Card Shark or Card Sharp – Origin & Meaning

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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.

Do you play poker or any other types of card games? Even if you just watch poker or use card game apps, you’ve probably heard the term card shark thrown around at least once. But what about the term card sharp? It might sound like a slip of the tongue, but it’s a valid form of the term. I’ll break down both definitions with some examples for you.

Is It Card Shark or Card Sharp?

Card Shark vs Card Sharp Ngram
Card Shark and Card Sharp Usage Trend.

Okie dokie, first things first! Let’s nail down which term is correct. While both “card shark” and “card sharp” are commonly used all over the world, “card sharp” is actually the original term.

“Card shark” is just a popular variation that emerged in American English during the 20th century and became the general form it is today.

British English Card Shark vs Card Sharp Ngram
British English Card Shark and Card Sharp Usage Trend.

So, to answer the question, both are correct, and you could use either of the terms interchangeably in just about any situation. However, card sharp is more commonly used in the UK, and card shark is heard more in the US.

What Does Calling Someone a Card Shark Mean?

Card Shark or Card Sharp Origin Meaning

When you hear someone being called a “card shark,” it basically implies that they’re skilled and experienced card players who use their skills to win at gambling card games like poker. They’ve honed their skills through years of practice and are often seen as a formidable opponent at the poker table.

Also, they’ve become masters at the “poker face,” when they can keep their expressions unreadable when they have both a good and bad hand.

It’s mainly used to describe someone who’s good at cards but can also be someone who’s cheating at cards with shark, meaning cutthroat or untrustworthy, similar to the term loan shark.

What Is a Card Sharp?

For the most part, a card sharp is essentially the same thing as a card shark, but the term has a more traditional aura about it and is mainly used in British English.

Like card sharks, they use their learned skills to deceive and sometimes even cheat to win at card games. 

So, I guess you could say that a card shark is someone who utilizes their skills to win, but a card sharp utilizes cheating methods to win.

Card Shark Synonyms

While you can always use “card shark” and “card sharp” in this sense, there are other terms and phrases that you can use to describe someone skilled at popular card games.

  • Cardplayer
  • Card expert
  • Poker master
  • Card pro
  • Cockney card sharp
  • Card master
  • Crapshooter
  • High roller
  • Card cheat
  • Card wizard

Card Shark and Card Sharp Origins

The origins of the terms “card shark” and “card sharp” emerged somewhere in the 19th century. The root word originated in Europe, taken from the German word schärfen, which translates to sharpen in English and means swindler in this sense. But it was applied to the world of card playing in Britain and then later carried over to North America.

One of the first uses was by George Augustus Sala in 1859 when he said, “German swindlers and card-sharpers.”

The variation “card shark” is said to have originated in the United States to describe a skilled and successful gambler. A Wisconsin newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, in October 1893 used the following excerpt with the term:

“A few days ago, Charles Petrie opened a gambling house, which was promptly raided by the city police. Then Petrie got angry and swore out warrants for all the other keepers until every card shark in the city was taken in.”

Sentence Examples Using Card Shark and Card Sharp

  • He was such a card shark and always beat anyone he played against.
  • Daniel can’t come to our friendly poker game this weekend because he’s a total card sharp.
  • I’m sitting at that table with card sharks; it’ll tarnish my good name.
  • I can’t play against those pros; they’re all crazy card sharks, and I’ll lose embarrassingly.

Good Game!

And thus, our guide comes to an end. So, just remember that you can use both card sharp and card shark in any situation, but card sharp leans more towards someone who cheats, and card shark tips toward those who are just super skilled card players.