. It was a brand-new shaving product and they were sending free samples to everyone just reaching shaving age. It was a handle and a replaceable cartridge of three blades each. They cost a fortune at the drugstore, but I was hooked. I used the Mach 3 for several years. Then a revolutionary idea struck like a thunderbolt at competitor Schick: four. Four blades.

Mind blown. Schick introduced its four-blade razor, clearly 33 percent superior to my old-fashioned Mach 3. Ladies and gentlemen, well, just gentlemen: we had an arms race.

Gillette introduced its Fusion with—you guessed it—five blades. Men across America were pawing at their faces with enormous razors with five blades each, convinced by Gillette’s massive marketing machine that this was necessary. Not to be outdone, Schick followed with a five-blade razor of its own. Then Gillette redesigned the handle with a swiveling ball hinge, allowing the blades to pivot as you dragged them across your face. Then both companies put a battery in their razors so that they pulsed and vibrated as you shaved, blurring the lines between an electric and traditional razor. One introduced a heating mechanism, so you could not only shave with five sharp blades, but they could vibrate, swivel, and heat up. The simple act of shaving in the morning turned into a carnival ride. With every new “innovation,” the cartridges got more expensive. This was madness. It was the definition of an arms race, first in the number of blades, then in useless features.

Finally, mercifully, several direct-to-consumer companies disrupted the traditional shaving-razor brands and offered high-quality blades at a reasonable price, delivered to your door, without the marketing gimmicks. The razor cartridges I use from Dollar Shave Club have just two blades on them and they work just fine. What’s more, they’re delivered to my door once a month and cost way less than the Mach 3 cartridges from 20 years ago. The arms race in shaving razors has thankfully come to an end.

Quote of the Week

Today’s quote of the week is by Mick Jagger, the lead singer of the Rolling Stones. It’s a great place to end 2020. Here’s what he said: “The past is a great place and I don’t want to erase it or to regret it, but I don’t want to be its prisoner either.”

As we look forward to 2021 and a post-COVID world, let’s all take his advice and not be a prisoner to the past.

See you next time!

And that is all for this very long lesson. We’ve got one more left in 2020 and that one is coming up on Thursday, New Year’s Eve. On that lesson, I’ll venture some guesses and predictions about what’s to come in the world in 2021. Then we can all laugh about it in a year’s time, right? Remember to join us then, and to check out all the great lesson resources we have at PlainEnglish.com between now and then.

¿Hablas español?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into Spanish. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

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Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

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Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

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你说中国话?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parlez-vous français?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Você fala português?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

日本語は話せますか?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parli italiano?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sen Türkçe konuşmayı biliyor musun?

The transcripts of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Turkish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Mówisz po polsku?

The transcript of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Polish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

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