playing cards

playing cards

Small rectangular cards used for playing games and sometimes for divination and conjuring. Modern cards are divided into four suits: spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. A complete pack, or deck, of cards includes 13 cards in each suit (10 numbered cards and 3 court cards—king, queen, and jack, or knave); 2 extra cards, called jokers (many times portraying a medieval jester), are often included as well. The origin of playing cards is obscure—China and India being the two most likely sources—as is the meaning of their symbols. The earliest reference to cards in Europe occurs in Italy in 1299. The 52-card French deck is now standard throughout the world, but decks with fewer cards evolved in Germany and Spain. Other suit emblems were also used (e.g., bells in Germany, cups in Spain and Italy). See also tarot.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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