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

What does the phrase mean?


2 Answers 2


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.

  • 1
    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.
    – Fattie
    Jul 7, 2011 at 15:52
  • The link is broken. Dec 13, 2011 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.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Dec 13, 2011 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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