Today's English expression is "raise the stakes." When you raise the stakes on something, you increase the risk or the significance of something. And "stakes" is usually the word we use to describe how much money you're betting in a game of poker, for example.
If you go to a casino, you can choose to play at a low-stakes table (where the bets are small) or a high-stakes table (where the bets are big). At a high-stakes table, you can win a lot of money—and you can lose a lot of money.
So whenever you raise the stakes, you increase how much can be gained or lost in a situation. Earlier today, you heard about the UFO craze. People discovered that a surefire way to get media attention was to claim that they had seen a flying saucer and—it could be—maybe!—that aliens were visiting the earth.
But then, Barney and Betty Hill from New Hampshire raised the stakes. They said they had been driving on rural roads in New Hampshire, in the northeastern part of the United States. They saw something strange up near the moon. Then it got bigger as it came down closer to earth. And—holy cow!—it started descending right on their vehicle! They saw between eight and eleven aliens. Then, they said, they lost consciousness and woke up 35 miles from their car.
To their credit, they didn't seek publicity. They told some people at their church, then told some people at the government. Only later did someone write a book about their experience. In 1975, a television movie starring James Earl Jones.
In the lesson, I said that the Hills raised the stakes. How did they raise the stakes? Because now, it was no longer enough to just see a flying saucer in the sky. If you really wanted media attention, you had to say you were abducted by aliens. Merely seeing an alien spaceship was like playing at the low-stakes poker table. Fine, fine, everyone sees that stuff. But if you really want attention, you need to say you were abducted by aliens—the stakes were higher. And so, for years, people claimed they had been abducted by aliens.
Admittedly, that was not the most typical way to use "raise the stakes," so let me give you a few more traditional examples. I'm in a fantasy baseball league with some friends. Fantasy sports is a game you play where you create your own pretend team of real sports players, and you see how your pretend team does against other teams, based on how the real players do in real games.
In my league, we have rankings and prizes for the winners. But a small group of us decided to raise the stakes, just within the six of us. We said that the losing team has to buy dinner for the rest of the small group at the beginning of the next year. That raised the stakes a little bit. That made it more important. Now, instead of just being able to win the prize, we could now either win a free dinner—or be stuck paying for the rest of the group. We added that complexity, we added the extra prize, so we raised the stakes.
Here's another example. Costa Rica is battling cyber criminals. The small Central American country suffered a ransomware attack that has affected entire government departments. The criminals demanded a $10 million payment. After Costa Rica's government didn't pay, they raised the stakes. The criminal group demanded now $20 million to release the government computer systems from their control.
We've talked about the war for talent, and how companies are doing their best to attract talented workers . During the pandemic, many workers decided they wanted a better work-life balance, and they requested more time off. So some companies, under pressure to keep employees happy, started giving more vacation. But then a small number of employers raised the stakes and gave their employees unlimited vacation.
Unlimited vacation doesn't mean you get paid for doing nothing. It just means the company doesn't count or track vacation time. They'll evaluate employees by their productivity and their contribution. The companies that offered unlimited vacation raised the stakes: now, potential employees have more to gain by asking for more vacation time. The risk is higher for employers that don't offer generous vacation.
One more example. Finland has applied to join NATO, a security alliance. NATO was originally designed to help countries protect one another against the Soviet Union. Until now, NATO countries shared 754 miles of border with Russia. But if Finland joins NATO, the border will more than double to 1,584 miles. That will raise the stakes of security in Europe. Finland and neighboring Sweden both want to join NATO. If they do, then two European countries with modern armies would join a military alliance. But they would also be a lot closer to Russia, which feels threatened by NATO. So if these two countries join NATO, you can say they would be raising the stakes in the competition between Russia and Europe.
Quote of the Week
Now it's time for the quote of the week. Here it is: "It's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." That's by Abraham Lincoln, a American president. It's not the years in your life that count, he said, but the life in your years.
See you next time!
That's all for today, Monday, June 13, 2022. This was lesson number 476, so remember you can get the full lesson content at PlainEnglish.com/476.
Coming up on Thursday: you've probably used Google Maps to get directions from one place to another. But I'll tell you about some hidden tools in Google Maps that you might not know about—and that might save you some time and frustration in the future.
That's all on Thursday—see you then.