Date: Sat, 6 Dec 1997 23:21:49 EST


Subject: Humbug

This previously unrecorded citation is from the (London) Sporting

Magazine, September 1793, pp. 361-362:


THIS Game is said to derive its origin from the late Mr. Lookup* who was,

at least, a great adept at it, though he never played any other than the fair

game. It was in great vogue at the rooms at Bath, and is still played in all

polite circles.

Humbug may properly be called two handed whist, as only two persons play,

without reckoning honours. The cards are shuffled and cut; the lowest deals

out all the cards, and turns up the last for the trump. Each player has now

twenty-six cards in his hand, and the object is to make as many tricks as they

can; all the laws of whist prevailing, the cards being of the same value as

when four play, but the honours do not reckon any farther than they prevail in

making tricks by their superiority over inferior, and the tricks reckon for

one to as many as are gained; for instance: if one player has twenty tricks,

and the other only six, the first wins fourteen; and if they play a guinea a

trick, of course, wins fourteen guineas. The game finishes every deal, when

the balance is settled, and they then commence another game. As each player

knows, at first, all the cards his adversary has in his hand, it is common, in

order to sort them, to lay them with their faces up; but after they have

ranged them, and begun to play, they are as careful of concealing their cards

as they are at the common game of whist; it then depending upon memory to know

what cards has been played, and which remains in hand; and as it is allowed

only to turn up the last trick to see what has been played, a revoke is

punished with the same rigour at this game as at whist; and the forfeiting

three tricks is often of more value at this, than at the former game.

*See the memoirs of this gentleman in our last, pg. 232.

From page 232:

MEMOIRS of MR. LOOKUP, a character of the first magnitude in the HISTORY of


Page 234 continues:

Nay, it was averred that he died with a pack of cards in his hand, at his

favourite game _humbug_, or two-handed whist; on which Sam Foote jocularly

observed, "That Lookup was _humbugged_ out of the world at last."

"Lookup" was supposedly a contemporary of Lord Chesterfield. If they both

played Humbug, then that would be earlier than the OED 1751 "humbug" citation.