Antedating of "Dead Man's Hand"

Mon Jul 31 01:50:09 UTC 2006

        Later than this, but earlier than HDAS:

        <<Jacks and sevens are called the "dead man's hand."  In a poker
game, it is very unlucky to hold them and win the pot.>>

Encyclopaedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences 1478
(1903) (via Google Book Search).  So it seems clear that the term
predates both the association with Hickok and its identification as a
pair of aces and a pair of eights.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Fred Shapiro
Sent: Sunday, July 30, 2006 8:24 PM
Subject: Antedating of "Dead Man's Hand"

dead man's hand (HDAS 1908)

1886 _Grand Forks Daily Herald_ 1 July 3 (America's Historical
Newspapers) I was present at a game in a Senator's house one night and
saw him win $6,000 on one hand.  It was the dead man's hand.  What is
the dead man's hand?  Why, it is three jacks and a pair of tens.  It is
called the dead man's hand because about forty seven years ago, in a
town in Illinois, a celebrated judge bet his house and lot on three
jacks and a pair of tens.
... When his opponent showed up he had three queens and a pair of tens.
Upon seeing the queens the judge fell back dead, clutching the jacks and
tens in his hand, and that's why a jack-full on tens is called the dead
man's hand.

NOTE:  This citation tends to undermine the standard Wild Bill Hickock
derivation of the term.

Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society -

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