The ambit gambit

Is it ever acceptable to exaggerate your situation in the hope that whoever you’re whinging to thinks you’re suffering more than you really are and thus concedes you something which is actually a lot more than what you figured you’d get if you played it straight?

It must be, because it happens all the time.

I call it the ‘‘ambit whinge’’. And like eating Pringles, once you pop it’s hard to stop.

Nations use it when negotiating the spoils of war. Politicians use it when spoiling for a war.

And individuals certainly use it to get stuff done around the house.

I first became aware of the word ‘‘ambit’’ when working for a law firm. An ambit claim was an outrageously exaggerated demand for whatever it might be – damages, assets, access – delivered with as straight a face as possible. A bit like what preschool teachers refer to as ‘‘trying it on’’.

With any luck the judge or jury or arbiter would give you half. This in turn might be 100 per cent more than what you figured you deserved anyhow. Thus your client would be happy, until they got your legal bill. Nothing ambit about that.

Ambit claims weren’t considered immoral or sneaky or not very nice. They were standard business practice. And still are. Everyone from the top down tries it on, systematically.

As a teen I encountered a semi-legendary cricketer who was slumming it between Shield matches by playing an interdistrict match in the country. This bloke should have embodied the spirit of fair play and good sportsmanship as fed to children at coaching clinics. Hardly. The bloke whinged and whined non-stop all game, milking any advantage he could by all means. The mark of a champion, I was told. He was particularly adept at the ‘‘ambit histrionic’’ – perfected in soccer – and cadged many a wicket off star-struck volunteer umps with outrageous displays of umbrage.

I remember talking to a public service mate about budgets and how they should be spent. Ideally, in a mad rush by June 30 each year, I was told. It didn’t matter on what, just so long as it was spent so that next year twice as much funding could be demanded in the hope they got half. Not surprisingly, the ambit theory trickles down to interpersonal relationships.

You’re laying on the couch, feigning a headache, trying to watch the cricket. Your important other asks how you’re going. It’s madness at this stage to claim mere headache. They might not think that’s debilitating enough and demand you do something, like mow the lawn. You need to widen the ambit.

Forget headache. You’ve now got a migraine. Possibly a cerebral haemorrhage. Ideally you’ll liken the pain to the time you had meningitis. Really trowel it on.

Chances are you’ll avoid the lawn but get asked to put the rubbish out. In the spirit of ambit negotiations you can then agree, once the eyesight returns. Obviously a win, because impaired vision is hard to verify, and putting out the rubbish is heaps less hard work than mowing.

It works both ways, and I’ve found the hardest ambit whinge to combat is the one thrown up under the auspices of a higher power. You know, someone other than the whinger. Your mother for example. You need to tidy the garage not because someone’s OCD, but because your mother’s coming to visit.

Very difficult to argue this ambit down. Almost a choker hold of insurmountable justification. Possibly better to pick your battle and go for an ambit concession. Agree to do something after much ambit histrionics on the grounds you gain ambit immunity in the ambit future for some ambit chore. No harm in trying it on.

What is the best ambit claim you’ve attempted at home?

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