I very much enjoyed reading the recent posts on Erdnase's use of language, particularly Chris Wasshuber's investigation into Erdnase's and Edward Galloway's similar deployment of the phrase "gift of the gab" (in Chris's newsletter, extended by others on this forum), and Bob Coyne's examination the phrase "palm off" as used in The Expert at the Card Table
and the writings of W.E. Sanders. The manner in which the text of The Expert at the Card Table
regularly uses common, vernacular phrases is one of its unique hallmarks, and I have mentioned some examples in a previous post about Erdnase's linguistic wit
Another instance--which I have not seen discussed elsewhere with regards to its idiomatic character--occurs on page 116, as part of the section "The Player Without an Ally: The Short Deck
." Erdnase writes:
With this arrangement, or depletion, an adversary enjoying ordinary luck, will find in summing up his points that he does not make 'cards' or 'spades' in a very long time indeed, and of course he credits his opponent with three points.
This is a play on an American idiom from the early 20th Century: to "give cards and spades." The phrase derives from the card game cassino, where "cards" and "spades" are two of the methods of scoring. It effectively means to give someone a handicap by awarding them an advantage in the final scoring.
Erdnase's use of the phrase is notable for several reasons. Erdnase only encloses the technical terms "cards" and "spades" in "scare quotes," (which was his general practice), instead of putting quotes around the entire idiom. This is consistent with most of his other manipulations of idiomatic language, such as "could not hit the side of a barn" (p. 23), "walk and stock" (p. 74), and "lightning don't strike in the same place often" (p. 79), which are usually incorporated into the text of The Expert
without any separation or special indication. Additionally, Erdnase's use of the phrase exhibits a sophisticated sense of humor by returning the idiom to its literal source--the game of cassino--while inverting its sense to show how the cheater is unwittingly credited with what would be a common advantage.
To me, it is clear that the author of The Expert
was in the habit of appropriating popular and vernacular words and phrases to lend a casual, slangy feel to his text. Much of the book's literary aesthetic derives from his juxtaposition of detailed instructions, a very Latinate and French vocabulary, and the regular deployment of a colloquial American voice. It is a unique and confident mixture of styles, and can serve as a literary fingerprint for Erdnase when assessing any authorial candidates.
The "'cards' or 'spades'" phrase came to my attention when preparing a new, hardcover edition of The Expert at the Card Table
for publisher Charles & Wonder. Erdnase's play on the cassino idiom coincides with one of the book's technical errors, which has previously gone unremarked, and which I detail fully in the "Errata" of the new edition. (That edition is now available for sale on Amazon.
) The latest edition brings my account of the book's technical errors up to 20. (By technical error, I mean errors that could result in readers not being able to accurately perform the maneuvers described in the book. Technical errors do not include typos, misspellings, errors in grammar and mistakes in naming/terminology, such as the author's habitual confusion of "sleight/slight" and referring to the Charlier pass as "the 'Charlies pass'.") I suspect Erdnase's error in "The Short Deck
" section had gone unnoticed for much the same reason that his playful use of the idiom was not noted: Cassino is an uncommon game these days.