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

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 8 04:43:56 UTC 2006

FWIW, when I was a student of Russian at the old U.S. Army Language
School, a teacher, who was a native-born Russian, mentioned that there
was a Russian card game called "vint," (cf. "wint" below) which he
said was *like* whist.

Russian "b-r-i-d-zh" is transparently a simple transliteration of
English "bridge." The cluster -dzh- is non-occurrent in native Russian
words. Such a combination immediately marks the word as foreign to the
Russian language. It's not impossible, but it is unlikely that
Russians would make up a babble of foreign gibberish to name something
that they themselves had invented.

There's a Russian word that can be transliterated as berétch'. Its
history can be traced all the way back to proto-Indo-European and it
is cognate with English "bury," though its meaning is "take care of."
There's no birítch to be found in the latest - 2004 - Smirnitskii, the
Russian > English equivalent of the MWCD. Perhaps it could be found in
the Russian equivalent of the OED.

Combination of the Games of "Dummy" and _"Boston"_.

This may be a clue as to why, in the game of bid whist, also called
"kitty whist," the equivalent of bridge's grand slam is known as a


On 7/7/06, Bapopik at <Bapopik at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Bapopik at AOL.COM
> Subject:      Etymology of the card game "bridge" (1893, 1899)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Another re-check on the origin of the game "bridge." Did it originate in =20
> Russia or Istanbul or Paris? The game appears to have hit New York  City abo=
> ut=20
> 1893. Was it ever called "Russian Whist," and what do we make of  "biritch"?=
> ?
> ...
> ...
> ...
> ...
> (OED)
> bridge, n.
> =20
> a. A  card-game based upon whist. In the original form of the game the deale=
> r=20
> or his  partner (dummy) named trumps, dummy's hand was exposed after the=20
> lead, and the  odd tricks varied in value according to the suit named as tru=
> mps.=20
> Now =3D  auction or contract bridge.=20
> The game is said to have  been played in Constantinople and the Near East=20
> about 1870. Formerly also called  Bridge Whist (see sense c below). The sens=
> e in=20
> quot. 1843 is uncertain;  biritch in quots. 1886 is applied to the call of=20=
> =E2=80=98no=20
> trumps=E2=80=99. =20
> [1843  _J.  PAGET_ (
> =20
> Let. 18 Apr. in Mem. &  Lett. (1901) I. vi. 144 We  improved our minds in th=
> e=20
> intellectual games of Bagatelle and Bridge.] 1886  Biritch, or Russian Whist=
>  2=20
> The one declaring may,  instead of declaring trumps, say =E2=80=98Biritch=
> =E2=80=99, which=20
> means that the hands shall be  played without trumps. Ibid. 3 The odd tricks=
> =20
> count as follows:If =E2=80=98Biritch=E2=80=99 is declared each [odd trick co=
> unts]  10 points.=20
> Ibid. 4 There are four honours if =E2=80=98Biritch=E2=80=99 is declared, whi=
> ch are the  four=20
> aces. 1898  =E2=80=98BOAZ=E2=80=99 (title) The Pocket Guide to Bridge. 1898=20=
>  Nat. Rev. Aug. 809=20
> At a game of  wint or bridge. 1901  =E2=80=98SLAM=E2=80=99  Mod. Bridge Intr=
> od., =E2=80=98Bridge=E2=80=99, =20
> known in Turkey as =E2=80=98Britch=E2=80=99. 1963  _G. F. HERVEY_=20
> (  Handbk. Card G=
> ames 131 The  modern game of=20
> Bridge, more correctly Contract Bridge, to distinguish it from  its=20
> now-defunct predecessors, was developed by Harold S. Vanderbilt.
> ...
> ...
> ...
> ...
> _COULDN'T  STAND BRIDGE WHIST.; A New Club Organized Where the Stakes Are=20
> Very Small. _=20
> (
> =3D2&Fmt=3D10&VInst=3DPROD&VType=3DPQD&RQT=3D309&VName=3DHNP&TS=3D1152317739=
> &clientId=3D65882)
> =20
> New York Times (1857-Current file). New York,  N.Y.: Dec 10, 1893. p. 3 (1=20
> page)=20
> ..
> The introduction of bridge whist in the New York Whist Club has  led to the=20
> 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.=20
> FAVORITE AT  THE CLUBS. Combination of the Games of "Dummy" and "Boston." SO=
> ME=20
> (
> =3D2&Fmt=3D10&VInst=3DPROD&VType=3DPQD&RQT=3D309&VName=3DHNP&TS=3D1152317739=
> &clie
> ntId=3D65882)=20
> Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963).  Chicago, Ill.: Mar 12, 1899. p. 50 (1=20
> page)=20
> ...
> The most popular variation of whist, as it is found today,  embraces both of=
> =20
> these modifications, a dummy hand and an announced trump. We  call it bridge=
> ,=20
> and in spite of its novelty no one knows its origin. Some  persons claim it=20
> originated in Constantinople ans was taken to the French clubs  in the Rivie=
> ra=20
> under the name of Khedive, afterward passing to Paris, where it  received it=
> s=20
> present name, bridge. Strange to say, it did not go thence to  England, but=20
> came first to America, being taken from New York to London in 1894.  The gam=
> e was=20
> introduced to this country through the Whist club of New York,  which is now=
> =20
> located at 11 West Thirty-sixth street. One of the members, who  does not ca=
> re=20
> to have his name mentioned, had learned the game in Paris and was  so=20
> strongly impressed with its possibilities as an exercise for the intellectua=
> l =20
> faculties that he became its apostle in the new world.
> ...
> ...
> ...
> 4 October 1899, Daily Iowa State Press (Iowa City, Iowa), pg. ?,  col. 6:
> Bridge.
> London society during the last season took up a new game, which is  called=20
> bridge. It has certainly been a great rage, and was a source of amusement  t=
> o a=20
> great many during the long winter evenings, between 6 and 7. It is a  specie=
> s=20
> of whist, and is played by four people, but one hand is laid on the  table f=
> or=20
> every one to see, so it can quite easily be played by three, and it is =20
> pronounced better than dummy whist. The game is called bridge because, owing=
>  to =20
> certain rules and complications which occur in the game, it is possible to =20
> "bridge" or pass over when it is one's turn to play. It is a great gambling=20=
>  game,=20
> and a great deal may be won or lost in one night, as the bets can be  double=
> d=20
> 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=20
> have originated in Russia, but there is no satisfactory proof of this =20
> statement. It was first known under the title of "Biritch or Russian Whist,"=
>  and  this=20
> no doubt gave rise to the idea that it was of Russian origin, although as a=20=
> =20
> matter of fact, the word "Biritch" is not to be found in any Russian=20
> dictionary.  In the late seventies it was played in Constantinople by the Ru=
> ssian=20
> colony. In  the sixties there was a game of whist played in Germany and Aust=
> ria=20
> called  "Cayenne" and it is believed that bridge, as we play it, combines ce=
> rtain =20
> 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=20
> biritch in the Russian language, as though that proved the case one way  or=20=
> the=20
> other.
> ...
> The latest research indicates that the word biritch is chronicled  in Russia=
> n=20
> histories from the 10th through the 17th centuries. It meant, among  other=20
> things, the town crier whose official duty it was to announce government =20
> edicts. It appears as "biritch" (accented on the second syllable) in  dictio=
> naries=20
> of Imperial days.
> ...
> Apparently, the game of biritch had been played in Turkey and  Egypt ever=20
> since the early 1860's and was of Turkish or Russian  origin.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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