Betting on the English Language

Category: Culture, Language

Welcome to Las Vegas and the 24/7 craps tables. While not the easiest game to play in the gambling pantheon, craps is the one most like a team sport. Players actively root for one another and often bolster each other’s bets. When a table is “hot”, players scream, holler, give high fives and yes, even do chest butts.

When it comes to the English language, craps has actually contributed its fair share of terms into our day-to-day speech. However, be careful when using craps and other gambling terms in your documents and marketing campaigns that eventually need to be localized. These terms, although common in English, may or may not “translate” well into other languages and may require substantial reworking by a translator, ultimately adding extra time and cost to your localization project. Read more about how to write for international audiences.

Now, let’s return to the craps table. I’ll bet you think that the word “crap” comes from the game of craps. Well, that’s incorrect. Hand over a $10 chip to the author. The word “crap” originates from the Middle English, Old French, and Medieval Latin for “one of a cluster of words generally applied to things cast off or discarded”. It took a while for it to be related to the bathroom in the mid to late 1800s.

Here’s a quick look at some craps terms that have permeated the English language:

Crap out – a losing throw of the dice that makes all players lose their bets. Basically, letting everyone down or reneging on a promise. Sample English sentence: “He crapped out of his promise to mow the lawn.”

On a roll – on a winning streak, wherein the “shooter” continues to throw the dice. Sample English sentence: “That team is on a roll. I think they will win the whole tournament.”

Play the Field – A craps term, however the English expression of avoiding commitment actually originated with horse betting. Sample English sentence: “He’s playing the field and going out with a different person every night.”

A Natural – a win when “coming out” of the point; someone who is born with a talent (although this has also been attributed to a boxing term). Sample English sentence: “She’s a natural at math and didn’t need to study for the test.”

One more bit of craps trivia: How much will you bet you know the origin of the word croupier, the casino employee who distributes craps bets with a stick? One chip goes to you if you knew it’s French. But a bagful of chips go to you if you know that the origin has nothing to do with gambling and everything to do with horses. It comes from the noun croup, which is the rump of a horse. The croupier was the person who rode on the rump behind the horseman. The craps’ croupier is considered the back-up man to the main dealer at the craps table – hence the title croupier (or person on the rump, as it were).