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I heard this phrase in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" and also found it online by googling it.

What does the phrase mean?

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1  
Related question: is it close to the chest or close to the vest. –  Peter Shor Jul 7 '11 at 15:14
    
FYI, a somewhat similar interesting phrase is "so that .. the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing." –  Joe Blow Jul 7 '11 at 15:51

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It means that a person keeps their motivations a secret. It comes from poker: you hold your cards close to your "vest" or body so you don't "tip your hand" or accidentally allow the other players to see your cards.

This is a really nice article about the phrase, and includes some related poker phrases.

Note: The linked article is The Maven's Word of the Day from August 25, 2000. This series of articles was published by Random House between 1996 to 2001. I cannot find an online archive (other than the Wayback), although I will continue to look.

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It's very interesting that a surprisingly large number of common phrases come from card games. I'm holding all the aces, etc etc etc. –  Joe Blow Jul 7 '11 at 15:52
    
The link is broken. –  I. J. Kennedy Dec 13 '11 at 0:48
    
@I.J.Kennedy Thanks for letting me know. I linked it through the Wayback Machine so that people could read it, but I am also searching for a better link. –  KitFox Dec 13 '11 at 12:58

The Wayback Machine hung for me, but their "Getting Impatient" link worked just fine.

Incidentally, the article ends by mentioning several poker-based idioms (e.g., lay your cards on the table, wear your poker face, etc.). Conspicuously absent, though, was the term "all-in," which seems to have gained traction more recently (the article is more than a decade old now). Still this emphasizes how poker-inspired idioms are STILL making their way into everyday speech.

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