Posted by Smokey Stover on November 30, 2003
In Reply to: A thousand pardons posted by ESC on November 29, 2003
: : : : : : Hi!
: : : : : : This sounds like a card player's phrase, but what does it mean, please? And when did they start using it? Thanks very much - Sax
: : : : : ::: Card players often don't get the cards they want to win a hand. Those who have some dexterity and are dishonest will sometimes put 'an ace up their sleeve' to be secretly delivered to their hand when it will do the most good. In the old days in the old west (USA) you could get shot if you were found doing that.
: : : : : Today, the term is also used anytime someone has a backup "plan B'; a backup plan to accomplish whatever they are attempting to do. They are said to have an ace up their sleeve -- this you don't get shot for.........and it's a good idea to have one of these.
: : : : ACE UP YOUR SLEEVE - "A surprise, a hidden weapon. The cardsharp, who depended for his living on winning at cards, was known to slip winning cards (of which the ace is the winningist) up his sleeve, to be pulled out and played when they would do the most good. This particular way of putting the thought probably dates from the 19th century, when cardsharps were rampant, but the thought of concealing something useful up one's sleeve is much older. A poem by William Dunbar in the early 16th century refers to 'ane fals cairt in to his sleif.'" From "Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985).
: : : I can't find "winningist" in the dictionary: does this cast doubt on the veracity of the quote from the "Dictionary of Cliches" or does it simply mean that I haven't checked enough dictionaries?
: : Misspelled; try "winningEst". But not great English -- better if the word had been "highest" or "highest card".
: You caught me in a typo. My cats got me up at 4 a.m. and I was doing a little Phrase Finding since I was already awake. I'm not a morning person. Now that we are on the subject, wasn't "winningest" coined by some sports person?
: I know I'm being picayune, but so be it. In regard to "winningest," I think we are entitled to be a little colloquial even in the hallowed precincts of the Phrase Finder. As regards, Plan B, well.... Is not the reference to Plan B usually a humorous admission that there is no backup plan? And even in the event that there is an actual Plan B, it can't be better than Plan A, or it would be Plan A. The ace is always the highest card (in poker), but Plan B is never the best plan, or at least is not thought to be. SS