WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Lurched

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Lurched

We are game-playing fanatics in my family.

Board, backyard, card – you mention the word “game” and our family is in it to win it. But perhaps that’s too simplistic. We love the strategy, the complexity, and the challenge…and we really enjoy being together with extended family and friends. Sometimes the competition is friendly and sometimes it gets a little more heated, but we always have fun, and always meet again to play another game.

The one game I see pop up the most in all things Regency is whist. It’s a game I’m totally unfamiliar with, so of course I dove into the research head-first. It also helped that whist was mentioned several times in Pride and Prejudice, the most familiar time to me when it vexed Elizabeth no end that Mr. Darcy ignored her to play whist at the behest of her mother, of all people.

When the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed, the ladies all rose, and Elizabeth was then hoping to be soon joined by him, when all her views were overthrown by seeing him fall a victim to her mother’s rapacity for whist players, and in a few moments after seated with the rest of the party. She now lost every expectation of pleasure. They were confined for the evening at different tables, and she had nothing to hope, but that his eyes were so often turned towards her side of the room, as to make him play as unsuccessfully as herself.
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 54


Those who lose a game of whist, without scoring five, are said to be lurched.

Edmond Hoyle was and is the expert on cards and games, and his collection of instruction pamphlets were grouped together and published, following his death, under the concise title Mr. Hoyle’s games of whist, quadrille, piquet, chess, and back-gammon, complete, In which are contained, the method of playing and betting at those games, upon equal, or advantageous terms. Including the laws of the several games. The fifteenth edition. To which are added, two new cases at whist; also the new laws of the game at whist, as played at White’s and Saunders’s Chocolate-Houses.

Mr. Hoyle’s Games of Whist, Quadrille, Piquet, Chess and Back-Gammon, circa 1770.

Whist is played with a standard 52-card deck, known during the Regency as a French Deck, and four players grouped into two sets of partners. Partners may not comment nor collude about the cards they are dealt. The object of the game is to take “tricks” and thus score the most points (all of which reminds me of pinochle). A trick consists of one turn where each participant plays a card, with the pile going to the winner who plays the “best” card. The best card is not always the highest in rank, as we’ll learn later.

Queen of Hearts from deck of cards, early 1800s, Ackermann’s Repository.

The rank of cards is in order from highest to lowest, beginning with Ace and ending with the deuce. Cards are shuffled by the player to the left of the dealer and cut by the player to the dealer’s right. All 52 cards are dealt facedown save the final card, which is left faceup to determine the trump suit. Each player will have thirteen cards; this yields thirteen tricks.

Trump Suit, from Colonial Games.

Play proceeds clockwise, with the first card thrown by the player on the dealer’s left. The participant may play any card in his hand; remaining players must follow with cards from this leading suit. If no such card is held, a player has the choice to throw a card of any suit – called a discard – or play a card from the trump suit. The player who played the highest card in the lead suit takes the trick unless a trump was played. If multiple trumps fall during a trick, the highest trump takes the trick.

Whist Trick, from Colonial Games. In this trick, the player of the Jack takes the trick.

The winner of the trick collects the four cards and places them in a facedown stack close by. This player then leads the next trick. Once all thirteen tricks have been played, the stacks are then counted. Every six stacks are known as a “book;” one point is scored for that set of partners for every book they collect. The first team to reach five was considered the winner (or seven or nine, if that number was so chosen as the winning score). Those playing a “rubber of whist” played three rounds before the winning partnership was determined.

Christmas Academics Playing a Rubber at Whist, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1 April 1803, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To keep score, players used tokens. Tokens could be made of any material, from metal to leather to cardboard. Later in the 19th century, tokens were replaced by dial counters and hinged pegs similar to those used in cribbage.

Brass Tokens – Vintage Whist Tokens, courtesy WorthPoint.

Whist is so close to pinochle, one of my favorite card games, that I really feel like my family needs to attempt a rubber soon. Wish everyone luck – I play to win.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Michaelmas

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Michaelmas

There are some holidays that are universal, such as Christmas and Easter, despite the differences in some customs connected with them from country to country. Most everyone knows something about those holidays, whether they observe them or not.

Then there are the quarter days in England.

These holidays have long fascinated me because they seemed so aristocratic, so fancy. Just the name “Lady Day” or “Midsummer” sounded far removed from my American and, let’s face, pedestrian likes of “Groundhog Day” and “Ask a Stupid Question Day.” Don’t get me wrong: part of what makes America, America, is its celebration of all things ridiculous and not taking itself too seriously. But there is something alluring and delightfully posh about English holidays.

And yes, I realize these quarter days are not exclusively English. For the purposes of my post, however (and my life, honestly), they are.


The feast of St. Michael, September 29.

Michaelmas is celebrated every September 29th, and is the third of the quarter days (Lady Day on March 25th, Midsummer on June 24th, and Christmas on December 25th, being the others). As these dates were spaced three months apart, these were the times servants were hired, rents came due, and contracts and leases began. Michaelmas in particular was the time for electing magistrates, as the harvest was to be finished and preparations for the winter season of farming begun. Everyone had time to dispute and haggle now, so someone was needed to mediate.

September 29th also marked the beginning of university terms. As such, it was also said to be safe to begin hunting and house party season. With the young males dispatched to university, they were unable to disrupt grouse or single ladies, in turn.

Fowl Shooting by Henry Alken in The National Sports of Great Britain, 1825.

To commemorate the day, a goose was grazed on the leftovers in the fields from the harvest. On the 29th, families ate their fattened goose to ward against financial need during the upcoming year. In the United Kingdom, tradition related “Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day, Want not for money all the year.” Goose Fairs sprang up all over England; today’s fairs that still hold such names have moved to October and no longer sell geese, but they do offer plenty of rides, games, and deep-fried foods.

Michaelmas is named for one of the seven archangels of the Bible; Michael was the fierce warrior who fought Satan and the angels he persuaded to leave heaven. Because this holiday occurs as nights are growing longer, and dark forces stronger in the dark of night, it was believed that Michael’s stronger defenses would be needed during this season. Look no further for the dark deeds afoot this time of year than what Michaelmas was formerly known as: “Devil Spits Day.”

After the calendar reform of 1752, several activities associated with Michaelmas moved forward eleven days to October 10, which became known as “Old Michaelmas Day” (just to muddle the situation). So… Devil Spits Day? According to folklore, September 29 is the last day blackberries should be picked, because Old Scratch was kicked out of heaven on this very same day. He fell to earth and landed in a blackberry bush. Being terribly angry and, well, the Devil, he cursed the fruit, scorched them with his heated breath, and finally stomped and spat on them. The legend continues that the curse renews annually, and to eat blackberries after Michaelmas is unwise.

Devil’s Blackberries.

But while the Devil stirs up the evil, beauty is blooming in the form of the Michaelmas Daisy. In the language of flowers, a daisy means farewell; perhaps a floral goodbye to a good year. From an Irish proverb:

The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.

European Michaelmas Daisy Aster Amellus by Andé Karwath.