Etymology of the card game "bridge" (1893, 1899)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sat Jul 8 01:27:50 UTC 2006

Another re-check on the origin of the game "bridge." Did it originate in  
Russia or Istanbul or Paris? The game appears to have hit New York  City about 
1893. Was it ever called "Russian Whist," and what do we make of  "biritch"??
bridge, n.
a. A  card-game based upon whist. In the original form of the game the dealer 
or his  partner (dummy) named trumps, dummy's hand was exposed after the 
lead, and the  odd tricks varied in value according to the suit named as trumps. 
Now =  auction or contract bridge. 
The game is said to have  been played in Constantinople and the Near East 
about 1870. Formerly also called  Bridge Whist (see sense c below). The sense in 
quot. 1843 is uncertain;  biritch in quots. 1886 is applied to the call of ‘no 
[1843  _J.  PAGET_ (  
Let. 18 Apr. in Mem. &  Lett. (1901) I. vi. 144 We  improved our minds in the 
intellectual games of Bagatelle and Bridge.] 1886  Biritch, or Russian Whist 2 
The one declaring may,  instead of declaring trumps, say ‘Biritch’, which 
means that the hands shall be  played without trumps. Ibid. 3 The odd tricks 
count as follows:If ‘Biritch’ is declared each [odd trick counts]  10 points. 
Ibid. 4 There are four honours if ‘Biritch’ is declared, which are the  four 
aces. 1898  ‘BOAZ’ (title) The Pocket Guide to Bridge. 1898  Nat. Rev. Aug. 809 
At a game of  wint or bridge. 1901  ‘SLAM’  Mod. Bridge Introd., ‘Bridge’,  
known in Turkey as ‘Britch’. 1963  _G. F. HERVEY_ 
(  Handbk. Card Games 131 The  modern game of 
Bridge, more correctly Contract Bridge, to distinguish it from  its 
now-defunct predecessors, was developed by Harold S. Vanderbilt.
_COULDN'T  STAND BRIDGE WHIST.; A New Club Organized Where the Stakes Are 
Very Small. _ 
New York Times (1857-Current file). New York,  N.Y.: Dec 10, 1893. p. 3 (1 
The introduction of bridge whist in the New York Whist Club has  led to the 
withdrawal of a number of members and the formation of a new whist  club.
_BRIDGE  WHIST THE LAST FAD.; Card Game Which Originated in Constantinople. 
FAVORITE AT  THE CLUBS. Combination of the Games of "Dummy" and "Boston." SOME 
Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963).  Chicago, Ill.: Mar 12, 1899. p. 50 (1 
The most popular variation of whist, as it is found today,  embraces both of 
these modifications, a dummy hand and an announced trump. We  call it bridge, 
and in spite of its novelty no one knows its origin. Some  persons claim it 
originated in Constantinople ans was taken to the French clubs  in the Riviera 
under the name of Khedive, afterward passing to Paris, where it  received its 
present name, bridge. Strange to say, it did not go thence to  England, but 
came first to America, being taken from New York to London in 1894.  The game was 
introduced to this country through the Whist club of New York,  which is now 
located at 11 West Thirty-sixth street. One of the members, who  does not care 
to have his name mentioned, had learned the game in Paris and was  so 
strongly impressed with its possibilities as an exercise for the intellectual  
faculties that he became its apostle in the new world.
4 October 1899, Daily Iowa State Press (Iowa City, Iowa), pg. ?,  col. 6:
London society during the last season took up a new game, which is  called 
bridge. It has certainly been a great rage, and was a source of amusement  to a 
great many during the long winter evenings, between 6 and 7. It is a  species 
of whist, and is played by four people, but one hand is laid on the  table for 
every one to see, so it can quite easily be played by three, and it is  
pronounced better than dummy whist. The game is called bridge because, owing to  
certain rules and complications which occur in the game, it is possible to  
"bridge" or pass over when it is one's turn to play. It is a great gambling  game, 
and a great deal may be won or lost in one night, as the bets can be  doubled 
at will, and the points are generally high.
2 February 1907, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 7, col. 5:
The origin of bridge is somewhat shrouded in mystery. The game is  said to 
have originated in Russia, but there is no satisfactory proof of this  
statement. It was first known under the title of "Biritch or Russian Whist," and  this 
no doubt gave rise to the idea that it was of Russian origin, although as a  
matter of fact, the word "Biritch" is not to be found in any Russian 
dictionary.  In the late seventies it was played in Constantinople by the Russian 
colony. In  the sixties there was a game of whist played in Germany and Austria 
called  "Cayenne" and it is believed that bridge, as we play it, combines certain  
features of cayenne or biritch--Town Talk.
30 January 1977, Nevada Stat Journal (Reno, NV), pg. 31, col.  1:
Our learned friends laughed at this, saying that there was no such  word as 
biritch in the Russian language, as though that proved the case one way  or the 
The latest research indicates that the word biritch is chronicled  in Russian 
histories from the 10th through the 17th centuries. It meant, among  other 
things, the town crier whose official duty it was to announce government  
edicts. It appears as "biritch" (accented on the second syllable) in  dictionaries 
of Imperial days.
Apparently, the game of biritch had been played in Turkey and  Egypt ever 
since the early 1860's and was of Turkish or Russian  origin.

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