Nowadays, the word deck can be used to refer to a set of slides (e.g., PowerPoint slides). Where does that sense come from? Online Etymology Dictionary didn't yield any insight on it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist May 9 at 2:07

A couple of slide decks:

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A card deck:

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    This reminds me of one of those single-diagram math papers. Very succinct and elegant answer! – Hearth Mar 17 at 3:34
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    So now I wonder, why are those items called decks? Neither of them looks like the floor of a ship.. :) – Caius Jard Mar 17 at 14:07
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    Although the term itself might come from projector slides, I don't think that explains the recent spike in usage: books.google.com/ngrams/… It also has a strong association with the corporate world; I've never heard it used in academia where there are slides presentations all the time. – emily Mar 17 at 14:09
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    @CaiusJard etymonline.com/word/deck "extended early in English from "covering" to "platform of a ship." Meaning "pack of cards necessary to play a game" is from 1590s, perhaps because they were stacked like decks of a ship." Might be a good question for the site on the history of the term Deck of Cards... – WernerCD Mar 17 at 15:28
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    @GEdgar To me (AmE), a pack of cards refers to cards still in their original box. Once they've been removed from the box, it's a deck until you put them back in the box. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 18 at 15:02

The definition as a deck of cards is older (1593 Shakespeare King Henry IV is the earliest citation found):

Alas, that Warwicke had no more fore‑cast, But whiles he thought to steale the single Ten, The King was slyly finger'd from the Deck: You left poore Henry at the Bishops Pallace, And tenne to one you'le meet him in the Tower.

..than the more general definition as "a pile of things laid flat upon each other" (1625) (image from the OED):

enter image description here

Incidentally, we referred to stacks of computer punch cards (Hollerith cards) as "decks" in the 1970s.

Like many other terms, "deck" was extended to apply to virtual stacks.

In the nautical sense (as a covering) it's older again and thought to come from Flemish or Low German. In modern Dutch "dekbed" is a bed covering (a duvet).


Apparently the term was derived from the expression “a deck of playing cards” as suggested in the following extract:

A slide deck is just another way to refer to a presentation deck or pitch deck. The term was perhaps first used in Silicon Valley.

As a little bit of history and to clarify on the above, the term slide deck comes from old technology. It goes back to times when we used those old slide projectors facing a wall. For those machines to work, the slides piled up as cards, just like a deck of cards.



Been doing powerpoints for years as an analyst. First time I ever heard them called "slide decks" was when I started hanging out with marketers. Then in college (went back to college in my late 30's to get bach/masters), I took grad-level marketing analytics classes. Again, prof called them "slide decks". No other professor or class called them "decks".

So, my idea is that marketers used to show up to presentations with posterboard decks they'd put on easels to do a presentation. They'd have an art dept put together their "deck", and they'd cycle through it as they did the presentation.

Then powerpoint came along, and they could do these decks in ppt as a slide show instead.

Marketing & Sales depts tends to be the hip, buzzword generators of the corporate world, constantly finding new, cool lingo to use to sell folks on ideas. So, my feeling is that marketers used the term "slide deck" enough to refer to powerpoint presentations that other dept's adopted the saying.

Back out in the working world, I noticed "slide deck" is used more often now. College profs usually head into college and isolate from the working world, so they dont' keep up with lingo. So, only marketer types are hip to the "slide deck" trend, b/c they're the ones that started using it in the first place.

This is my completely subjective opinion based on my limited personal experience extrapolated out into broad generalization. So, take it with a grain of salt.

  • This corresponds to my experience also. This came from marketeers, is my guess. Why? Who knows? The marketing mind is another species, possibly of extraterrestrial birth -- certainly not homo sapiens. – Drew Mar 18 at 21:29
  • Back in the days before presentation software (powerpoint) with video projectors, presenters and their secretaries would print (or manually create) information on 8-1/2x11 transparency "paper". Often for durability they would be mounted on a cardboardish frame. Thus you'd have a "deck" of slides. Which would then be shown on an "overhead projector". – Firstrock Mar 19 at 15:59
  • @Firstrock The thing is that the users of OHPs called their acetate (or plastic) sheets "slides" because they fulfilled the same function as photographic "slides" which really did slide across the projector beam when changed. The term is really old having come in with the nineteenth century "magic lanterns". Some of those slides were photographic, some hand painted and a few even had moving parts. – BoldBen Mar 20 at 0:39

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