So, exactly how does it go? – “Keep yourcards close come the vest”(?) – or is it, “close to the chest?
Of the 2 options, “close come thevest” is the original, date to late 1905.To pat one’s cards “close come the chest” come later, but not much later. Purists, striving tocleave to the initial construction, however, need to say the contempt wordier, however less confusing, “close to the vest buttons.”
The vest-chest man is understandable,given that they rhyme and also are located in about the same place; swapping thewords has practically no effect on the cadence, sound or meaning of the phrase. It likewise does not aid that vests are out offashion; world hearing the phrase for the very first time more than likely gravitate towardchest, since it is more familiar. Revertingto the original ‘close to the vest buttons’ might obviate few of the confusion– ns don’t see anyone trying come say, ‘close to the chest buttons.’ but that idiom wouldprobably just die a slow death. We seemto be stuck to the two, competing, however otherwise the same idioms.

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The idioms, to keep somethingclose to her vest, or chest, room allusions come the video game of poker. Just as a poker player may shot to hide hiscards from his other players, a person connected in business, relationships, orsome type of negotiation may try to ‘keep their cards close come the vest (orchest);’ in other words, withhold or stop disclosing certain information,emotions, or other determinants that could otherwise damage their position.
Because that the an interpretation of thephrase, ns would have actually expected the idiom to have grown, organically, amongst theriverboat gamblers that the mid-nineteenth century, or amongst Old West saloon dudes,gambling in areas like miss out on Kitty’s Longbranch Saloon, in the late-nineteenthcentury. Surprisingly, however, thephrase go not emerge naturally indigenous poker players, generally; it appears tohave been coined through a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist while composing abiography the a potential candidate for President.
Poker is an American game. The word, poker, is believed to it is in derivedfrom the previously French video game of poque. Pokeris believed to have emerged along the Mississippi river, betweenFrench-influenced new Orleans and also Memphis.Professional gamblers, strong the waters of the early West, rode theriverboats taking a re-superstructure of the wealth produced by the upriver businessmenand the downriver plantation owners.

Pop-cultural depictions ofriverboat gamblers generally present men with lengthy coats, a wire tie, and avest. As soon as the period of the riverboatgambler pertained to a close together rail transportation supplanted riverboattransportation during the growth of the West after ~ the civil War, poker travelledwest. Soil speculation, gold rushes andthe cattle business, in floor now easily accessible by the railroad, created newwealth, boom towns, and cowboys v 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 display a man wearing a cowboy hat, a jacketand a vest.
When world took host inthe West, following the early on days that settlement and expansion, the job of thewild and woolly West passed to history.A city lamenting the end of legit gambling in Arizona is just one of the earliestappearances the the phrase, ‘cards close come the vest,’ in print:
Although phrase, ‘cards nearby tothe vest,’ is used literally in the poem, the poem obtained the phrase from theidiom, which had actually been coined less than 2 years earlier.

Close come the Vest Buttons


The idiom first appeared, in itsoriginal kind (close to the vest buttons), in william Allen White’sbiography the Joseph W.Folk, the governor of Missouri.White, a friend of Theodore Roosevelt (who continued to be at White’s home inMissouri twice) would certainly go on to win a Pulitzer compensation in 1923. He won for an article about free-speech writtenafter his arrest because that criticizing the State the Kansas’ treatment of strikers inthe great Railroad to win of 1922. GovernorFolk, who had actually been chosen Governor in 1904, to be a reform-minded moralist whomWhite observed as a potential presidential candidate. White contrasted Folk’s diplomatic an abilities to thoseof president McKinley (who had been assassinated simply a few years earlier) inwords that speak to to mind a game of poker:
Heplays the game of life with a laugh face, yet with his cards close come hisvest buttons. The is together unimpulsive asMcKinley whom, in countless ways, he strongly resembles. Over there is nothing of the dare-devil in Folk,though insomuch together the bluff is a known weapon of sleek diplomacy heuses that deftly.
William Allen White, Folk: The Story the a tiny Leaven in aGreat Commonwealth, which appeared in McClure’sMagazine, Volume XXVI, Number 2 (December, 1905), web page 125. Folk’s politics star never rose – he servedonly one term as governor and lost a project for the Senate year later. White’s brand-new idiom, however, has had actually a longand successful career.
The freshly produced idiom receivedimmediate attention. The new York Tribune reprinted a briefexcerpt from the extensive Folk biography in early December, simply as theDecember worry of McClure’s was hitting the newsstands. The editors appeared to have took pleasure in the pokeridiom. The quick excerpt, i m sorry appearedin a segment entitled, ideal Things CulledFrom the American Magazines for December, closed v the words, “close tohis vest buttons.”
Within a few weeks, anothernewspaper recycled the idiom in an unrelated context, while extending the poker allusion:
Then comes the railroad rate question,and once that has been voted on by the House, the Senate will have actually all the bigcards in that is hands. What will certainly it execute withthem? political leaders of remarkable powers space on deck, and they room playing theircards this days unusually nearby to their vest buttons.”
The Arizona gambling-prohibitionpoem, which came out the complying with year, reused the idiom, in a literal meaning sense,but there is no the buttons. In ~ a fewyears, the button-less idiom would show up with increasing frequency:
“Areyou sure, Gus, mine dear young friend, that we are not too conservative inselling but a quarter of a million bushels each? There’s together a point asplaying ‘em also close to the vest, friend know.”
Peter B. Kyne, Cappy Ricks, Wheat Baron: inside J.Augustus Redell Scores a Knock-Out, which appeared in The Saturday night Post, February 24, 1917, page 22;
Juliusis a strictly business man and also plays his card “Close to his vest,” that is agenial sort, renowned with the ladies, and was when mistaken because that a French Count- - - that vehemently protested that he was a German no-count.
In 1919, the originator that the idiom, wilhelm Allen White, revisitedthe phrase; but this time there is no buttons and with a an ext extended pokermetaphor. In one article an important ofJapan’s role in the peace negotiations that took ar at the finish of human being WarI, that wrote:
“Well,this is the end of a perfect international poker party.” within the Japs have been sitting 4 longmonths v their cards near to their vests, smiling, protecting each ante,saying nothing – certain nothing. . . Acquisition no part, yet keeping keen eyeson the run of the cards, learning every advantage others received and also lookingthe other means or benignly agreeing that Providence is indeed wise andjust. Then, Japan finding the the runof the game made her necessary to the success of human being peace, very closely rolledup she sleeves, placed her hands in and also grabbed.
“Close to the vest” was below tostay; and also “Close to the Chest” to be not far behind.
By the nature that card-playing,poker players had actually long played through their cards close to your vests, or chests,whether or not that plot or phrase developed the communication of a common, idiomaticphrase. It was probably unavoidable thatthe phrase could show up earlier in the literal sense, if no the idiomaticsense. Surprisingly, however, my surveyof the literature uncovered only one such circumstances from prior to 1905:
Holdinghis cards close to his chest, the peered in ~ them cautiously. When he had satisfied himself the he was notmistaken in the very first estimate the his hand he inserted his cards, confront down,carelessly in front of him and also smiled the laugh of a male who had struck a “goodthing” for the very first time. He had drawnthree kings.
The phrase, ‘cards close come thechest,’ pops increase a few times, in the literal meaning sense, after ~ ‘close come the vest’was coined in 1905:
The Virgin, stand behind him, then didwhat a man’s finest friend was not privileged to do. Getting to over Daylight’s shoulder, she pickedup his hand and also read it, at the very same time shielding the encounters of the 5 cardsclose to his chest. What she experienced werethree queens and a pair the eights, yet nobody guessed what she saw.
Jack London, burn Daylight, The brand-new York Herald agency (1910) (reprinted innumerous newspapers).
Given the voice andsubstantive similarities between vest and also chest, the was more than likely alsoinevitable that the idiom, ‘close to the vest,’ would eventually be expressed as ‘close tothe chest’ in a non-literal sense. And, the happenedquickly. The more quickly such usage that i was able to discover is from 1918:
Asharp man – wits honed to a wire edge and always maneuverin’ to hand the otherfellow the sho’t finish of the bargain. Allof i m sorry leads approximately the advice to keep a close top lip and play the cardsclose come 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 offered inthe context of super-power national politics in 1921:
“Byplaying alone against a strong group of powers,” claims the Journal, “we riskbeing obliged to make grave concessions.As much as tonnage in large units is concerned, the 50 per cent cutproposed by Secretary Hughes is nothing.A graver hazard threatens the future of our submarine fleet. We need to play our cards close come our chests.”


"Close come the vest" was unheard of, also in the literal sense, before the idiom was coined in 1905. "Close come the chest" was virtually unheard of prior to "close come the vest was coined," having showed up only once before 1905. Yet after wilhelm Allen White coined the idiom, to play one"s cards close come the vest (buttons), in 1905, both the literal usage of "close to the vest/chest" and also the idiom of "close come the vest/chest" take place with increasing frequency.

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I identify that I have notproven, with certainty, that William Allen White coined the idiom, ‘close tothe vest.’ it is possible that the and/orothers may have actually used the phrase casually, among themselves prior to the idiomcrept right into one the his articles. However,the instant appreciation of and repetition of the phrase, in the weeks instantly after that firstappearance in print, suggests that the phrase was new. You would think the a expression that obtained such prompt attention would have actually taken off earlier, if the had, in fact, beencoined or provided earlier. The absence of any type of such proof supports the conclusion the it was coined in 1905.The reality that the phrase, even in literal meaning sense, was mainly unknown, or in ~ least really uncommon, prior to it was integrated into the idiom, likewise supports the ide that william Allen White coined the idiom.