Green’s Dictionary of Slang

card n.2

1. a joker, a clown.

[UK]G. Stevens ‘The Masquerade’ Songs Comic and Satyrical 187: A Card flew to Pan, who was skill’d in these matters, / To model some Masks from the Portraits of Satyrs; / Of Proserpine ask’d Merry Andrew’s Shade, / Without a Buffoon there is no Masquerade.
[US]J. Thompson Pop. 1280 in Four Novels (1983) 470: That was the way I was, a real card.
[US](con. 1949) J.G. Dunne True Confessions (1979) 78: ‘Jery Bang Bang,’ Tom Spellacy said. ‘He was a shooter.’ ‘Fucking card is what he was,’ Crotty said.
[US]R. Price Breaks 103: You’re quite a card, Mr. Keller.
[US]W.T. Vollmann Whores for Gloria 118: I’m such a card I shuffle when I walk!

2. a character, a noticeable person, a likeable eccentric [? one who stands out from the ‘pack’].

[UK]T. Ireland Momus Elenticus 3: Next Roberts of Jesus that doubty good Card.
[UK]Dickens ‘Making a Night of It’ in Slater Dickens’ Journalism I (1994) 267: Mr. Thomas Potter, whose great aim it was to be considered as a ‘knowing card’, a ‘fastgoer’ and so forth.
[UK]‘Bon Gaultier’ ‘The Faking Boy to the Crap is Gone’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 124: ‘Smash my glim,’ cries the reg’lar card.
[UK]Dickens Bleak House (1991) 280: Such an old card as this; so deep, so sly, and so secret.
[UK]M.E. Braddon Trail of the Serpent 27: I’ve seen a many knowing cards.
[UK]J. Greenwood Wilds of London (1881) 139: An earnestness [...] calculated to impress the two young ladies that though young they are lads of mettle and knowing cards.
[UK]‘Walter’ My Secret Life (1966) VIII 1625: ‘Get out and wash, always — I do.’ said the knowing old card.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 19 July 7/3: This E.T. Smith was the Drury-lane manager, a most remarkable card. He once hired a thousand-pound note from Genuse, the West-end money lender, just to flash about and inspire confidence.
[UK]Marvel III:62 18: He’s a deep card, this! [...] But I’ll track him down!
[UK]A. Bennett Card (1974) 280: ‘What a card!’ said one, laughing joyously. ‘He’s a rare ’un, no mistake.’.
[UK]T.W.H. Crosland ‘A Rhyme of Gaffer D—’ Coll. Poems 123: You won’t get rid of that Old Card, / Leastways till you’ve got rid of sin.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 85: Great card he was. Waltzing in Stamer Street with Ignatius Gallagher on a Sunday morning, the landlady’s two hats pinned on his head.
[US]H. Roth Call It Sleep (1977) 408: They guffawed. ‘Yer a card!’ said the coal heaver. ‘Yer a good lad.’.
[Ire]G.A. Little Malachi Horan Remembers 103: There was one of these men in it as was the comicalest card ever you clapt an eye on.
[US]E. Hunter Blackboard Jungle 176: It was okay for Miller to ride the teacher ’cause he was a card that way.
[NZ]N. Hilliard Maori Girl 180: He’s a card, isn’t he?
[UK]A. Sillitoe Start in Life (1979) 105: It was hard to say whether he was the greatest card of them all, or just plain stupid.
[UK]S. Berkoff Decadence in Decadence and Other Plays (1985) 15: Bless him, he’s a card.
[UK]A. Higgins Donkey’s Years 168: The Dodo was a card.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 56: Oh yeah, very good, you’re a card, son.
[UK]A. Bennett Untold Stories (2006) 118: She is a real card is Lily. We always have a laugh.

3. an attraction, a ‘drawing card’.

[US]Wkly Varieties (Boston, MA) 29 Oct. 3/1: While he had money he proved a ‘big card’ among the ’boys’ about town.
Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times (N.Y.) 16 June 246/1: The chief card of the week, in the base-ball line, was a game between the famous Eckfords and the equally well-known Union Club [DA].
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 3 June 2/2: Lizzie McCall [...] is the biggest burleque card of the season [...] Blanche Douglass will be a good dramatic card, too—none better.
[US]Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY) 1 May 21/1: The festival of last year was quite a card for Louisville [DA].
[US]Ade Fables in Sl. (1902) 138: Marie was a Strong card. The Male patrons of the Establishment hovered around the desk long after paying their Checks.
[US]D. Runyon ‘The Big Umbrella’ Runyon on Broadway (1954) 550: He will be a wonderful card.
Westerners’ Brand Book 94: It was a great card and all San Francisco turned out [DA].

4. (US) an amusing thing or circumstance.

[US](con. 1925) J.T. Farrell My Days of Anger 325: That’s a card. That’s your democracy for you.

5. a fool.

[Aus]D. Ireland Burn 69: Listen to him, isn’t he a card? Thinks I made a joke of everything. I ask you, do I look the type?

6. (US) in drug uses.

(a) pieces of opium weighed out onto a (playing) card; the usual ration of prepared opium used in a single smoking session.

[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 127: He tried to think out a plan to get just enough for one little card.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard God’s Man 278: They don’t ever seem to let him have enough to blow a round of drinks or a card of stuff.
[US]F. Williams Hop-Heads 111: A card of opium is sold in the dens for $1. There are four smoking pills to a card.
[US]A. Lomax Mister Jelly Roll (1952) 25: I was personally sent to Chinatown many times with a sealed note and a small amount of money and would bring back several cards of hop.
[US]Wentworth & Flexner DAS.

(b) a means of selling opium in which pills of the drug are stuck to a playing card.

[UK]E. Murphy Black Candle 45: ‘Card-opium’ [...] opium is made into cakes about the size of a fifty-cent piece. This is placed on the centre of a playing card, and the card is bent in half, the opium adhering to the inside like a wad of chewing gum.
[US]D. Maurer ‘Argot of the Und. Narcotic Addict’ Pt 1 in AS XI:2 119/2: card. A bindle of opium peddled by sticking small pills of the gum on the under side of a card.

In phrases

give someone cards and spades (v.) [card-playing imagery; prob. from the 19C game casino]

to allow someone else an advantage.

[US]St Paul Dly Globe (MN)30 June 6/1: Mr Barnes’ black legged players can give cards and spades to bad luck and beat it out.
Grip (Toronto) May n.p.: You know that Artie found a Chinaman out in ’Frisco who could give him cards and spades and beat him out [F&H].
M.S. Cutting Little Stories of Married Life 105: A girl always knows what a man ought to do — she can give him cards and spades and beat him every time.
[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 191: There’s other games, like Tammany Hall for instance, where I could give you cards an’ spades.
[US]J. London Valley of the Moon (Internet edn) 187: Billy [...] had said that she was built like a French woman, and that in the matter of lines and form she could give Annette Kellerman cards and spades.
H.S. Keeler Sing-Sing Nights (2010) n.p.: You can give ’em all cards and spades when you want to.
[US]Rotarian Oct. 57/3: This amateur criminal can give cards and spades to professionals, and he does.
[US]Billboard 14 Nov. 15/2: Current show is headed by Hinda Wausau, who will give cards and spades to any peeler in this theater.
A. Budrys Rogue Moon (Internet edn) n.p.: I can give Connington cards and spades, Doctor – cards and spades – and still beat him out.
hot card (n.) [hot adj. (5d)]

(US) a provocative, lively person.

[US]C.L. Cullen Tales of the Ex-Tanks 97: We [...] met all the hot cards, including the member of Congress from the district.
[US]Wash. Times (DC) 28 July 13/5: He was a good-looker all right [...] One morning a big delegation of girls came down [...] and it wasn’t twenty minutes before this hot card was calling ’em Lulu and Minnie and Blanche, and they liked it.
only fifty cards to (someone’s) deck (adj.)

(US) less than wholly mentally stable, eccentric.

[US]D. Hammett Dain Curse 256: ‘How do you figure her--only fifty cards to her deck?’.
pull someone’s card (v.)

1. to attack, to beat up, to kill.

[US]Run-DMC ‘Together Forever’ 🎵 My rock is hard, you can’t pull my card.
[US]Big Daddy Kane ‘Let Yourself Go’ 🎵 When you get to Detroit, the real thugs gon’ pull your card.
[US]‘Touré’ Portable Promised Land (ms.) 158: We Words (My Favorite Things) [...] Bust a cap. Peel your cap. Pull your card. Protect ya neck.
[US]DMX ‘Shit Don’t Change’ 🎵 It ain’t never been nuttin to pull a nigga’s card.

2. (US prison) to find out information about another inmate [the image is of file cards; the records are now computerized].

[US]Other Side of the Wall: Prisoner’s Dict. July 🌐 Pulling Someone’s Card: Finding out about another prisoner.
sure card (n.) (also correct card) [note mid-16C SE sure card, an expedient to gain a desired object, a person whose name will help one]

of individuals or inanimate objects, that which is trustworthy, dependable.

[UK]Thersytes (1550) E i: Now this is a sure carde, nowe I may well saye That a cowarde crakinge here I dyd fynde.
[UK]Lyly Euphues (1916) 107: A cleere conscience is a sure card.
[UK]Shakespeare Titus Andronicus V i: As sure a card as ever won the set.
H. Porter The Two Angry Women of Abington K3: ralph: O yee are a trustie squire. nic.: It had bin better and he had said, a sure carde.
[UK]Beaumont & Fletcher Captain I ii: for.: You know the juggling captain? clown: Ay; there’s a sure card .
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: A sure Card, a trusty Tool, or Confiding Man.
[UK]Cibber She Would and She Would Not III i: I’ve just thought of a sure Card to win the lady into our Party.
[UK]N. Ward Wooden World 52: His Phiz is a Beacon to all Fresh-water Sailors in bad Weather [...] he’s their sure Card at a dead Lift.
[UK]Bailey (trans.) Erasmus’ Colloquies 31: Then to be sure, that Christopher the Collier was a sure Card to trust to.
[UK]Fielding Joseph Andrews (1954) IV 290: We have one sure card, which is to carry him before Justice Frolick.
[UK]Foote The Minor 55: This is doing business. This Pinch is a sure card.
[UK]Morn. Post (London) 12 Oct. 3/2: Jack considered himself a sure card, but he has since had reason to alter his opinion!
[Aus]Examiner 3 Nov. 7/2: A taste for domestic comedy is reviving; [...] whatever can assist it is to be encouraged [...] Mrs Davison is a sure card.
[UK]Bristol Mercury 8 Sept. 3/6: Auber’s magnificnet aria [...] is a sure card in Templeton’s hands.
[UK]A. Smith Natural History of the Gent 56: His surest card is Buckstone.
[UK]‘Old Calabar’ Won in a Canter I 18: One fellow of ours said his father was a Turkey merchant. He had no end of tin, and we really thought he was the ‘correct card’.
[UK]Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday 8 May 5: [caption] In pronouncing this [a pretty woman] a little darling, may Ally not be allowed to be a correct card.
G. Saintsbury Notes on a Cellar-Book 106: Bols, like Wynand Fockink best known to us for liqueurs, is also a sure card, and also rather dear.