Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Mar 3 21:39:53 UTC 2002

At 2:59 PM -0600 3/3/02, Gerald Cohen wrote:
>    Whoever invented the drink-term "highball" might have first heard
>this term somewhere else (railroad? poker? carnies?) ...
>---Gerald Cohen
>At 1:57 AM -0500 3/3/02, Richard Gage wrote:
>>...Typo?  According to the message you cite, Barry's earliest cites are
>>1895, not 1885.  I'd be intrigued, though, if you should happen to
>>discover a connection between highball the drink and either highball
>>the poker game or highball the railroading term for flooring it.
>>(See OED definitions below).

I find the poker references for "highball" intriguing here--'a
species of poker played with balls and a bottle-shaped receptacle'?
Sounds like a relative of those games you can play at skee-ball
emporia on the boardwalk, where you roll five balls into holes to try
to make poker hands and win  coupons you can then redeem for junk you
didn't really want in the first place.

Curiously, there are no canonical poker games called "highball" that
I know of, but low poker (in which essentially* the "worst"
conventional hand wins) is often called "lo-ball" (i.e. straight low,
as distinct from hi-lo split).   I think I've usually seen it with
the "lo-ball" spelling, but it's not listed with either spelling in
the OED, AHD4, or HDAS.  Sometimes "lo-ball" poker refers
specifically to low 5-card draw as opposed to low stud variants.
While I've never of "highball" poker (for high-hand-wins), I can
imagine it as a sort of nonce retronym.

Jesse, I know we can count on you to update the OED's poker
lexicon--at least lo-ball should be entered


*"essentially" because in the dialects I'm familiar with, straights
and flushes don't count against the low hand in either lo-ball or
hi-lo poker; the best hand is 5-4-3-2-A, called a wheel.

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