in/on the cards

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 31 01:29:37 UTC 2009

FWIW, I'm with Randy. I have no idea of the age of "_on_ the cards,"
but I've never read it before today and have yet to hear it.


On Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 6:51 PM, Randy Alexander
<strangeguitars at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Randy Alexander <strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: in/on the cards
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 10:04 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
>> "On the cards" made me think of tarot, as your
>> British friend found. Â One's fortune would be
>> found on the cards, not in the cards. Â And the
>> values (points) as used in card games also are "on [the face of] the cards]".
> I told my friend: "in" the results of the Tarot card reading.
>> The OED has:
>> "card", n2, sense 2.e, "on the cards, {dag} out
>> of the cards: within (or outside) the range of
>> probability." Â With about 4 quotations there for
>> "on..." from 1849 (Dickens) to 1868 (perhaps the last time it was looked at).
> Interesting that it equates "on" with "within" and "out of" here.
> Randy
>> And there appear to be about a half-dozen
>> quotations for this sense under other words, from
>> 1970 through 2008. Â They're from British
>> publications, I think. Â (One is from "Hindu", via Nexis.)
>> Joel
>> 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 Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
>>>Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
>>>Any thoughts, or more specific references?
>>>Randy Alexander
>>>Jilin City, China
>>>Manchu studies:
>>>Chinese characters:
>>>The American Dialect Society -
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> Randy Alexander
> Jilin City, China
> Blogs:
> Manchu studies:
> Chinese characters:
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