Play­ing cards for the hol­i­days

The fact that the first ever men­tion of play­ing cards in the en­tirety of hu­man his­tory is the pro­hi­bi­tion of play­ing them should have been a sign ...

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INBOX -

IT’S that time of year again, the Hol­i­day Sea­son, and I am puz­zled by one sim­ple query: why am I play­ing cards? Again?

This year, I find my­self in Thai­land for the hol­i­days, the hol­i­days I’ve looked for­ward to all year long, in a place with gor­geous beaches, world-class rock climb­ing, pris­tine scuba div­ing, and yet I find my­self play­ing cards.

Spades, di­a­monds, clubs, hearts, all very com­fort­ably shelved in the metaphor­i­cal back­yard shed of my mind for the en­tirety of the year are dusted off and used ... well ... in spades when the hol­i­days come around.

It’s not so much that I don’t en­joy cards ... it’s just that as we are on the brink of 2014, aren’t we sup­posed to be play­ing nano-bot tag with an­droids on a space colony while an om­nipresent com­puter ser­vant named Dave pre­pares nanobot ice teas for us? Or some­thing like that. I mean play­ing cards has been around since the 9th cen­tury Tang Dy­nasty in China, where in­stead of play­ing spades or hearts, we would be lay­ing down suits of Coins, Strings of Coins, Myr­i­ads of Coins, and Tens of Myr­i­ads of Coins.

Some his­to­ri­ans think th­ese ear­li­est play­ing cards might have ac­tu­ally been used as money. You think?

The Chi­nese def­i­nitely weren’t nam­ing their cards af­ter coins be­cause it rolled off the tongue like the works of Hem­ing­way. Tri­umphantly call­ing out you win be­cause you have the Ace of the Tens of Myr­i­ads of Coins is a lit­tle clunky.

Mer­ci­fully, play­ing cards didn’t make it into Europe un­til a few cen­turies later. The ear­li­est doc­u­men­ta­tion of them was in 1334, in a doc­u­ment found in what is now Spain, declar­ing that the Knights of the Band are pro­hib­ited from play­ing cards.

The fact that the first ever men­tion of play­ing cards in the en­tirety of hu­man his­tory is the pro­hi­bi­tion of play­ing them should have been a sign.

Maybe they knew in the 1300s what I know now ... play­ing cards isn’t fun.

But that didn’t stop play­ing cards from carv­ing their way fur­ther into his­tory. They de­vel­oped to re­flect chang­ing par­a­digms. The ear­li­est 52 Euro­pean card deck had a King, a Deputy King, and an Un­der Deputy King, which led to how many early dis­ap­point­ments as peo­ple de­clared, “I would’ve beaten your Deputy King, if only I had a King in­stead of my Un­der Deputy King.”

For rea­sons other than wordi­ness, th­ese changed to Kings, Knights, and Knaves, the lat­ter com­ing from the Ger­man word for “male child”, which could mean the card rep­re­sented a Prince, but I pre­fer to think it rep­re­sents Man Child be­cause how awe­some would it be to win a round of poker with a pair of Man Chil­dren?

But alas, af­ter the Knight be­came a Queen, per­haps try­ing to break up the sausage party that was 14th cen­tury play­ing cards, the man child knaves be­came Jacks, af­ter the pop­u­lar­ity of a game called All Fours, where the knave of trumps was called a Jack.

Since All Fours was con­sid­ered a game for the “lower class”, Jack was orig­i­nally con­sid­ered a vul­gar term, but be­came main­stream be­cause hav­ing the ab­bre­vi­a­tion of K for King and Kn for Knave was caus­ing anarchy at the casino or the Knights­bridge Sheep Shear­ing Guild Mar­ket or wher­ever it would cause chaos 600 years ago.

The his­tory of play­ing cards isn’t all about cater­ing to the triv­ial whims of the masses. It’s also all about cre­at­ing very lit­eral sym­bols to in­spire peo­ple.

For in­stance, orig­i­nally, Kings were the high card, but Aces were played as the high card dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion to sym­bol­ise the lower classes ris­ing to greater ranks than roy­alty. Take that, King.

From the sig­nif­i­cant to the com­pletely in­con­se­quen­tial, the King of Hearts has no mous­tache for no mys­te­ri­ous rea­son other than it was deleted in poor copy­ing.

And we thought he was the one guy who stood against Movem­ber ... now we know he’s the one guy des­per­ately wish­ing he could par­tic­i­pate in Movem­ber.

Play­ing cards also has a rich his­tory in tax­a­tion, which is the rea­son for the more elab­o­rate de­sign seen on the cur­rent Ace of Spades.

Dur­ing the Stamp Act of 1765, this card had a mark­ing to in­di­cate that the proper duty had been paid on the deck of cards, essen­tially mak­ing it a re­ceipt to use in your tax fil­ings, which would re­ally mess up the odds when play­ing poker.

It is th­ese tid­bits of knowl­edge about play­ing cards I cling to as I pick up yet another hand of cards dur­ing this hol­i­day/card play­ing sea­son. ’Cause let’s face it, if tax­ing play­ing cards couldn’t kill them, they’re not go­ing any­where, and if I can take any mod­icum of joy from card play­ing, it’s the abil­ity to slam down my hand and ex­claim, “I’ve got Man Child High!”

Wish­ing ev­ery­one a very happy and play­ing-card­less hol­i­day.

Ja­son God­frey can be seen host­ing The LINK on Life In­spired (Astro B.yond Ch 728).

Full house: The ear­li­est 52 euro­pean card deck had a King, a deputy King, and an un­der deputy King. Th­ese days, it can come in many forms, right Kitty? — aFP

BigSmileNoTeeth byjasongodfrey

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