1. a usually rectangular piece of stiff paper, thin pasteboard, or plastic for various uses, as to write information on or printed as a means of identifying the holder: a 3″ × 5″ file card; a membership card.
  2. one of a set of thin pieces of cardboard with spots, figures, etc., used in playing various games; playing card.
  3. cards, (usually used with a singular verb)
    1. a game or games played with such a set.
    2. the playing of such a game: to win at cards.
    3. Casino.the winning of 27 cards or more.
    4. Whist.tricks won in excess of six.
  4. Also called greeting card. a piece of paper or thin cardboard, usually folded, printed with a message of holiday greeting, congratulations, or other sentiment, often with an illustration or decorations, for mailing to a person on an appropriate occasion.
  5. something useful in attaining an objective, as a course of action or position of strength, comparable to a high card held in a game: If negotiation fails, we still have another card to play.
  6. a specified topic that elicits strong reactions, brought up as part of a strategic move to gain an advantage: She was accused of playing the gender card when her male boss passed her over for promotion. He pulled the race card by branding his Muslim opponent as radical.
  7. postcard.
  8. calling card(def 1).
  9. Commerce.
    1. credit card.
    2. bank card.
  10. a program of the events at races, boxing matches, etc.
  11. scorecard.
  12. a menu or wine list.
  13. compass card.
  14. Computers.
    1. punch card.
    2. board(def 14a).
  15. trading card.
  16. Informal.
    1. a person who is amusing or facetious.
    2. any person, especially one with some indicated characteristic: a queer card.

verb (used with object)

  1. to provide with a card.
  2. to fasten on a card.
  3. to write, list, etc., on cards.
  4. Slang. to examine the identity card or papers of: The bartender was carding all youthful customers to be sure they were of legal drinking age.

  1. in/on the cards, impending or likely; probable: A reorganization is in the cards.
  2. play one’s cards right, to act cleverly, sensibly, or cautiously: If you play your cards right, you may get mentioned in her will.
  3. put one’s cards on the table, to be completely straightforward and open; conceal nothing: He always believed in putting his cards on the table.

noun Also called carding machine.

  1. a machine for combing and paralleling fibers of cotton, flax, wool, etc., prior to spinning to remove short, undesirable fibers and produce a sliver.
  2. a similar implement for raising the nap on cloth.

verb (used with object)

  1. to dress (wool or the like) with a card.

  1. card out, Printing. to add extra space between lines of text, so as to fill out a page or column or give the text a better appearance.


  1. (usually functioning as singular)
    1. any game or games played with cards, esp playing cards
    2. the playing of such a game
  2. an employee’s national insurance and other documents held by the employer
  3. get one’s cards to be told to leave one’s employment
  4. on the cards possible or likelyUS equivalent: in the cards
  5. play one’s cards to carry out one’s plans; take action (esp in the phrase play one’s cards right)
  6. put one’s cards on the table, lay one’s cards on the table or show one’s cards to declare one’s intentions, resources, etc


  1. a piece of stiff paper or thin cardboard, usually rectangular, with varied uses, as for filing information in an index, bearing a written notice for display, entering scores in a game, etc
  2. such a card used for identification, reference, proof of membership, etclibrary card; identity card; visiting card
  3. such a card used for sending greetings, messages, or invitations, often bearing an illustration, printed greetings, etcChristmas card; birthday card
  4. one of a set of small pieces of cardboard, variously marked with significant figures, symbols, etc, used for playing games or for fortune-telling
    1. short for playing card
    2. (as modifier)a card game
    3. (in combination)cardsharp
  5. informal a witty, entertaining, or eccentric person
  6. short for cheque card, credit card
  7. See compass card
  8. Also called: race card horse racing a daily programme of all the races at a meeting, listing the runners, riders, weights to be carried, distances to be run, and conditions of each race
  9. a thing or action used in order to gain an advantage, esp one that is concealed and kept in reserve until needed (esp in the phrase a card up one’s sleeve)
  10. short for printed circuit cardSee printed circuit board


  1. (tr) to comb out and clean fibres of wool or cotton before spinning


  1. (formerly) a machine or comblike tool for carding fabrics or for raising the nap on cloth

1540s, “to play cards” (now obsolete), from card (n.1). From 1925 as “to write (something) on a card for filing.” Meaning “require (someone) to show ID” is from 1970s. Related: Carded; carding.


“machine for combing,” late 14c. (mid-14c. in surname Cardmaker), from Old French carde “card, teasel,” from Old Provençal cardo or some other Romanic source (cf. Spanish and Italian carda “thistle, tease, card,” back-formation from cardar “to card” (see card (v.1)). The English word probably also comes via Anglo-Latin cardo, from Medieval Latin carda “a teasel,” from Latin carduus.


c.1400, “playing card,” from Middle French carte (14c.), from Latin charta “leaf of paper, tablet,” from Greek khartes “layer of papyrus,” probably from Egyptian. Form influenced after 14c. by Italian carta (see chart (n.)).

Sense of “playing cards” also is oldest in French. Sense in English extended by 1590s to similar small, flat, stiff bits of paper. Meaning “printed ornamental greetings for special occasions” is from 1869. Application to clever or original persons (1836, originally with an adjective, e.g. smart card) is from the playing-card sense, via expressions such as sure card “an expedient certain to attain an object” (c.1560).

Card table is from 1713. Card-sharper is 1859. House of cards in the figurative sense is from 1640s, first attested in Milton. To have a card up (one’s) sleeve is 1898; to play the _______ card is from 1886, originally the Orange card, meaning “appeal to Northern Irish Protestant sentiment (for political advantage).”


“to comb wool,” late 14c., from card (n.2) or else from Old French carder, from Old Provençal cardar “to card,” from Vulgar Latin *caritare, from Latin carrere “to clean or comb with a card,” perhaps from PIE root *kars- “to scrape” (see harsh). Related: Carded; carding.

In addition to the idioms beginning with card

  • card in
  • cards are stacked against
  • card up one’s sleeve

also see:

  • hold all the aces (the trump card)
  • house of cards
  • in the cards
  • lay one’s cards on the table
  • play one’s cards close to one’s chest

play one’s cards righttrump cardwild card.

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