References to chance in blogs

How do people think about chance in everyday life? There are many ways one might study that question. What follows is based on searching through blogs to examine casual usage of specific words or phrases. The data collection was done by Amy Huang and Irvin Liu as an undergraduate research project in Spring 2009, using the now-discontinued Google blogsearch.

It is important to note that we are not claiming that what we report is a statistically accurate sample of how people use the words in general or specifically within the blogosphere. Our purpose is to illustrate actual usage, as opposed to iconic or hypothetical examples. We give categorizations and brief discussions of the examples, but this is not the main purpose of the study.

We have recorded all the examples satisfying specified criteria (see "details" below) found during our search. For most examples we quote a sentence or two (prefaced by *) without correcting spelling or grammar.

As the reader will see, this methodology produces instances of everyday life and casual thoughts. Other, superficially similar, projects

produce quite different instances. As does a less similar project searching on the word "likelihood".

A. One in a million chance

We found 22 instances. We have placed them into four categories: As noted below, the phrase "one in a million" can be used without any connotation of "chance", and we omitted such uses.

Events that happened to writer

Finding a romantic partner.
* There was this weird connection that I felt when I first met him. ...... Seeing how its like a one in a million chance to find that one person you connect with.
(similar quote omitted).

Major life events
* I have .... syndrome. The fact that I ever became a mother was a "one in a million chance".

Unusual dramatic events
* and they [adults] all start talking about how im too young to be going out by myself ..... But it's not like im going to listen to them, what happened [witnessing a mall shooting] was a once in a million chance.

Unusual minor events
(vacation went unexpectedly well: quote omitted)
(throwing chips in drunken party: quote omitted)

Possible future events that might affect writer

Minor pleasant possibilities.
* I'm somewhat hoping to meet friends there .... it's a one in a million chance.
* i'm waiting for the day they [upcoming movie/TC filming locations] say my city which is one in a million chance
* .... got this contest. It's a one in a million chance to get some people .... to tell me what they think of my work.
* my greatest ambition is to see [a supernova] one day, though there's probably a one in a million chance that i will. smaller than that.
* I'd only be satisfied with one particular scenario and there's maybe a 1 in a million chance of that happening ... no, less. I would get struck by lightning before that happened, twice.

* Of course if I don't go [to the doctor about certain symptoms], there's that one in a million chance that I'll be sorry I didn't.
(similar quote omitted)
* There are things that we were never told that really end up happening to most women [during pregnancy]. Instead we were told the things that we had a one in a million chance of experiencing.

Events affecting specific other people

* On the one in a million chance that Christine actually gets hired to do costumes for ......
* There is a one in a million chance that [a particular NHL player] gets picked up on waivers

Impersonal speculation

* On the other hand, if you chase after it [a volleyball spike by opponents], who knows? It might just be one-in-a-million chance that you'll get it, but isn't that a chance worth taking?
* When you're looking for the one in a million chance of getting a Beethoven you could be overlooking an Einstein.
* Becoming a successful actor, singer, or dancer is a one in a million shot in the dark during a snowstorm.
(similar quote omitted)
* .... reflect on how [Valentine's day] has brainwashed a whole lot of people into believing that love could actually happen on that day, which is a one in a million chance by the way (which they would argue is worth the risk anyway, which is also bullshit, by the way).
* First [one particular sperm] had to survive and beat out millions of other sperm ... that's like winning the lotta right there ... only one in a million, and from that point, you got to survive ........

Discussion of the examples

1. It is perhaps surprising that we found only one "dramatic event", the mall shooting. Traditional news media of course report such dramatic or unusual events; the two we found (by accident) were
* For a buzzard [in U.K.] to prey on a rare visitor like a pharalope [and be caught in the moment of snatching by a photographer] - it's a one-in-a-million chance.
* the chief fire prevention officer ... called the event "one-in-a-million" and concluded it was a case of the dog ... simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time when it knocked the lever while left in the furnace room ..... When the furnace turned on, there was an explosion.

2. The phrase "one in a million" is often used to mean ``unusual or unique" without a specific connotation of chance. For instance
* full name's [.......] as weird as my name sounds im pruod of it cuz im one in a million.
* I could see her [a personal trainer] sport a devilish grin ..... she had found a one in a million test case as a perfect example of how not to be [fit].
This usage is particularly common in reference to a romantic partner. Indeed, the phrase "1 in a million" occurs at least 11 times as a song title and undoubtedly occurs as a phrase in many other songs. Of the 5 songs whose lyrics we found, all (unsurprisingly, of course) use the phrase for a romantic partner; of these, 2 explicitly refer to ``chance".
(xxx cross-ref a separate philosophical discussion: we perceive ``unusual" objects/events as part of general intelligence, but only sometimes do we regard it as ``witnessing an unlikely event" - why this distinction/)

3. Ironically, the phrase "1 in a million" is also used in the opposite sense to mean "one of a million similar ....":
* I'm just an ordinary one in a million high school student ......

4. It is remarkable that the two most common "iconic" examples of a one in a million chance (winning the lottery; struck by lightning -- xxx cross-ref) appear in these blog not as the actual example but as a hypothetical comparison with the actual examples. It's worth noting, though perhaps unsurprising, that none of these quoted instances relate to situations where one can quantitatively estimate a 1 in a million chance.

5. We expected to see the phrase "1 in a million chance" arising more often in sports contexts. The fact this only appeared twice in our examples may be an artifact of the particular blogs we examined.

B. Fat chance and slim chance.

It is of course an engaging idiosyncracy of English language that these two phrases both mean "unlikely". But they are used differently. "Fat chance" is typically used as a sarcastic commentary on a possibility previously suggested by the author or another person (6 of the 8 examples we found) and moreover is often used in contexts where the unlikeliness is due to someone's volition rather than other types of randomness (the first 4 examples).

* my dad's question was, "why do you have to go through so much to ask him [to a dance]? why don't you just pull him aside and ask straight on?" HAH, fat chance.
* I would have loved to be able to pick up, pack up and move somewhere far far FAR away from my shiteous boss and stressful job. Fat chance, eh?
* i was hoping that since we were celebrating my birthday, that they would get over themselves and come at least act like they still were two of my best friends. fat chance.
* - find a guy lololl fat chance XD im gonna stay boyfriendless until im EIGHTEEN or nineteen.
* [a particular boy] is still hanging out with me but i know there's no fat chance we're going to "hang out" anymore because he has a GIRLFRIEND.
* But still, in those moments before I stepped on the scale, I let myself think that I might go under 120 [pounds weight] today. Fat chance, but still...
* everyone is sick of my [boy friend] drama. i am sick of my drama. freakin story of my life. hopefully this week will be awesome. fat chance.
* To be honest it's a fat chance obtaining a [landscape architecture] job at this time of life,

On the other hand, "slim chance" is used (in all 9 of the examples we found) to mean that some desirable event is or was unlikely.

* When I think about how the chances of us having met were so slim to the chances of us never talking, it just keeps me in awe.
* thinking by some slim chance, they [parents] may actually punish him [arrested son] for something ...
* I will likely be there [at a job] for another 4-6 weeks, with a slim chance of staying until the end of June.
* Those people think using the name of christ can build others trust, and loyalty, or think of them as pure people ... No doubt there are good people like above up there, religious or not, but its a slim chance and you have to sooooo lucky before u actually meet one.
* Im betting all this just on one girl ... this one slim chance ... why am I willing to go so far for her
* if I'm not going to graduate school or not become a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher ... it's a very slim chance I have no idea what I want to do with my life haha.
* I miss having that one person ... who mkaes me plan my schedule, in hopes of that one slim chance that I might see her for a split second.
* Basically I have slim chance of minoring [in desired subject] now...
* The competition is pretty fierce, over 200 artists submitted work, so my chances are slim.

C. Chances are

Here we mean use of "chances are" as a stand-alone phrase, not part of a longer phrase such that "your chances are good that .....".

Of course the phrase means "likely", but what are the nuances of usage? We were surprised to see this phrase occur relatively often in people's self-profiles. In retrospect we recognize this usage as a rhetorical device, but would not have guessed it in advance.

Use in self-profiles.
* If I'm not off hiding somewhere with a good book, chances are I'm chasing a toddler or a Jack Russell ...
* I'm fiercly opinionated and if you're sensitive, don't ask me what I think. Chances are I'm gonna say it sucks.
(similar quote omitted).
* If it involves creativity, chances are I love it!
* Chances are, if you are reading my blog, you and I share a passion for travel, design, photography, culinary, and all manners of stylish living.
* If you found me through Google, chances are I have written about whatever you searched for more than once.
(similar quote omitted).

Use elsewhere
We found 6 uses outside of profiles, but these all were meaning "likely" without any noticable nuances, so we have omitted the exact quotes.

D. Risky

The nature of blogs, as illustrated in many of our quotes, is to describe the activities and concerns of the writer. The notable feature of "risky" -- perhaps obvious in hindsight -- is that it is typically used in impersonal contexts. Of our 18 examples, only 3 refered to actual actions of the writer

* So guess I was feeling risky or daring or something and I walked through a high-rise construction site. Without a hard hat. In open-toed shoes.
* my new ideas [for writing a novel] are not as adventurous and risky.
* Good news is that we will start [a production process] which is a bit risky ... potentially we can face additional retooling charges ...

And only 2 refered to specific other people. Instead, the majority of examples were
Strategies in games (3); Investments (3); generally deploring risky individual behavior (drugs, sex, violence, verbal abuse) (4).

Finally there was general life philosophy, illustrated by
* Practicing what one preaches is risky business.
* Not that I'm advocating living a risky life, but LIVE your life and take chances.
* Ebay is risky that's all.


Trying to pin down the difference between "lucky" and "fortunate" is an interesting exercise (xxx cross-ref). Our first observation is that, in comparison with some other phrases we have studied, "fortunate" is used by comparatively literate bloggers.

Life as a whole.

* the reality is that the people reading this post are rich in many ways, far beyond the expectation and even imagination of the vast majority of the rest of the world. So, in perspective most will agree we are lucky, and by most standards very fortunate with much to be thankful for.
* I know how fortunate I am, how fortunate my family is, and most importantly, my daughter is to be born is this country.
* I am fortunate to have had a good [state] education .....
* I am fortunate in my life and feel the desire to help and give back to others that aren't. I have had Juvenile Diabetes, an autoimmune disease which destroyed my ability to produce insulin for 22 years. I wear a ... Insulin Pump that delivers insulin to me 24/7. Its tough sometimes being hooked up to a device all the time! I love spending time with my twin boys .....


* I decided to be a writer when I was in first grade and I've been fortunate to have lived my dream.
* I was fortunate to have served in senior positions ..
* So far in my career, I've been fortunate enough .... to not have to worry about accounting for my time on a project-by-project basis.

Minor ongoing good fortune

* the email address i had [in 1991] still works, which is fortunate, since i had it published in my highschool yearbook.
* if you are fortunate to own the soundtrack, you're... fortunate because it is out of print and expensive if you can get your hands on it.

The 9 uses above illustrate what might be considered the main difference between "fortunate" and "lucky", that "fortunate" typically refers to an ongoing state of affairs whereas "lucky" typically refers to a particular event. The 6 uses below refer to particular events -- would the meaning be different if the writer had used the word "lucky" instead?

Specific events

* Today I was fortunate enough to find three Piping Plovers ....
* The day of Ashura, we were most fortunate to listen to the duas of Maula ...
* I waa fortunate enough to visit him [grandfather] before New Year's. ..... He died two weeks later.
* It was fortunate enough that people remained to see them though, because all too often in the past the headliner bands played in front of an empty audience after the local opener's fans had left once their band was done.
* Apologies first of all for my rambling at ...., which for those of you fortunate enough to have not heard it started as a vaguely coherent point about .......
* Thank you for the free infant formula you gave me today. I really appreciate it. I felt very fortunate to open my trunk and find these two cans that you decided to give me. I'm sure someone else would have felt more fortunate. For example, a woman with an actual infant that eats formula. (By a writer suffering from infertility).

Details of search for examples

1. We were strict in only using blogs by a private individual -- not traditional news media or commercial sites.

2. We omit fiction, and omit attempts at serious scientific explanations involving chance.

3. Subject to the criteria above, we have recorded all instances we found, either as a quote or via a "similar" comment.