Reading the diary of a doctor in Canada, 1845-46, often refers to "having a rubber" at the end of the day which seems like a nightcap. Does anyone know why the word rubber is used?

  • 9
    Sure it wasn't a card game? "rubber of bridge" Jul 20, 2014 at 21:46
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    Doesn't rubber mean condom? Jul 20, 2014 at 21:46
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    @ArmenԾիրունյան "The first rubber condom was produced in 1855" Jul 20, 2014 at 21:47
  • There used to be some amusing misunderstandings back when rubber was AmE for condom but BrE for pencil eraser. But rubber for condom has all but disappeared from AmE by now. So has French letter, also at the cost of a good joke involving a supposed academic department of such. Jul 20, 2014 at 22:45
  • @BrianDonovan: "Rubber for condom has all but disappeared from AmE by now." Sorry, I think that is an exaggeration. Do you have some support for the claim? I don't have proof to the contrary, but there is this, at least.
    – Drew
    Jul 21, 2014 at 1:37

1 Answer 1


Given the date my money would be on its referring to a rubber of whist, though bridge, cribbage, even backgammon are mentioned in the usage examples for this sense in the OED. It means an odd-numbered series of games, of which the winner of the majority of individual games is the overall winner.

  • And allegedly "rubber" in this sense is originally from the game of bowls (where the balls rub against each other) Jul 20, 2014 at 22:46
  • @MartinSmith - Not to contradict your bowls information, though in relation to the OP's question it should be noted that the Canadian doctor's rubbers apparently took place at the end of the day. This makes it fairly unlikely that he was playing bowls (which is an outdoor game), unless it was the height of the Canadian summer (when the evenings would be light until something like 10.30 or 11 p.m., depending on how far north he was).
    – Erik Kowal
    Jul 21, 2014 at 4:22
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    @ErikKowal er, I certainly did not claim the good doctor was actually playing bowls before bed! My comment was about the etymology of this phrase. Jul 21, 2014 at 5:08
  • Too long ago for bridge. Almost certainly whist. Jul 21, 2014 at 5:36
  • @MartinSmith - No, I get that. I hoped I had phrased my comment in such a way as to make it clear that I did not take your comment to suggest that the doctor was actually playing bowls, but apparently I did not succeed in getting this across.
    – Erik Kowal
    Jul 21, 2014 at 6:18

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