WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Elbow Shaker

In Flanders whilom was a company
Of younge folkes, that haunted folly,
As riot, hazard, stewes, and taverns;
Where as with lutes, harpes, and giterns,
They dance and play at dice both day and night,
And eat also, and drink over their might;
~Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Pardoner’s Tale

Dice – those tiny cubes upon which fortunes rise and fall – have been around for centuries. Cleromancy, or the act of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by the roll of dice, began some time in the late 1500s. It was only natural the progression from gambling with one’s future to chancing one’s blunt on the tumble of two cubes.

The Interior of Modern Hell; Vide the Cogged Dice by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, private collection.

The Interior of Modern Hell; Vide the Cogged Dice by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, private collection.

Elbow Shaker (noun)

A gamester, one who rattles Saint Hugh’s bones, i.e. the dice.

Chilon, that was a wise ambassador,
Was sent to Corinth with full great honor
From Lacedemon, to make alliance;
And when he came, it happen’d him, by chance,
That all the greatest that were of that land,
Y-playing atte hazard he them fand.
~Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Pardoner’s Tale

The Regency dicer’s game of choice was Hazard, which we know has been around since the 1300s as Geoffrey Chaucer writes of it in The Pardoner’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales. Hazard is simply a game of chance played with dice, from the old French hasart. Tellingly, by the 1540s, the word in English had come to mean a chance of loss, harm, or risk.

Look eke how to the King Demetrius
The King of Parthes, as the book saith us,
Sent him a pair of dice of gold in scorn,
For he had used hazard therebeforn:
For which he held his glory and renown
At no value or reputatioun.
Lordes may finden other manner play
Honest enough to drive the day away.
~Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Pardoner’s Tale

Kick-Up at the Hazard Table by Thomas Rowlandson, 1787-1790, private collection.

Kick-Up at the Hazard Table by Thomas Rowlandson, 1787-1790, private collection.

One of my favorite Regency era phrases is “at sixes and seven,” meaning everything is in utter chaos. After reading the rules of play for Hazard, I see how that phrase could derive from gaming. Kristen Koster does a fabulous job of explaining the ins and outs of “nicking and crabbing while throwing the bones” in her post A Regency Primer on How to Play Hazard.

Seven is my chance, and thine is cinque and trey…
~Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Pardoner’s Tale

I believe I’ll just stick with dice games more my speed and acuity level – Yahtzee and Farkle. Both of which are nearly contact sports in my family.

O cursed sin, full of all cursedness!
O trait’rous homicide! O wickedness!
O glutt’ny, luxury, and hazardry!
~Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Pardoner’s Tale

A Black Leg Detected Secreting Cards by Thomas Rowlandson, undated, Yale Center for British Art.

A Black Leg Detected Secreting Cards by Thomas Rowlandson, undated, Yale Center for British Art.

 

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2 thoughts on “WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Elbow Shaker

  1. Kristen’s whole Primer series is a must-read for any Regency devotee – packed full with great information!

    Our three family go-to games growing up were Monopoly, Stratego, and Yahtzee. You’ve got to love making noise to roll six dice at a time in a cup 🙂

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