Why are pip cards called PIPS?


Being an ever curious Gemini, I am really stuck on why the minors are also called PIP'S? Awful to be so curious about it, but I am. Any one know if pip's stands for something or translates to something?

Thanks in advance.


I am not sure who first used the term, but it tends to refer, in cards, to the simplest units - hence the numbered cards outside of any trumps or courts.

It therefore shares with other areas that general meaning of 'small unit'.


Websters doesn't give an etymology, but the same term is also used for the spots on dice and dominoes. It was probably applied to cards because of the similar layouts.


Apple seeds, by the way, are also called "pips".

I agree with jmd in that it means "small unit" but I'd take it a bit farther (and a bit more obnoxiously) and call it a "small item".

Pip is synonymous with spot, speck, spick, et al - and also carries with it the term "pipsqueak", or someone/thing that is small and insignificant.

I'd think its base usage is the same as it is for dominoes - a tiny spot, or collection thereof, meant to designate a numerical value.

As for the origination of the term "pip", it might have something to do with the 18th c term "pippin", or a small, fleshy, small-seeded fruit, lending the derivative "pip" to its seeds, and therefore to the marks on dice/dominoes/cards.

Just my uneducated $0.02.



I always wondered this too.

Pips are also the name given to the rank insignia worn by military officers... and indeed Starfleet officers in Star Trek! They're also (according to wikipedia) "a small graphic, usually repeated to show the status of an user [of a forum] in function of his post count". Both are used as markers of status or rank... perhaps that's why they share the name with Tarot pips?

When you mentioned the word "pippin" I automatically thought LotR ;) Perhaps as he was small too? lol


DoctorArcanus said:
Was Tolkien thinking of the King of the Franks Pippin the Short (VIII Century)?

Doubtful. Apparently, if you take into account that what we read in LotR is in fact a translation of a real book written in a language long died out (or so Tolkien led us to believe in the original foreward of the book), Peregrin Took's actual name was Razanur Tûk, short Razar (name of a small apple). Then when translated: 'Peregrin', short 'Pippin' contained both the actual meaning of the full name (traveler, stranger) and the reference to an apple. So that ties in with Ilithiya's mention of the small fruit referred to as "pippin" in the 18th century. (Don't you just love Wikipedia?)

I don't think the evolution of the word pip for tarot and playing cards is any one of these, but a combination that has merged over time :)