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a usually rectangular piece of stiff paper, thin pasteboard, or plastic for various uses, as to write information on or printed as a means of identifying the holder:
a 3″ × 5″ file card; a membership card.
one of a set of thin pieces of cardboard with spots, figures, etc., used in playing various games; playing card.
cards, (usually used with a singular verb)

a game or games played with such a set.
the playing of such a game:
to win at cards.
Casino. the winning of 27 cards or more.
Whist. tricks won in excess of six.

Also called greeting card. a piece of paper or thin cardboard, usually folded, printed with a message of holiday greeting, congratulations, or other sentiment, often with an illustration or decorations, for mailing to a person on an appropriate occasion.
something useful in attaining an objective, as a course of action or position of strength, comparable to a high card held in a game:
If negotiation fails, we still have another card to play.
calling card (def 1).

credit card.
bank card.

a program of the events at races, boxing matches, etc.
a menu or wine list.
compass card.

punch card.
board (def 14a).

trading card.

a person who is amusing or facetious.
any person, especially one with some indicated characteristic:
a queer card.

to provide with a card.
to fasten on a card.
to write, list, etc., on cards.
Slang. to examine the identity card or papers of:
The bartender was carding all youthful customers to be sure they were of legal drinking age.
in / on the cards, impending or likely; probable:
A reorganization is in the cards.
play one’s cards right, to act cleverly, sensibly, or cautiously:
If you play your cards right, you may get mentioned in her will.
put one’s cards on the table, to be completely straightforward and open; conceal nothing:
He always believed in putting his cards on the table.
a machine for combing and paralleling fibers of cotton, flax, wool, etc., prior to spinning to remove short, undesirable fibers and produce a sliver.
a similar implement for raising the nap on cloth.
to dress (wool or the like) with a card.
card out, Printing. to add extra space between lines of text, so as to fill out a page or column or give the text a better appearance.
Contemporary Examples

The Boulder police chief, Mark Beckner, is keeping his cards close to his vest.
New Questions in JonBenet’s Murder Christine Pelisek October 3, 2010

It is supposed to explain the fascination with House of cards.
‘Breaking Bad’ in the White House: Bryan Cranston as LBJ in ‘All the Way’ David Freedlander March 6, 2014

Ultimately, India holds the cards for a peaceful Afghanistan.
Indian Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Hopes to Teach Peace to the Taliban Sarah J. Robbins March 15, 2012

The cards can also be coated with a thin corn-based plastic overlay.
Wood Cards Are a Green Alternative to the Classic Plastic Gift Card Daniel Gross November 28, 2013

To date, Gowdy has played his cards close to the vest as to what the committee will actually investigate.
New Benghazi Investigation Spooks GOP Leaders Eli Lake May 13, 2014

Historical Examples

She turned her head and glanced at some cards that the bearer had brought in on a tray.
The Pointing Man Marjorie Douie

She had never known the surname, and on two of the cards “Ph.” appeared.
The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson

The places to be occupied by the guests were indicated by cards bearing their names.
My Lady’s Money Wilkie Collins

Exactly, you can give half of ’em cards and spades and both casinos, Mrs. Wybert.
The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson

She got up, and her letter and one of the cards fell to the floor.
The Whole Family William Dean Howells, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Mary Heaton

(usually functioning as sing)

any game or games played with cards, esp playing cards
the playing of such a game

an employee’s national insurance and other documents held by the employer
get one’s cards, to be told to leave one’s employment
on the cards, possible or likely US equivalent in the cards
play one’s cards, to carry out one’s plans; take action (esp in the phrase play one’s cards right)
put one’s cards on the table, lay one’s cards on the table, show one’s cards, to declare one’s intentions, resources, etc
a piece of stiff paper or thin cardboard, usually rectangular, with varied uses, as for filing information in an index, bearing a written notice for display, entering scores in a game, etc
such a card used for identification, reference, proof of membership, etc: library card, identity card, visiting card
such a card used for sending greetings, messages, or invitations, often bearing an illustration, printed greetings, etc: Christmas card, birthday card
one of a set of small pieces of cardboard, variously marked with significant figures, symbols, etc, used for playing games or for fortune-telling

short for playing card
(as modifier): a card game
(in combination): cardsharp

(informal) a witty, entertaining, or eccentric person
short for cheque card, credit card
See compass card
(horse racing) Also called race card. a daily programme of all the races at a meeting, listing the runners, riders, weights to be carried, distances to be run, and conditions of each race
a thing or action used in order to gain an advantage, esp one that is concealed and kept in reserve until needed (esp in the phrase a card up one’s sleeve)
short for printed circuit card See printed circuit board
(transitive) to comb out and clean fibres of wool or cotton before spinning
(formerly) a machine or comblike tool for carding fabrics or for raising the nap on cloth

c.1400, “playing card,” from Middle French carte (14c.), from Latin charta “leaf of paper, tablet,” from Greek khartes “layer of papyrus,” probably from Egyptian. Form influenced after 14c. by Italian carta (see chart (n.)).

Sense of “playing cards” also is oldest in French. Sense in English extended by 1590s to similar small, flat, stiff bits of paper. Meaning “printed ornamental greetings for special occasions” is from 1869. Application to clever or original persons (1836, originally with an adjective, e.g. smart card) is from the playing-card sense, via expressions such as sure card “an expedient certain to attain an object” (c.1560).

Card table is from 1713. Card-sharper is 1859. House of cards in the figurative sense is from 1640s, first attested in Milton. To have a card up (one’s) sleeve is 1898; to play the _______ card is from 1886, originally the Orange card, meaning “appeal to Northern Irish Protestant sentiment (for political advantage).”

“machine for combing,” late 14c. (mid-14c. in surname Cardmaker), from Old French carde “card, teasel,” from Old Provençal cardo or some other Romanic source (cf. Spanish and Italian carda “thistle, tease, card,” back-formation from cardar “to card” (see card (v.1)). The English word probably also comes via Anglo-Latin cardo, from Medieval Latin carda “a teasel,” from Latin carduus.

“to comb wool,” late 14c., from card (n.2) or else from Old French carder, from Old Provençal cardar “to card,” from Vulgar Latin *caritare, from Latin carrere “to clean or comb with a card,” perhaps from PIE root *kars- “to scrape” (see harsh). Related: Carded; carding.

1540s, “to play cards” (now obsolete), from card (n.1). From 1925 as “to write (something) on a card for filing.” Meaning “require (someone) to show ID” is from 1970s. Related: Carded; carding.


A remarkable person, esp an eccentric or amusing one (1830s+)
A portion of a narcotic; deck (1920s+ Narcotics)
A schedule; program of events: six fights on the card (1930s+ Sports)


To require someone to show identification, esp at a bar or liquor store: So far my only success was not getting carded at the Wheaton Liquor Store (1970s+)

Related Terms

face card, get one’s card punched, in the cards, stack the deck, wild card

Central Archive for Reusable Defense Software of the DoD.
player on St. Louis Cardinals baseball team

card in
card up one’s sleeve


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