Monday 12 March 2012

Trumps and Triumphs

It may seem odd that charges in the newspapers are almost invariably trumped up. The cause can be found in a bit of etymology which leads, like all good roads, back to Shakespeare. In Antony and Cleopatra, when Antony realises that all is lost, he complains that Cleopatra has:

Pack'd cards with Caesar, and false-play'd my glory
Unto an enemy's triumph.

The card-playing metaphor continues to the very last word of that quotation, because a triumph, or terrestrial triumph as it was more usually called, was an old term for a winning card.

It didn't take long for a triumph card to get slurred and shortened to trump card. Then trump got verbed and you became able to trump your opponent.

Trumps are annoying things when your opponent has them, and so phrases emerged like trumping upon someone, which meant to throw out an obstacle as one card player will do to another. So trump became a synonym for any unexpected obstacle, and trumping became a term for producing such an obstacle out of the blue.

So if you arrest somebody out of the blue just to stop them doing something, then you trump up charges, like a card player spoiling your winning ace.

The Detection of Kepplinger - card cheating
The Inky Fool loses a trick


  1. That's great to know, but now vivisect triumph for me please. My Latin's not great (I'd love to learn it but I'm not the most self-disciplined of sorts) but anyone could tell you 'tri' means 'three'; as for 'umph'? And one other question- do you furiously type upon the keyboard and the genius flows naturally or do you have to pause and shape your works like a potter?

  2. I'm afraid that triumph is nothing to do with three, which is a shame. I type as the muse dictates. She's a cruel mistress, but a great lay.

  3. Any idea how, in the north of England, "trump" came to signify, how can I put this delicately?, a bottom-burp?