Checking Up On “Checkered”

Yesterday I heard somebody being congratulated for “a really checkered career.”

The word “checkered” in this sort of context usually has a negative meaning, suggesting that a person with a checkered past committed serious faults. The Oxford English Dictionary says it means “diversified in character; full of constant alternation (especially for the worse).”

The original expression stems from comparing the black and white squares on a chessboard to the bright and dark spots in someone’s life.

I imagine the speaker meant something like “varied,” “many-sided,” “multifaceted,” or “wide-ranging.”

Richard Nixon, who came to national prominence with his “Checkers speech,” had an especially checkered career.

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