You promised a follow-up column to the history of
the word "craps." Will it be published
soon? Tom F.
are about to become an expert in the proper use of crap
and craps, Tom-not that in the end you'll care-but for
those of us who give a damn about such minutiae, your
question opens an interesting door.
Back before the Middle Ages, the Arabs played a game
using little numbered cubes, called az-zahr -- meaning
the die. The game showed up across the Mediterranean
in France, where it was named hasard, then jumped the
English Channel to
England some time before 1500 AD where it was given
the English spelling of the same word, hazard. The
roll of lowest value in that game was called crabs.
The French, trying to be amiable, adopted that term
from the English, but spelling it the French way
as crabes. In the early 1700s, the game crossed
the Atlantic to the French colony of Acadia, where
a surprise awaited it and those who played it.
In 1755, the French lost their colony, Acadia, to
the English who promptly renamed it Nova Scotia
and chucked out the French-speaking Acadians, who
roamed around a bit and finally relocated in Louisiana,
where they were called (as they still are) Cajuns,
and developed a language called Louisiana French.
They still played the good old dice game, but dropped
the title of hasard and called the game simply crebs
or creps -- their spelling of the French crabes.
By 1843, the Cajun word came into American English
as craps. People were apparently careful for a while
not to omit the final "s" for fear of
confusion with a vulgarism having a totally different
meaning -- also derived from French, but that's
By 1885, such expressions as crapsgame, crapstable,
and crapsshooter were found to be just too finicky
and used up too much spit, so the final "s"
was dropped where it served no useful purpose as
in composites like craptable, crapshooter, crapgame,
etc., and retained where it refers only to the game
(game of craps) or the losing roll (he craps out,
he rolled craps) or where it would be too hard to
pronounce (she crapped out, rather than she crapsed
Well fellow crapshooters, do you have a clearer
picture yet? I asked a colleague of mine, whom I
dealt craps with at Lake Tahoe, what she thought
of the above, and she said; "I was then, and
still am, full of crap."