The line is from "Comment #1."

I know that a "hole card" is a card in poker (and apparently also blackjack) that is dealt face-down. But I'm unclear on what it means for that card to be piqued.

Does this mean that everyone is wondering what the card is, i.e. their curiosity has been piqued? Or does it imply that people are beginning to know what the card is, whether by card-counting or some other means?

My questions are:

  1. Is this a term in card playing that I was unaware of, to say the "hole card has been piqued?"

  2. If not, what is Gil Scott-Heron expressing with this line?

Here is the whole verse:

The time is in the street you know

Us living, as we do, upside down

And the new word to have is "revolution"

People don't even want to hear the preacher spill or spiel

Because God's hole card has been thoroughly piqued

And America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey


This is a spoken-word poem from 1970. Some young people know the verse better because it was sampled by Kanye West in the song "Who will survive in America," but that sample omits many of the stanzas. The complete original poem can be heard here on Youtube.

Additional context

With help from the comments section, it seems that there are a few card-playing references to the word "pique." In the game Piquet (pronounced /ˈpiːkeɪ/), a player who scores 30 points against an opponent scores a "pique." It could also be related to the French "pique" meaning the spades suit. It's also been suggested that "piqued" in this case is a homophonic play on "peeked," suggesting that "God's hole card" has been "peeked at." There are a few other cases of homophony in the poem:

  • Whole / hole
  • Spiel / spill
  • Freedom / Free doom.

I'm still seeking any precedent for "piqued" having a clear meaning in this context. It's possible that Scott-Heron was simply saying "peeked," but that would mean that every transcription of the poem I've been able to find is incorrect.

  • Random House via The Free Dictionary, has this definition which is cards related, but still not sure what it means in the song. This is why interpretation of song lyrics is off-topic. n (Card Games) a score of 30 points made by a player from a combination of cards held before play begins and from play while his opponent's score is nil vb (Card Games) to score a pique (against)
    – Jim
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 17:50
  • 4
    or piqued=peeked, i.e., seen; note that "whole card" comes up later in the song
    – Xanne
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 21:24
  • 1
    Note the explicit mention of "spill or spiel".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 21:25
  • 3
    As an aside, the French word for spade (card suit) is pique. The ace of spades is the as de pique.
    – Drew
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 22:13
  • 2
    Pique work uses pinholes. My first thought was a pun on hole card and pique as in pinhole. Same origin as prick. And pricking brings blood and tears.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 2:38

2 Answers 2


Language in poetry simultaneously says multiple things at once. Scott-Heron is playing with word pairs, double meanings and polarities that flip from one meaning into another. The focus of the listener must be loosened to free associate along with the poet, yet kept tight enough to sense what the overarching theme might be.

There may be some card game references related to the descriptor, piqued, but it seems to me that the main meaning of the verb pique here is what @Phil Sweet suggests, i.e. to pierce or prick with holes. God's hole card is full of holes rather than being holy. I think pique may also play with peek, as you and @Xanne suggest. We have peeked at God's hole card and rather than milk and honey in the Promised Land, we've seen blood and tears. The whole thing is a game. Living is upside down. A preacher's sermon -- maybe even one by Martin Luther King -- isn't enough. It's just talk. Now is the time for action.

After all, by 1970 so many people are dead. including King. I don't know Scott-Heron's work, but I think he must be making reference to the "I have a dream" speech and the nightmare of King's assassination that followed. Note the last lines:

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright days of justice emerge.

In the way of poetry, it is possible for a card to be peeked or piqued and to mean multiple things. You and @Drew tell us that pique in French is the card suit spade. Spade of course was a term for African Americans that came out of the counterculture of the 60's. Spiel is German for play, but it's also a bunch of fast talk. Spill is to tell the truth in an outpouring, but it also reminds me in this poem that blood can spill. It may not be so important to get the exact meaning, as to swim in the double-ness. Duplicity can trick and fool us and later reveal a hidden polarity. Perhaps your lack of sureness about meaning is precisely what Scott-Heron meant to evoke.

I think Scott-Heron is saying instead of playing games and watching things go upside down or observing the upside-down-ness that has always been there, the kind of upturning that is needed is revolution.

See pique at Free Dictionary for a wide range of meanings

  • Peeped your hold card as a slang in the Black community means that you know what a person is about. Something he is attempting to hide but we know exactly who you are. Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 14:29
  • I'm not sure if this is assumed common knowledge, so left out deliberately, but a "hole card" in poker is one of the cards the player keeps hidden. Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 8:35

Must be a variation of "Peep your hole card". Where hole card is a term used in cards. Like @Deborah Stokes said in a comment, the term was used in Black culture: What you have tried to conceal has been found out.

  • 1
    This would benefit from the inclusion of a source or two. Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 21:25
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