Five phrases that owe their origins to gambling

  • What does that idiom really mean?
  • These common expressions stem from gambling

There are plenty of phrases in the English language that we can trace back to great writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare.

But did you know that there are also plenty of fun idioms that come from our long history of gambling? Casino etymology is fascinating – just look at the word ‘casino’, stemming from Latin, which literally means ‘little house’.

Funny to think about, now that our casinos are mostly online and played from our own little houses.

Lost in the shuffle

You’ve brought your best friend to a concert. Suddenly, a mosh pit emerges and your friend is nowhere to be seem. Sometimes we refer to things that get lost in chaos as getting ‘lost in the shuffle’. We can trace this back to the idea of losing track of cards during a game of blackjack when they get shuffled by a dealer.

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Lost in the shuffle?

Sweetening the pot

You’re thinking about quitting your job, but the boss decides to ‘sweeten the pot’ by offering you a raise and cutting you a better deal.

poker chips
We all love it when the pot is sweetened.

This comes from the same concept of ‘upping the ante’, or ‘sweetening the pot’ by increasing a bet or jackpot on a casino game.

Both ends against the middle

If you’re in a position to benefit from two people having an argument, such as when you’re after someone who’s already in a relationship, you can ‘play both ends against the middle’ or ‘play one off against another’.

These phrases come from cheaters who were trying to win at a 17th-century French game called Faro.

The conmen would cut tiny strips off certain cards so they could tell where they were in the deck. When these cards were cut with a curved edge, it was called ‘both ends against the middle’.

Go for broke

Maybe you did finally quit that job and are now on your last legs of savings before running out of cash. You could risk it all and start your own business that you’ve always dreamed about. This is called ‘going for broke’.

gambling, craps game
Going for broke in craps

This comes from the idea of wagering all your money on on roll in a game of craps, which meant that you could lose all your money or ‘go broke’ if you lost. This is not unlike the idea of ‘putting all your eggs into one basket’, an idiom coined by Miguel de Cervantes, who in his time was also a big punter.

On a roll

If you’re on a roll, it means you’re unstoppable. Maybe your business is taking off, your favorite football team won their last three matches and you’re marrying the man or woman of your dreams. This idiom stems from the idea of being on a winning streak during a gambling session.

When you have a good few rolls of the dice during craps, it means that plenty of cash is coming your way, so now we use it to talk about success in general.

You can find plenty more idioms that come from gambling, the majority of which are connected to cards or dice rather than slot machines, because these are among the most ancient of casino games. Even non-punters use these terms in their everyday speech, proving how our tradition of gambling still influences our culture today.

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