6.28.2012

Hazard a Guess

Someone wrote me today asking about the expression “hazard a guess.” Here’s what I replied:


This is a very old and traditional expression. “Hazard” was originally the name of a dice game. The word got extended to mean “chance” and then “risk of loss or harm.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb form of the word originally meant  “To put (anything) to the risk of being lost in a game of chance or other doubtful issue; to stake; to expose to hazard or risk.” It could also be positive, meaning to get something through luck.

But the meaning in this expression stems from the 16th century meaning “to take the chance or risk of something, or venture to do something.” By the 18th century it began to be used in the narrow sense of “to venture to offer an opinion, conjecture, etc.”

1758   Monthly Rev. 188   If one may be allowed to hazard a conjecture.
a1790   B. Franklin Autobiogr. (1981) iii. 129,   I have hazarded the few preceding Pages.
1816   S. T. Coleridge Statesman's Man. 20   [This] justifies me..in hazarding the bold assertion.
1860   J. Tyndall Glaciers of Alps ii. xxvii. 379   He did not hazard an explanation of the phenomenon.

This use of the word survives mainly in the phrase “I would hazard a guess.” It means the same thing as “I would venture a guess.”

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