Where’d it come from #51
When we refer to our right-hand man (or woman), we’re talking about our most trusted friends and, in political and military circles, advisors and allies. As for where this idiom originated, there are a few theories.
For the first, you’ll have to envision a king at court, sitting on his throne, presiding over his minions. To his right would have been his most trusted advisors; perhaps a queen or, if he ruled stag, maybe a knight or close political advisor. Either way, his best man was to his right by custom.
The second theory lay in prejudice. Historically, “lefties” were in the minority and, for reasons unknown, not trusted. If you wanted a good friend or a job done properly, better that you found yourself a right-handed man.
Whichever explanation you believe, “right-hand man” is our way of saying close friend and trusted ally.
“James Madison was a reliable secretary of state, so reliable, in fact, that he was President Thomas Jefferson’s right-hand man.”
In the cards
Oh, how I wish a winning lottery ticket were in the cards for me, but alas, it probably isn’t. For centuries (and even today in some circles), people seek out previews of their fortunes in tarot cards. Different cultures had different cards representing a variety of future outcomes, but in every case, people hoped that their best interests lay in the cards—hence our usage of the phrase in reference to our own fortunes, whatever they may be.
“The lottery jackpot is at $600 million. I hope a winning ticket is in the cards for me.”
Cards stacked against (me/you)
Here we have one of the many phrases derived from games of cards. The whole point of shuffling a deck is the fairness of pure chance. Otherwise, where is the risk in gambling? For those who prefer certain victory over luck, there’s always the option of stacking the deck against their opponent. In other words, they’ve arranged the cards in a way that would not benefit anyone who received them.
When we say that the cards are stacked against you, an uphill battle is “in the cards” for you.
“I desperately want and deserve a promotion, but given the current budget, the cards are stacked against me.”
This word is older than you may think. According to Webster’s dictionary, its first usage dates back to 1682 and, originally, literally referred to the theft of children (hence “kid”). When linked to nap—a now obsolete word for theft—you have “child theft.”
This practice was sadly all too common centuries before the age of child labor and education regulations, as well as laws mandating the proper care of orphaned children. Especially in the island and North American colonies, where plantation labor was essential to profits, children were often the targets of thieves looking for slaves.
In time, the term assumed a broader meaning that encompassed the capture of anyone, regardless of age.
“This morning’s news report contained a story about a millionaire’s daughter kidnapped and held for ransom.”