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Posted by Bob on January 14, 2000

In Reply to: Pat posted by ESC on January 14, 2000

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: : : this is an assignment for one of my college classes and have not been able to locate anything on the phrase "down pat" other than what it means. Any help is greatly appreciated.

: : From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, 1997): "stand pat. American poker players in the late 19th century invented this expression to indicate that a player was satisfied with the original hand dealt to him and would draw no more cards. Where did pat come from? One theory is that because the word meant 'in a manner that fits or agrees with the purpose or occasion' or 'incapable of being improved' it was a natural for the poker expression. Another holds that 'stand pat' is a corruption of 'stand pad,' an older English expression meaning 'to sell from a stationary position' and originally referring to peddlers who remained in a fixed location..."

: : I just realized that you were asking about "down pat." I haven't found that yet. But if you'll look at the word definition in the first theory, that might help.

: PAT -- From "The Dictionary of Etymology: The Origins of American English Words" by Robert K. Barnhart (HarperCollins, 1995): "pat2 adv., suitably. 1578, perhaps a special use of pat1 (a light tap), in the sense of hitting the mark; and thus 'opportunely,' ready for any occasion."

One can speculate (and this is pure speculation) that the origin may well be in poker parlance. Every poker player knows that feeling when one is dealt a pat hand: you glance at the 5 diamonds you've been dealt, and it makes a vivid impression. You don't need to glance at it again and again to verify what you have: you have it down pat.. Of course, amateur poker players give themselves away by behaving differently when they have one kind of hand versus another. They look at it too often, or not often enough, they lay it down in fornt of them instead of holding it, etc. (Poker players call these "tells," characteristic behaviors that give away a hand's strength.) Naturally, an advanced poker player will strive to eliminate tells, or skillfully plant false tells to deceive. One way to reach a behavioral consistency is to spend the same amount of time examining your cards each time, regardless of its content. To memorize (get down pat) the cards at the same pace, with the same hand movements, with the same poker face. (I play poker against one fellow who changes his rate of breathing when he gets a good hand...)