Posted by Bob on May 05, 2007
In Reply to: On the bubble posted by Smokey Stover on May 05, 2007
: : : Does anyone know about "on the bubble?" I'm guessing that the image is of a spirit level. Any insight into when or how the phrase entered everyday speech as meaning something like "could go either way" or "up in the air"? There's a poker usage that seems a little different: http://poker.about.com/od/pokerglossary/g/bubble.htm
: : That would be my guess too. I thought we'd discussed this phrase here before. But I couldn't find it in the archives.
: Help! We need context. Someone engaged in adventures in the stock market or other speculative enterprise could be "on the bubble" if he is trading on the stock market, or housing market, or futures trading market, while it is in an inflationary state, as in "bubble-conomy, or "housing bubble," or possibly "pork-belly futures bubble." (I haven't actually heard that last one.) It's called a bubble because what you see doesn't reveal that the inside is empty, as when prices no longer reflect earnings or other value. If the bubble bursts (like a bubble-gum bubble), as in the case of the 1929 stock market crash, investors are no longer on the bubble, but get dumped into reality.
One often hears this expression (in the US, in February, on sports news) referring to teams that may or may not be invited to college basketball's national championship. Only 64 teams earn their way in, or get invited by the committee. (Actually 65, but let's not get into that here.) the 64 play a single-elimination tournament, 32 teams, 16, 8,4, 2, 1 champion. Well ... the speculation is rampant in the weeks leading up to the selection about which teams are In, Out, or On The Bubble, meaning in a fragile state where they must win their last few games decisively to impress the committee and be included in March Madness. Barroom arguments flourish. The metaphor here is clearly the soap-bubble fragility of their status.