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Up one’s sleeve and an ace up one’s sleeve

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  • To have something up one’s sleeve and to have an ace up one’s sleeve are two closely related idioms. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the meanings of the expressions to have something up one’s sleeve and an ace up one’s sleeve, where these terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.


     

    To have something up one’s sleeve means to figuratively have something in reserve that may be pulled out as needed. The expression to have something up one’s sleeve dates from the 1500s. In those days, sleeves were generally rather large and functioned as pockets. The term have something up one’s sleeve has been reinforced by the magician’s practice of hiding items in his sleeve in order to pull them out at surprising times.

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    To have an ace up one’s sleeve means to figuratively have something in reserve that will guarantee success, once employed. The term have an ace up one’s sleeve came into use in the mid-1800s, and stems from gambling card games. Particularly in poker, the ace card is the high card. Someone cheating in the game of poker might hold an ace in his sleeve in order to use it to win the game.

    Examples

    You never know what surprises the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker from Michigan has up his sleeve. (The Detroit Free Press)

    Mr. Herheim has several tricks up his sleeve to “revive” or “rewrite” operas, as he puts it, for eyes and ears deadened by modern life. (The New York Times)

    It is believed the Wigan Warriors utility has agreed to terms to join the Green Machine having impressed in the Denver Test, splitting his time between centre and hooker with a back-row ace up his sleeve. (The Sydney Morning Herald)


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