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Am seeking etymological explanation how, Euchre, the United States’ most popular card game in the late 19th century, might have come to be spelled in that manner. It is speculated that the game derived from an Alsatian card game, “Juckerspiel” or simply “Jucker.” What influences can one surmise that might have been involved in such a change in spelling?

Additional context:

Without reliance on etymology, researchers have maintained that Euchre was brought to North America by Germans (not necessarily German-speaking Alsatians) arriving in Pennsylvania or elsewhere on the mid-Atlantic coast in the late 18 or early 19th century (including by such means, perhaps, as the Hessian soldiers during the Revolutionary War).

On the other hand, through extensive newspaper research, I have discovered that the game was played in the lower South and lower Mississippi River valley in the early 19th century. From an etymologist’s perspective, is it possible that “Juckerspiel” might have undergone French influence, perhaps by its entry into North America via the port of New Orleans by early Alsatian German-speaking settlers who inhabited an area termed the German (Gulf) Coast or the lower Mississippi in the late 18 or early 19th century, and, of course, subsequent English-speaking individuals?

Alternative early spellings also include: ucre, eucre, uker, yewker, etc.

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    There are a number of assumptions and you have cited the main ones. What are you exactly looking for?
    – user 66974
    Mar 19, 2018 at 19:23
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    If I'm not mistaken, J in German is used like a Y. Euchre could have just been an attempt to appropriately transliterate the sound to English, so people wouldn't say Jucker with a hard J, like Judge.
    – Dispenser
    Mar 19, 2018 at 19:27
  • ... and possibly 'euchre' caught on as the least awkward-looking. Mar 19, 2018 at 19:40
  • Interestingly, the OED's entry says that the game is played with a pack of 32 cards (7-A), and calls the version played with 24 cards "French Euchre". The 24-card version (9-A) is the only version I've ever played.
    – 1006a
    Mar 19, 2018 at 20:44
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    Thank you for posting such a well-informed answer to the related question earlier today! 19th century American English “slang”? The newspaper clipping is dated 1858.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 19, 2018 at 23:11

4 Answers 4

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The origin of the game, euchre, must be seen as distinct from the origin of its name, 'euchre'. The game may well have originated in Germany; its name, elsewhere.

For instance, OED observes:

Etymology: Of uncertain etymology. As BOWER n.8, one of the terms used in this game, is of German origin, it has often been supposed that the word euchre is also from German, but no probable source has been found in that language. Can it be < Spanish yuca, in the phrase ser yuca, given by Caballero as an American expression for 'to be cock of the walk, to get the best in anything' (ser el gallito en alguna cosa, sobresalir en algo)?

[Bold emphasis mine.]

Evan Morris, in a December 1999 "The Word Detective" column, adds the levity of his inestimable opinion. In contrast to OED's earliest attestation in 1841 (an attestation added post-1989; the earliest attestation given in OED's 1989 edition was 1846), Morris dates the word's appearance to around 1848. He considers and discards an origin in 'Eucharist', then states

All of which leads us to the one even remotely plausible theory about "euchre" I've been able to root out, which is that "euchre" comes from the Spanish phrase "ser yuca," meaning "to be the best" or "to win." This origin would certainly make sense given the highly competitive nature of the game, and would also fit in with the slang use of "euchre" as a verb meaning "to win decisively."

I'm with Evan and OED on the name of the game coming from the distilled Spanish idiom, and have little to add in support other than that the earliest attestations I can find, from the popular press, appear as the variant 'eucre' around 1834 in southern US newspapers.

An earlier attestation of the word, probably an Americanized (and so r-colored) representation of a Cuban Spanish pronunciation of 'yuca', is this from an 1829 publication:

After breakfast, in looking round the place, we perceived seventy or eighty bushels of euchre, just dug...it is a species of cassavi, or cassada.

Letters Written in the Interior of Cuba, Abiel Abbot, 1829.

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    If it comes from the Spanish word yuca, the r-coloring would probably have been added in a non-rhotic dialect. But parts of the South qualify, and probably more of it did in 1840. Mar 31, 2018 at 17:34
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The first spelling of Euchre was "eucre" early 1800s (pre-1800) The game of eucre came about (my theory) by Alsatians who were embedded with Hessian Soldiers. The Alsatians taught their German counterparts the game. Many Hessian prisoners were held in Eastern Pa, MD and VA prison camps and let out to work locally. Some married into German families.

Eucre continued to be spelled this way well into early 1900s. The first time documented that the "h" was added was mid-1840s, Hoyle book Anners 1845. There was a big push, mainly by the British authors of various Hoyle Books (who authored most of the Hoyles until 1860s) to spell words one way.

It is documented by Fischers that the game of Jucker-spiel had the word "bauers" and the word "marsch" (meaning march or sweep). Obviously, our game of Euchre came from this game of Jucker, even though no one as produced the rules of this Alsatian game. And I think (my theory) for obvious reason that the bauer, meaning Peasant, was elevated in the game Jucker spiel. It was hit on the French Royalty, King Louis VI, social unrest leading later to the French Revolution. The feudal peasants rising with elevated power over Royalty. A forecast of social unrest and what was to come later. Of course popular for our American Revolution and those Alsatians where where French but with a German culture. Strasbourg, Alsace was always a seat of progress with lots of freedom at the University there. The country side were lands of feudal peasants that had German Princes that ruled with feudal rights.

So as the author or printer, inventor of this game, your would not want your identity to be known. Thus the game was not published.

As to the word "joker", it did NOT come from the word Jucker. Juckerspiel was not found as the parent game of Euchre until 1990 by David Parlett. You cannot find a source for the word Jucker being related to Euchre before his book, The Oxford Guide to Card Games. And the parent game of Jucker is the French Ruff or Triomphe.

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My guess: English-speaking people heard the word Jucker spoken by Alsatians or Germans. Without even knowing that it was a foreign word they imagined it had to be spelled Euchre. French spelling would be youcre.

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The game is played with jokers, which are the highest trump card -- and jux is German for joke, according to Google translate.

My Webster's, in its definition for euchre, refers to the German, juchs (same word, different spelling), as a possible origin. I can provide a snapshot of that tomorrow, if necessary.

If the German word is pronounced with a long U vowel sound, it would be yukes for joke. But if German speakers were talking to English speakers, I can see how they might call jokers "yukers". And then call the game "joker" or "yuker".

The author (Charles Henry Wharton Meehan, b. 1817) of this c.1862 book, The Law and Practice of the Game of Euchre, said that the origin of the name was a mystery at the time, and that a distinguished German professor (pps. 26-7) stated that Euchre is not a German word and has no sound in the language. Also on page 26, the author claimed that a French intellectual who specialized in card-games denied that Euchre is at all French. Nevertheless, he then went on to insist that the game was introduced into Pennsylvania by German immigrants, quickly gaining wide popularity and becoming uniquely American through customization / modifications.

However, after listing several unfounded theories, the author (John William Keller) of The Game of Euchre, c.1887, on page 9, stated that the game itself was traced back to the French game called Triomphe, which in turn was originally a Spanish game called Trionfo. He further explained that the game was introduced by the French into America, where the name was inexplicably changed to Eurchre.

So, it remains an unsolved mystery.

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    Jux is pronounced with a short U in German. Also, Jux and Juchs are not only spelled differently, but they would be pronounced differently. (On the other hand, they could easily be the same word in different dialects.) Mar 22, 2018 at 1:14
  • @Peter Shor ~ thanks, I appreciate the clarification. I'm still doing a little research. I've a hunch the game was being called something like Yuker in the US (introduced here by Germans), then subsequently became popular in the UK (Euchre decks were manufactured there, in the 19th C.), where it might have somehow acquired a more 'proper' 'French' spelling. Or, as someone already suggested, it could also have picked up the French Creole spelling in New Orleans.
    – Bread
    Mar 22, 2018 at 1:27
  • Thank you. The first printed U.S. reference I have found is 1819 as "eucre" in a poem in a DC newspaper. One must assume that the word had reached some level of understanding before its publication in a poem in a newspaper. I will add that my discussions with historians of early German settlement in Pennsylvania has not resulted in their recognition of it appearing in their extensive documentary research. Moreover, extensive newspaper research has revealed that euchre was widely noted in newspapers throughout the South before the Civil War. Mar 22, 2018 at 5:47
  • Euchre has to have been introduced by German speakers. Two of the jacks are called "bowers", which comes from the word "Bauer" in German, meaning "farmer", but which is also used to mean jack in German. Mar 22, 2018 at 11:57
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    Another problem with the etymology from the German word Jux is that the word Euchre (1840s) is older than the introduction of the joker into the deck of playing cards (1860s). Mar 26, 2018 at 12:17

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