in/on the cards

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Dec 30 14:04:55 UTC 2009

"On the cards" made me think of tarot, as your
British friend found.  One's fortune would be
found on the cards, not in the cards.  And the
values (points) as used in card games also are "on [the face of] the cards]".

The OED has:
"card", n2, sense 2.e, "on the cards, {dag} out
of the cards: within (or outside) the range of
probability."  With about 4 quotations there for
"on..." from 1849 (Dickens) to 1868 (perhaps the last time it was looked at).

And there appear to be about a half-dozen
quotations for this sense under other words, from
1970 through 2008.  They're from British
publications, I think.  (One is from "Hindu", via Nexis.)


At 12/30/2009 03:28 AM, Randy Alexander wrote:
>Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
>A British friend just said "I've looked into licensing it, but that
>doesn't seem to be on the cards."
>I've never heard "on the cards" before, but he found this:
>Likely or certain to happen, as in "I don't think Jim will win,
>it's just not in the cards." This term, originally put as *on the cards*,
>alludes to the cards used in fortune-telling. [Early 1800s]
>The American HeritageĀ® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
>Copyright Ā© 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
>Any thoughts, or more specific references?
>Randy Alexander
>Jilin City, China
>Manchu studies:
>Chinese characters:
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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