House of Cards – Idiom, Meaning and Sentence Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

A house of cards is an idiom used to describe something that’s dangerously unstable or teetering on the brink of collapse. It’s not just a child’s pastime of stacking playing cards! This expression finds its roots in the genuine frailty of a structure made from cards, illustrating how easily things can fall apart.

An idiom is a phrase or expression whose meaning cannot be understood from the ordinary meanings of its individual words. Idioms, like this one, are the seasoning to the English language, infusing conversations with color, depth, and emotion.

Curious about the layers behind this idiom? Stick around as we delve into its origin and meaning and demonstrate its use in a sentence. Keep reading to unveil the origin behind this captivating phrase!

The Meaning of the Idiom House of Cards

House of Cards – Idiom Meaning and Sentence Examples

A house of cards is what we call something that’s built on a shaky foundation. It could be a literal construct or, more commonly, a metaphorical situation. It’s the startup that’s operating on fumes, the relationship teetering on the edge of drama, or the political career one scandal away from collapse.

Just picture an actual house of cards. Most of us used to build them as kids, and when the tower or house got so tall, it would teeter because it was unreliable. That’s because its size couldn’t hold up against the shaky foundation. Just like that, the idiom captures the essence of something vulnerable, no matter how grand it appears.

House of Card Origin and Etymology

House of Cards Ngram
House of cards usage trend.

The term “house of cards” stems from the very literal activity of stacking playing cards to form a structure. Given that these houses are inherently unstable (one sneeze and it’s game over!), the term quickly evolved to symbolize any unstable or precarious situation.

The phrase can be traced back to the renowned poet and writer, John Milton, who coined it in the 1600s. Interestingly, during that era, playing cards were viewed with suspicion and were even deemed sinful. So, when Milton used the phrase, he was not only highlighting the physical instability of a card house but also alluding to its moral fragility. An engaging blend of literal and moral connotations, don’t you think?

Synonyms for House of Cards

There are a few other ways to express this idea while retaining the intent.

  • Shaky foundation
  • Precarious situation
  • Ticking time bomb
  • Quicksand
  • Slippery slope

Using a House of Cards Idiom in a Sentence

House of Cards – Idiom Meaning and Sentence Examples 1

These sentence examples show the different ways you can use this term in everyday life.

  • The new tech startup is a house of cards; I’m sure it’ll collapse at the first sign of trouble.
  • My parent’s marriage is a house of cards; one strong argument could bring it all down.
  • The government’s new policy seems like a house of cards if you ask me.
  • Be careful! Your argument is built like a house of cards, and I could dismantle it in a second.
  • The financial system before the crash was a veritable house of cards, and it’s even worse now.
  • Without their star player, the soccer team’s strategy was nothing but a house of cards.
  • The movie was okay, but the plot was as unstable as a house of cards.
  • Her reputation is a house of cards, built on lies and deception, and the whole school knows it.
  • The company’s success turned out to be a house of cards after the huge scandal about embezzling.
  • The so-called miracle diet is just a house of cards with no health benefits at all.

Don’t Stack Them Too High

A house of cards is a common idiom we all use today. You can call anything that’s unstable a house of cards, even emotional states! We unravel the meanings of hundreds of idioms right on our site, so check them out and expand your vocabulary today!

Want to know more idioms? Check out some others we covered: