Word Origin & History
1401, from M.Fr. carte, from L. charta "leaf of paper, tablet," from Gk. khartes "layer of papyrus," probably from Egyptian. Form infl. after 14c. by It. carta (see chart
). Sense of "playing cards" is oldest in Fr. and Eng.; the sense extended to similar flat, stiff bits of
paper 1596. Meaning "printed ornamental greetings for special occasions" is 1869. Application to clever or original persons (1836, originally with an adjective, e.g. smart card) is from the playing-card sense, via expressions such as sure card "an expedient certain to attain an object" (c.1560). Verb meaning "require (someone) to show ID" is 1970s. Card-carrying first attested 1948, during U.S. Cold War anti-Communist paranoia. Card table is from 1713. Card-sharper is 1859. House of cards in the fig. sense is from 1641, first attested in Milton. To have a card up (one's) sleeve is 1898; to play the _______ card is from 1886, originally the Orange card, meaning "appeal to Northern Irish Protestant sentiment (for political advantage)."
"to comb wool," 1393, from O.Prov. carda, from cardar "to card," from V.L. *caritare, from L. carrere "to clean or comb with a card," from PIE base *kars- "to scrape."