Euchre

Euchre (pron. ˈjuːkə) is a very popular card game in Cornwall. It appears to have originated in Alsace, where it was called Juckerspiel. This game in turn is thought to derive from the French card game Triomphe, which in turn derives from a 16th century Italian card game called Trionfi — very probably the source of the English word trumps. Still with me?

Euchre is a four-handed trick-taking game which uses (at least in one version) a 25 card pack, comprising A K Q J 10 9 of the four usual suits, plus another card — which is a kind of super trump. This was called the Jucker in the Alsatian game. In modern euchre it is usually called the benny in English.

Euchre was probably introduced into the USA by German and/or Cornish settlers in Michigan and gradually spread over the country. At some point, some card manufacturer thought it was a good idea to include a special card for the jucker/benny — previously a deuce was used for the purpose. This they did and it came to be called The Joker — presumably a corruption of the word Jucker. The design of the joker card is thought to be based on that of The Fool in the Tarot pack.

Some remaining mysteries (to me at least):

  • where did the very odd spelling of euchre come from
  • what does the word Jucker mean?
  • why is the game so popular in Cornwall?

6 thoughts on “Euchre

  1. Speeling: might be an intentional joke; it’s late enough for it, and the OED has alternative spellings. Or simply what an English speaker heard when he asked the Alsatian.

    Meaning: The German verb ‘jucken’ means ‘itch’. There might well be some metonymical meaning in the game. It wouldn’t be typical of a game to be named after a person, but Jucker as a last name is mostly Swiss and Alsatian, as far as I know.

    Interesting that the OED hasn’t a separate entry for ‘joker’ in the cards meaning. No quotations before 1885, though.

    Please tell us if you find out more.

  2. Here is what OED says on the etymology of euchre:
    “(…) it has often been supposed that the word euchre is also from German, but no probable source has been found in that language. Can it be Spanish yuca, in the phrase ser yuca, given by Caballero as an American expression for ‘to be cock of the walk, to get the best in anything’ (ser el gallito en alguna cosa , sobresalir en algo)?”

  3. All the specialist game sites I have visited seem convinced that the origin of the name is the Alsatian Juckerspiel. Apparently, there are some early USA examples of Uker as the spelling.

    It seems to me that the OED suggestion of ser yuca is pretty unlikely. If Americans were going to anglicise that phrase, would they choose a spelling with an R in it?

    I have seen one suggestion that Jucker is a dialectal form of Junker, or maybe even an error for that word.

    I’m still working on it.

  4. Given that the word is pronounced /juːkə/ and thət that phoneme sequence occurs apparently elsewhere familiarly only in the two words lucre and euchar(ist), it seems perfectly possible that they’ve influenced the spelling that people have adopted.

  5. Euchre was very popular in the pubs of Swansea when I was growing there in the 1960s.

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