Dear reader: I wrote this in 2001.
Amazing, the way dialects emerge among people who share a common interest. Listen to the banter of any profession or hobby. You will hear a lingo. Common words are given special meanings unique to that endeavor, resembling members-only passwords. Like most everyone, I use various vernaculars. Some of my favorites are Musicianian, Bridgese, Scrabblebabble, and Chessish. But the best lingo, by far, is Pokerspeak.
- A musician might say, “Play the nine on the four chord so it remains uncolored and doesn’t clash with the flatted third.”
- A bridge player might say, “Take care to rectify the count, then if the lady on your left is stacked, you can squeeze her.”
- A scrabble player might say, “I was working out on a xyst, over by the quay, when a yak ate my fez, so I threatened it with a zax.”
- A chess player might say, “I think it is your turn.”
And what might a poker player say? Well, some folks outside our world think of poker players as rough and tough and ready to rumble. Our lingo does nothing to dispel this stereotype. Play along with me here, and try to imagine you are a regular person. Pretend you have no idea what words like “fold” and “diamonds” mean to a poker player. Then one day you overhear this story being told:
“Some guy limped in with rags, suited up. I woke up with two cowboys, so I popped him. I’d been beating him up all night. He was stuck like a pig and tilting bad. So he came back at me. I put the cap on, of course. I hit my hand hard when a king flopped along with two clubs. Then I picked up a house on fourth street. And if that wasn’t good enough, he flushed up on the river and started pounding me!”
Yowza! Now that’s what I call vivid imagery. To the untrained ear, rants like that one surely seem violent and confusing. But hey, aggression and bewilderment are key parts of our game.
In chess they say, “I’ll capture you.” We say, “I’ll bury you.” In backgammon they say, “I’ve got you blockaded.” We say, “You’re drawing dead.” No matter how you slice it, our lingo has more flare and more guts. If I were not a poker player, I’d be envious of poker players and their shoptalk, especially after hearing a phrase like, “He flushed up on the river.”
Some New Words
Words come and go in a hurry, as evidenced in technology’s terms. New words abound, such as “gigabyte” and “internet.” Then there are common words with new meanings, such as “window” and “mouse.” I wonder what people would have thought, a few years back, if I told them I had a bug in my hard drive.
Language evolves. It replicates itself using the medium of minds. At any time and place, the most useful (fittest) words and phrases survive in the language pool. A word’s fitness is determined solely by the extent to which it is replicated. There is no right or wrong, there is only existence and extinction.
For instance, on parts of the East Coast an ace-high straight is called a “Broadway.” After two years playing poker on the Left Coast, I have never heard that usage. Out here we just look at the big straight and say, “Ni Han.”
In my hometown, the poker word “nuts” went out of style for a while. One guy started saying “bolts,” as in, “nuts and bolts.” Then he started saying “berries,” as in, “nuts and berries.” That one caught on. In just a few weeks we were all saying, “I’ve got the berries.” That is, if we were lucky enough to have them. Yeah, language is a shifty thing.
I enjoy making up words, just for fun. Here are a few pertaining to poker that might even be useful. Then again, they might go extinct today, thwarted by their own ineptitude.
- Flushstraighted: An agitated state of mind reached after hours of missing your draws while your opponents make theirs.
- Fish and Chips: A very live game.
- Shmooch: To mooch by shmoozing. You might get boinked, but don’t expect to get kissed.
- Chip Wreck: When a big stack of chips gets very small, very quickly.
This one is from my loopy friend, Ed:
- Split Personality: An attribute some tournament players have. As soon as they get to the final table, they start suggesting ways to chop up the prize pool.
I’ll look for your contributions to our lingo in my e-mail box. Or as Steven Wright says: I’ll give you a penny for your thoughts if you give me your two cents worth.
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