Monday, November 14, 2005

Shut up and deal

I've come so late to this game it's almost over, but why not play anyway?

There's only one more day left, and so I'm playing mega catch-up. But there's a competition over at aaron's. It's a poll to elect women bloggers as playing cards (hearts, naturally) in a card deck of the blogosphere.

Go vote if you want. You don't even have to vote for me; I'll forgive you.

So, what's up with those suits, anyway? Did you ever wonder why it's hearts, spades, clubs, diamonds? I have. Card decks are among the most conservative things around--paleo-paleo-con--preserving old courtly distinctions long after their original incarnations (jack; jester) have gone the way of the dodo.

Well, the final choice as to which suits would become standardized seems to have been fairly arbitrary, after a great many predecessors had been tried. The suits we now use originated in France, and became popular because they were less expensive to make. Here's a little playing card history:

The cards manufactured by German printers used the suits of hearts, bells, leaves, and acorns...Later Italian and Spanish cards of the 15th century used swords, batons, cups, and coins...The four suits (hearts, diamonds, spades, clubs) now used in most of the world originated in France, approximately in 1480. These suits have generally prevailed because decks using them could be made more cheaply; the former suits were all drawings which had to be reproduced by woodcuts, but the French suits could be made by stencil.

So, why not an apple?


At 3:48 AM, November 14, 2005, Blogger camojack said...

Neo-neo, darlin' could they put you on a face card when you keep yours hidden?

At 7:52 AM, November 14, 2005, Blogger Dr. Sanity said...

Taking the cue from a well-known democrat, I voted for you after I voted for myself! (actually, I voted for you at work)

At 11:50 AM, November 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang - I can't believe I still remember this after 25 years, but...

The reason for the suits is straightforward - playing cards derive from tarot (fortune telling) cards, and those cards used wands, coins, cups and swords. Wands became clubs, the coins (pentacles, actually) became diamonds, the cups (the suit of emotions) became hearts and the swords became an early example of weapons being beaten into farm implements - i.e., spades.

The modern playing deck is basically a stripped down tarot deck. You can also see this in the odd characteristic of the ace - it is both the least of cards and the greatest because, in the tarot deck, the 1 of a each suit represented the pure essence of that suit, while the king represented the earthly power of that suit.

As far as I know, there's no accepted explanation of how fortune telling evolved into gambling.

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