So, just how does the go? – “Keep yourcards close to the vest”(?) – or is it, “close to the chest?
Of the 2 options, “close to thevest” is the original, date to late 1905.To play one’s cards “close come the chest” came later, however not much later. Purists, striving tocleave come the original construction, however, should say the slightly wordier, yet less confusing, “close to the vest buttons.”
The vest-chest man is understandable,given that they rhyme and are located in around the very same place; swapping thewords has virtually no effect on the cadence, sound or meaning of the phrase. It likewise does not help that vests space out offashion; civilization hearing the expression for the first time probably gravitate towardchest, because it is an ext familiar. Revertingto the original ‘close come the vest buttons’ can obviate few of the confusion– i don’t check out anyone trying to say, ‘close to the chest buttons.’ yet that idiom wouldprobably just die a sluggish death. We seemto be stuck with the two, competing, yet otherwise identical idioms.

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The idioms, to store somethingclose to her vest, or chest, room allusions to the video game of poker. Just as a poker player may shot to hide hiscards native his other players, a person associated in business, relationships, orsome kind of negotiation may try to ‘keep your cards close to the vest (orchest);’ in other words, withhold or avoid disclosing specific information,emotions, or other components that can otherwise weaken their position.
Because that the meaning of thephrase, i would have actually expected the idiom to have grown, organically, amongst theriverboat gamblers of the mid-nineteenth century, or among Old West saloon dudes,gambling in places like miss out on Kitty’s Longbranch Saloon, in the late-nineteenthcentury. Surprisingly, however, thephrase walk not emerge naturally indigenous poker players, generally; it shows up tohave to be coined by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter while composing abiography of a potential candidate because that President.
Poker is an American game. The word, poker, is assumed to be derivedfrom the previously French game of poque. Pokeris believed to have arisen along the Mississippi river, betweenFrench-influenced new Orleans and Memphis.Professional gamblers, strong the waters that the early on West, talk theriverboats acquisition a share of the wealth produced by the upriver businessmenand the downriver plantation owners.

Pop-cultural depictions ofriverboat gamblers generally display men with long coats, a cable tie, and avest. Once the age of the riverboatgambler concerned a close as rail transportation supplanted riverboattransportation throughout the growth of the West ~ the polite War, poker travelledwest. Floor speculation, yellow rushes andthe cattle business, in soil now obtainable by the railroad, developed newwealth, eight towns, and also cowboys with money in your pockets in ~ the end of a longcattle drive. The Old West was fertileground because that poker. Pop-cultural representationsof west dudes playing poker generally present a man wearing a cowboy hat, a jacketand a vest.
When civilization took hold inthe West, complying with the at an early stage days of settlement and also expansion, the days of thewild and woolly West passed to history.A city lamenting the end of legitimate gambling in Arizona is just one of the earliestappearances that the phrase, ‘cards close come the vest,’ in print:
Although phrase, ‘cards near tothe vest,’ is used literally in the poem, the poem borrowed the expression from theidiom, which had actually been coined much less than two years earlier.

Close to the Vest Buttons


The idiom an initial appeared, in itsoriginal type (close to the vest buttons), in william Allen White’sbiography of Joseph W.Folk, the branch of Missouri.White, a girlfriend of Theodore Roosevelt (who remained at White’s residence inMissouri twice) would go ~ above to win a Pulitzer prize in 1923. The won for an article about free-speech writtenafter his arrest for criticizing the State that Kansas’ treatment of strikers inthe good Railroad strike of 1922. GovernorFolk, who had been chosen Governor in 1904, was a reform-minded moralist whomWhite experienced as a potential presidential candidate. White contrasted Folk’s diplomatic an abilities to thoseof chairman McKinley (who had actually been assassinated just a few years earlier) inwords that speak to to mind a game of poker:
Heplays the game of life through a laugh face, yet with his cards close come hisvest buttons. That is together unimpulsive asMcKinley whom, in many ways, he strong resembles. There is naught of the dare-devil in Folk,though insomuch as the bluff is a recognized weapon of polished diplomacy heuses the deftly.
William Allen White, Folk: The Story of a little Leaven in aGreat Commonwealth, which appeared in McClure’sMagazine, Volume XXVI, Number 2 (December, 1905), page 125. Folk’s politics star never rose – he servedonly one term as governor and lost a campaign for the Senate years later. White’s brand-new idiom, however, has had actually a longand successful career.
The freshly minted idiom receivedimmediate attention. The brand-new York Tribune reprinted a briefexcerpt native the considerable Folk biography in at an early stage December, simply as theDecember issue of McClure’s to be hitting the newsstands. The editors seemed to have delighted in the pokeridiom. The brief excerpt, i m sorry appearedin a segment entitled, best Things CulledFrom the American Magazines because that December, closed through the words, “close tohis vest buttons.”
Within a few weeks, anothernewspaper recycle the idiom in one unrelated context, while expanding the poker allusion:
Then come the railroad rate question,and once that has actually been poll on through the House, the Senate will have all the bigcards in that hands. What will certainly it execute withthem? political leaders of premium powers are on deck, and they space playing theircards this days unusually near to your vest buttons.”
The Arizona gambling-prohibitionpoem, which came out the following year, reused the idiom, in a literal sense,but there is no the buttons. In ~ a fewyears, the button-less idiom would appear with raising frequency:
“Areyou sure, Gus, my dear young friend, that we space not too conservative inselling however a 4 minutes 1 of a million bushels each? There’s together a thing asplaying ‘em as well close come the vest, friend know.”
Peter B. Kyne, Cappy Ricks, Wheat Baron: wherein J.Augustus Redell Scores a Knock-Out, which showed up in The Saturday evening Post, February 24, 1917, web page 22;
Juliusis a strictly company man and plays his map “Close come his vest,” he is agenial sort, famous with the ladies, and also was as soon as mistaken for a French Count- - - he vehemently protested the he was a German no-count.
In 1919, the originator the the idiom, wilhelm Allen White, revisitedthe phrase; yet this time without buttons and also with a an ext extended pokermetaphor. In an article vital ofJapan’s role in the tranquility negotiations that took place at the finish of civilization WarI, he wrote:
“Well,this is the finish of a perfect international poker party.” wherein the Japs have actually been sitting four longmonths through their cards nearby to your vests, smiling, protecting every ante,saying nothing – certain nothing. . . Acquisition no part, however keeping to crawl eyeson the operation of the cards, discovering every benefit others received and also lookingthe other method or benignly agreeing that Providence is certainly wise andjust. Then, Japan finding that the runof the game made her necessary to the success of civilization peace, carefully rolledup she sleeves, placed her hand in and grabbed.
“Close come the vest” was below tostay; and “Close come the Chest” to be not far behind.
By the nature of card-playing,poker players had long played with their cards near to their vests, or chests,whether or no that action or phrase created the communication of a common, idiomaticphrase. It to be probably inevitable thatthe phrase can show up earlier in the literal sense, if no the idiomaticsense. Surprisingly, however, my surveyof the literary works uncovered just one such circumstances from before 1905:
Holdinghis cards close come his chest, the peered in ~ them cautiously. Once he had satisfied himself the he to be notmistaken in the an initial estimate of his hand he inserted his cards, face down,carelessly in former of him and also smiled the laugh of a man who had actually struck a “goodthing” for the first time. He had actually drawnthree kings.
The phrase, ‘cards close come thechest,’ pops up a few times, in the literal meaning sense, after ~ ‘close to the vest’was coined in 1905:
The Virgin, stand behind him, then didwhat a man’s ideal friend was not privileged come do. Reaching over Daylight’s shoulder, she pickedup his hand and read it, in ~ the same time shielding the faces of the five cardsclose come his chest. What she observed werethree queens and a pair of eights, but nobody guessed what she saw.
Jack London, burning Daylight, The brand-new York Herald company (1910) (reprinted innumerous newspapers).
Given the voice andsubstantive similarities between vest and chest, it was probably alsoinevitable the the idiom, ‘close to the vest,’ would at some point be expressed together ‘close tothe chest’ in a non-literal sense. And, it happenedquickly. The faster such use that i was maybe to discover is native 1918:
Asharp male – wits honed come a cable edge and always maneuverin’ to hand the otherfellow the sho’t end of the bargain. Allof i beg your pardon leads up to the advice to store a close top lip and play the cardsclose to yo’ chest.
Ralph D. Paine, TheCall that the Offshore Wind, (1918), chapter 4, Cap’n Joe Dabney “Plays aHunch,” reprinted in The Seattle Star,February 19, 1920.The idiom was supplied inthe paper definition of super-power national politics in 1921:
“Byplaying alone against a solid group the powers,” states the Journal, “we riskbeing obliged to make grave concessions.As far as tonnage in huge units is concerned, the 50 per cent cutproposed by Secretary Hughes is nothing.A graver risk threatens the future of our submarine fleet. We have to play our cards close come our chests.”


"Close to the vest" to be unheard of, also in the literal sense, prior to the idiom was coined in 1905. "Close to the chest" was nearly unheard of before "close come the vest to be coined," having showed up only once prior to 1905. However after wilhelm Allen White coined the idiom, to play one"s cards close come the vest (buttons), in 1905, both the literal use of "close to the vest/chest" and the idiomatic of "close come the vest/chest" occur with raising frequency.

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I acknowledge that I have notproven, v certainty, the William Allen White coined the idiom, ‘close tothe vest.’ the is possible that the and/orothers may have used the expression casually, amongst themselves prior to the idiomcrept into one of his articles. However,the prompt appreciation of and repetition that the phrase, in the weeks automatically after the firstappearance in print, suggests that the phrase was new. You would think the a phrase that obtained such immediate attention would have taken off earlier, if that had, in fact, beencoined or supplied earlier. The absence of any kind of such evidence supports the conclusion that it was coined in 1905.The truth that the phrase, also in literal meaning sense, was mostly unknown, or at least really uncommon, prior to it was included into the idiom, also supports the pointer that wilhelm Allen White coined the idiom.