Games & Cards Idioms

In the early days of this country, plantation owners in the southern colonies brought with them from England the English leisure class love of games. They played cards, bet on their horses and indulged in cockfighting competitions, as well as other gambling activities. Although, restrictions were placed on games during and after the War of Independence they did not disappear and reemerged as new immigrants arrived and the frontier expanded westward beyond the original colonies. Games and the gambling, as well as the ability to work hard, went with the settlers.

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Bets were placed on horse and foot races, on shooting contests, wrestling matches and log-rolling, as well as on other competitions. As new settlers moved further west towards and beyond the Rocky Mountains, the games and the gambling went with them. Every western town had its saloon. Here the miners and cowboys played cards, gambled and drank alcoholic beverages after hard weeks or months in the mines and on the range. Today there are numerous casinos for gambling, state organized lotteries and church bingo games, as well as private and individual games.

As a result of this American indulgence in betting and card playing, American English is permeated with idioms derived from these activities:

“You bet I will.” and “You can count on it.” Mean I will definitely do the job, that you can bet money on it and not lose your money. That’s a  “good deal” means not only that I got a good hand in cards, but a good transaction in a personal or business matter. If something bad happens, it’s a “bad deal.” Many of the terms have entered the conduct of international relations, so that a Russian government official, the head of a Mediterranean nation, a Far Eastern nation will each use the term “lay your  “cards on the table” when talking about negotiating terms.

Shrink

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to hold all your cards above the table; to not control a gambling game with anything hidden.
Sentence 1
The dealer said, "All cards above board, please."
Meaning 2
to be honest, forthright, tell the truth
Sentence 2
We want everything above board in this discussion.

Derivation

Gambling devices were sometimes controlled under the table giving the game owner an advantage.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
racing bets where one bets that the same competitor will place in first, second and third
Sentence 1
Let's bet across the board on American Pharoah.
Meaning 2
equally for everyone, everyone gets the same
Sentence 2
The new president will ask for resignations across the board.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to call a card of the spade suit a spade
Sentence 1
This idiom, derived from cards, is not used in card playing.
Meaning 2
to speak directly and frankly about something or someone
Sentence 2
Let's call a spade a spade and stop avoiding the issue. We don't have the money in the budget to buy that new car.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
the king in chess cannot move or he is captured and the game is won
Sentence 1
She won the game after checkmating her opponent's king.
Meaning 2
To put someone is a position where they must lose
Sentence 2
Kuwait was in a checkmate position when Iraq massed troops on her border.

Derivation

This term, used in the ancient game of chess, derives from the Arabic, "Shah mat!" ( The king is dead), then Spanish, "xaque mate", then French, "eschec mat", then early English, "chek mate".

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to bet by putting more chips into the "pot" or the betting pool
Sentence 1
She had a straight flush, so she chipped in twenty more dollars.
Meaning 2
to contribute some money to a cause or a business
Sentence 2
If we are going to expand this business, we need more capital. See if you can get another firm to chip in ten million.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
a hand in card playing; one round of playing in the card game
Sentence 1
Please finish the deal.
Meaning 2
a business transaction which is being negotiated or is finished; a bargain.
Sentence 2
Let's work together on that financial deal. It's a deal.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to distribute the cards; the dealer hands out the cards to the players
Sentence 1
Please deal the cards.
Meaning 2
to have, to do, to have business relations; to behave
Sentence 2
He deals justly with his business clients. President Bush dealt the United Nations into his invasion.
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to be at a disadvantage in playing the game as above
Sentence 1
I got the short end of the stick.
Meaning 2
to get (have) less than one thinks one should have; to feel cheated
Sentence 2
I always get the short end of the stick.

Derivation

This dates back to the medieval gambling practice of throwing a stick to your opponent who would catch and hold it. Players would alternate hands around the stick until one won by having "the upper hand" on the stick, no room being left for another hand.

IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
to shake the dice without cheating
Sentence 1
I hope the dealer will shake the dice fairly.
Meaning 2
to treat someone evenly, to be fair
Sentence 2
Do the poor in this country get a fair shake?
IDIOM ►
Meaning 1
follow the rules of the game
Sentence 1
Please go by the board. You advanced too far.
Meaning 2
bending the rules
Sentence 2
Did Enron go by the board? They bent the financial disclosure rules.