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Cardsharps and Card Sharks

April 20, 2022

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Have you ever heard of an eggcorn? An eggcorn is a common alteration of a phrase that is formed by mishearing the original phrase. For example: have you ever heard someone say, “For all intensive purposes” when the original phrase is “For all intents and purposes”? What about something not “passing mustard” rather than “passing muster”? Those are eggcorns! The misheard phrases have been said so often that they now effectively can be substituted for the original phrases. In fact, many people don’t know the original phrase at all!

Interestingly, one of the most well-known eggcorns is “card shark”. Did you know that “card shark” started out as “cardsharp”? The word “cardsharp”, “card-sharper”, or “card-sharping” was used in the 1800s and referred to someone who cheats at cards. If you entered a saloon to play in a poker game and caught a cheater, you’d accuse them of being a cardsharp!

In the late 1800s, the term “card shark” came into existence. Thought to come from people mishearing “cardsharp”, at the time, a card shark could be someone who either cheated OR someone who was really good at the game. Being called a “shark” can be seen as a good or bad thing depending on the context. Sharks are aggressive and predatory, which can be good in a poker game, but they’re also seen as being villainous by some. As time went on, however, the more positive view of the term became more popular. Today, a card shark is someone who is very skilled at the game.

Another common poker eggcorn is “Ace in the hole”. This refers to having an Ace as one of your hole cards, or outside of poker, having some kind of advantage over an opponent. For many, this has become “Ace in the hold”, which now functions the same way as the original phrase. You may hear something like, “She’s my Ace in the hold!” Rather than being viewed as a malapropism, it has come to have the same meaning as “Ace in the hole”.

Or maybe you’ve heard of a “penny-ante” before? Penny ante is a term used to refer to a poker game with very small stakes, or anything trivial. Over time, it has turned into “petty-Annie”, which also means something inconsequential, like a “petty-Annie” crime.

With all of its unique game lingo and long history, poker is ripe for misunderstandings like these. Do you know any poker-related eggcorns? Or maybe you have a few of your own?