The name of the game

I have a confession to make. In the odd idle moment, of which I of course have very few (ahem), I play card games online. These are not gambling games I hasten to add. One site I use is and one of the games I play is whist.

A few days ago it occurred to me to ask myself why it is called whist. Here is a possible answer from the OED. Whist is an interjection calling for silence. It is apparently still used in some dialects of English, sometimes in the form whisht. One of the OED’s references is from 1680 and this mentions that it “is called Whist from the silence that is to be observed in the play”.

How about bridge then? The OED says:

Etymology unascertained; probably of Levantine origin, since some form of the game appears to have been long known in the Near East; the origin of the seemingly Russian forms biritch, britch, is unknown; an unrecorded Turkish form *bir-üç ‘one-three’ (since one hand is exposed and three concealed) was postulated as the source in Notes & Queries (1969)

Both of the above games have trumps, which the OED says is a corruption of the word triumph.

Canasta may well have been invented as recently as the 1940s in Montevideo. The OED tells us:

from Spanish canasta (apparently a1948 denoting both the card game and the set of seven cards of the same rank which players aim to complete), specific use of canasta basket (beginning of the 14th cent.; ultimately < ancient Greek κάναστρον : see canister n.), the game being so called on account of the basket which was originally used to hold the undealt and discarded cards.

I could go on, but I won’t, you will be relieved to hear.

Photo credit: Graham Main/MOD, used under this licence.

4 thoughts on “The name of the game

  1. Just encountered a real-life “whisht” for the first time ever today : W. Bevan James, Joy in the Valleyin Doidge’s Western Counties Illustrated Annual, 1933, p.~154.

    Tamerton felt it a rather “whisht” place. There were talks of haunting and creepy tales circulated that were quite sufficient to feed the fancy and to suggest that if you must go there you had better go by daylight.

  2. Whist! is alive and well in Scotland, although it’s usually spelt ‘wheesht!’ But I really intruded on your blog to let you know that I’ve just stumbled on Derby’s ‘nesh’ in Hardy’s ‘The Woodlanders.’
    ‘And if he keeps his daughter so long at boarding school he’ll make her nesh as her mother was.’ (p.30 in the Penguin Popular Classics edition).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.