Wolverine plays Hold’em
Posted: 29 October 2015 07:57 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The etymology of the word diamond is interesting, also giving us Wolverine’s adamantium. However, I’m tying to understand how the playing card suit came to have the name. The modern deck of cards is based on French designs but the suit we call diamonds was called tiles in French. I haven’t been able to find anything about how the suit came to be called diamonds in English.

The suits as we know them come from about the early 16th century and gemstone diamonds from that era were mostly “rose” cut which is basically a six sided pyramid with a flat bottom - kind of like a triangle, I suppose, but it seems a stretch to try to link the shape of the symbol to the actual gemstones of the time. Help?

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Posted: 30 October 2015 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The diamond pip in a pack of cards dates, as happydog points out, to the 15th century or thereabouts. It is called in French carreau, meaning window-pane, because in those days windows were made with leaded panes, and that was the commonest shape of pane. Why call a rhombus a ”diamond”?  One suggestion; the rhombus is a projection of an equilateral octahedron (see WIKIPEDIA, s.v. “rhombus") Diamonds sometimes occur naturally as equilateral octahedra, and stones of that particular shape were highly prized 500 years ago, to the extent that natural stones of other shapes were often cut to that one. More at http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Point_Cut

This explanation of the name of the diamond pip in a pack of cards seems a bit far-fetched to me. But, as Old Bill said, “well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it!”

Another possibility: rhombic glass window panes used also to be called “diapers”.  Some card players may have felt uncomfortable about bidding, say, five diapers, and might have chosen “diamonds” as a more acceptable euphemism ;-)

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Posted: 30 October 2015 04:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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One suggestion; the rhombus is a projection of an equilateral octahedron (see WIKIPEDIA, s.v. “rhombus") Diamonds sometimes occur naturally as equilateral octahedra, and stones of that particular shape were highly prized 500 years ago, to the extent that natural stones of other shapes were often cut to that one.... This explanation of the name of the diamond pip in a pack of cards seems a bit far-fetched to me. But, as Old Bill said, “well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it!”

The OED supports that particular ‘ole. The definition for diamond 5. a reads:  A diamond-shaped figure, i.e. a plane figure of the form of a section of an octahedral diamond; a rhomb (or a square) placed with its diagonals vertical and horizontal; a lozenge. (In early use, a solid body of octahedral or rhombohedral form.) The earliest citation, from a Scottish treasury roll of 1476, is Item, giffin to Johne Smyth, for hedis to xij speris, and dyamandis to xxiiij justing speris xvj s. In other words, John Smyth made 12 octahedral heads for jousting spears.

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Posted: 30 October 2015 05:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Ahh, of course. I wasn’t thinking raw crystals.

Fine Minerals

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Posted: 30 October 2015 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Now i understand why the bolt from a crossbow is also called in french carreau (from carré, square) and in English, “quarrel”: the head, presumably, would be octahedral in shape, and square in cross-section, like the tip of one of Master Smyth’s jousting spears. The shape was apparently also used for the tips of certain arrows (), being more effective at penetrating some types of armour (e.g. chain mail), though less likely to inflict a fatal wound than a broad arrow. I believe that the tip of the pilum, a heavy spear used by Roman legionaries, was shaped like a four-sided pyramid (i.e. half a diamond), for maximum penetrating power.

You’ve made me feel quite bloodthirsty, Happydog and Syntinen Laulu. Shall we move on to clubs, now, or perhaps spades?  We can leave hearts to bleed unattended............

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Posted: 30 October 2015 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Ahh, of course. I wasn’t thinking raw crystals.

Medieval people were much more aware of the natural shape of the diamond than we are, because until the late Middle Ages nobody knew how to cut them and so the octahedral crystals were simply set in their natural state. The very earliest cut, the ‘point cut’, introduced in the mid-14th century, only entailed polishing the natural facets to improve less-than-perfectly-symmetrical stones. Nobody knew how to cut diamonds to make them reflect light dazzlingly till the mid-17th century. Till then the diamond was a dark stone, valued far more for its hardness than its beauty.

I knew that, but I admit it rocked me back a bit, when looking up the word in the OED today, to find that in early heraldry diamond could be used as a synonym for the tincture sable, i.e. black.

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