For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.
Daniel Cassidy, in his etymological hoax, How The Irish Invented Slang claimed that the word poker (the card game) derives from the Irish word póca, which is a borrowing from Middle English and means ‘pocket’ or a bag used for money. Why would you call this particular game ‘pocket’? I’ll let Cassidy explain it to you:
“Poker is a short card game that is played out of your póca (pocket) and against the other gambler’s póca (pocket or purse)… In a poker game the gambler carried all his paraphernalia, a deck of cards and his bankroll, in his back póca (pocket).
The word pocket is a key term in the vocabulary of the poker (póca, pocket) game. The two “hole cards” in No Limit Texas Hold ‘em poker are called pocket cards, two pair is a pocket pair, and two aces are pocket rockets. Poker (póca, pocket) is the ideal name for the democratic card game of the American crossroad. There is no house bank. It is one open pocket against another in the poker (póca, pocket) game.”
You can smell the desperation. And Mississippi gamblers used to have pockets in their coats. And the gamblers carried their cards in their pockets. And they put money in their pockets when they won … So, that proves it! I don’t know much about gambling, but if the concept of pocket is so important to the game of poker, surely the word pocket should be mentioned many times on the Wiki article for poker? (It isn’t mentioned once!)
In reality, while the fine detail is lacking (as it so often is in etymology), there is little room for doubt about the real facts. Poker probably derives from the name of a French card game, Poque (probably through the French gamblers of New Orleans), and this in turn probably has its roots in a well-attested game called Pochspiel which is already found in Germany in the 15th century. Both these games share strong similarities with poker.