Re: Hello! - and kind question for help w.r.t. the etymology of tarot

This etymology question doesn't seem to me to have any great mystery. It has been established for some time that there was a word in the languages spoken in Piedmont, Provence, and probably Lombardy which sounded like "taroc" and which literally meant tree stump, but which was used to mean stupid, foolish, stupid person, fool, madman. There are various posts here and on which discuss this at length; both Ross and Mike have talked about it; I don't feel the need to go over it again here. The evidence looks fairly solid and I see no reason to doubt it—there are other instances in the history of card games of words for stupid or crazy being used for the names of games, so it seems perfectly credible that someone would use this name for the game.

As for the question of why the name was changed from trionfi to tarocchi, that is much easier to answer. The tarot game popularized the concept of trump cards in card games in Italy, and it did not take long for people to start applying that concept to normal (non-tarot) decks of cards, by designating certain cards in such decks as trumps. And of course, they called those trumps trionfi, just like the ones in the tarot deck. Result: you now need a new word to refer to the trumps in the tarot deck, because trionfi is now ambiguous. Tarocchi was adopted as that new word.

As far as I'm concerned, that's really all there is to it. You can speculate about why they chose the word "taroc" rather than any other word, but we are probably never going to know the answer to that question, so it seems fairly pointless to speculate on it. I'm content knowing its etymology and knowing why it replaced the word trionfi; I don't feel the need to know why they chose that particular word over any other.

Re: Hello! - and kind question for help w.r.t. the etymology of tarot

vh0610 ...
Let’s look at the earliest mention of the full 21/22 trumps we know of: the sermon of the anonymous author in the Steele’s manuscript. This is clearly after the 14->21/22 transition. What is stated also clearly there, is that the anonymous author calls in the paragraph starting with “De tertio ludorum genere” all 21/22 tarot-trumps by their name – and calls them in the same paragraph “ludus triumphorum”.
The earliest date for 22 trump cards would be (my opinion), when Matteo Maria Boiardo wrote his Tarocchi poem, which I (personal opinion) date to the month January 1486. when Laura, illegitime daughter of duke of Ferrara Ercole d'Este, married Annibale Bentivoglio from the near Bologna. Ferrara had had a hard time before, the Ferrarese war, when Venice coordinated with the Vatican and Pope Sixtus from the Rovere family had attacked it. (1482-84)
Hard times are not a good time for Trionfi card production.
Vienice was not known for Trionfi card production , but Ferrara. Venice had a long time war against the Ottoman empire, perhaps this was a reason, why Venice had no Trionfi card production (or why we don't see it).–V ... 1463–1479)
War times are not a good time for Trionfi card production.
Before the Ferrarese war there was a papal attack on Florence and the Medici, that was the Pazzi conspiracy in 1478.
The Pazzi conspiracy caused, that the very important San Giovanni festivities in Florence took a longer pause (or were reduced in a strong manner). The earlier level was regained in 1488 with the wedding between a Medici daughter and a son of the current pope. ... 1473–1528)
Conspiracies are not good for festivities and Trionfi card production.
In Milan the duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza is killed (December 1476). The assassination of rulers of the state is also not very good for Trionfi festivities and Trionfi card production.

The second deck with 22 trumps, that we know of, is the Sola Busca Tarocchi. The assumed date is 1491, 5 years after the assumed date for the Boardo Tarocchi. Both are together the most unusual Trionfi decks, that we know of, and its remarkable, that they are close in time as if there is a period with such experiments.

Then there is a Strambotti poem
Ross wrote:

it was only rediscovered for card history in 2007, by Thierry Depaulis and published with two versions in his article "Early Italian Lists of Tarot Trumps", The Playing Card vol. 36 no. 1 (July-Sept. 2007), pp. 39-50.
He mentions it in his review of Dummett and McLeod, (page 3)

Strambotti de Triumphi

Mi racomando a quel angelo pio,
al mondo, al sole, alla luna & lo stello,
alla saetta & a quel diavol rio,
la morte, el traditore, el vechierello.
la rota, el caro & giusticia di Dio,
forteza & temperanza & amor bello,
al papa, imperatore, imperatrice,
al bagatello, al matto più felice.
The Papessa is missing .... 21 trumps of the useal 22. It's given to the end of 15th century. It was occasionally discussed ....
search.php?st=0&sk=t&sd=d&sr=posts&keyw ... i&start=20

21 trumps (?) has also the Rosenwald Tarocchi ... there the Fool is (possibly) missing


It's difficult to give a solid date. c. 1465 is possible, but also late in 15th century. In 1466 a game with the name "Minchiate" is noted by Luigi Pulci, but we don't know, if this deck had already the later structure: 40 trumps - 40 number cards - 16 courts - 1 Fool.


We've evidence for a solid strong production of Trionfi decks for the custom office of Rome 1453-1465 (Esch report) and intensive acquisitions and sales in a silk dealer shop in Florence between 1450-60 (Franco Pratesi). As starting point for this development we can assume the victory of Sforza in Milan and the official Trionfi card allowance in Florence (Pratesi) in 1450.
Likely we can extend this good period for Trionfi card production till 1473-1476 (1473 it seems, that the young Medici got a crisis ; in late 1476 Galeazzo Maria Sforza is killed). Then it seems, that a bad time for Trionfi cards opened (1473/76 - 1486/88). .... Esch report analysis ... silk dealer sales ... silk dealer acquirements

Re: Hello! - and kind question for help w.r.t. the etymology of tarot

I was taking a break from THF to work on something else. Now I am reading what I have missed.

To vh1610 I want to say that the 1484 reference to tarocchi is too dubious to base anything on. The first established use is 1502 Brescia. It was historically Lombard. The Bembo had relatives there, as I recall. So looking in a Lombard dictionary might be relevant. I will comment later on what it says.

The Greek tarache/tarachos is a remote source, except perhaps for the macaronic poets, who were very educated and loved word-play. But it still would have survived in 15th century words. The Greeks went all over what became, and then was, the Roman Empire, influencing many languages. Also, Tarachos had its Latin equivalent, taraxia, although ataraxia, meaning calmness, was more common, from the Stoics. There were various tarach- and taroch- words that stemmed from the Greek: the Arabic and Turkish tarakh, the theroco wind, and the word for tree stump in various places. It meant agitation, disorder, disfunction, defect, remainder, etc. (I like very much your association to that meaning, and it may well be that the Tower card did not appear in the deck until the 1760s or 1770s.)

In 16th and 17th century Italy the verb taroccare, in various spellings, meant to argue, to shout, to blaspheme (in Sicily). Applied to a person meant a foolish person, either because their emotions made them irrational or because they were of low intelligence, or low intelligence of a particular sort. So the macaronic poets of Piedmont in the late 15th century, used the word in both senses. An official is called tarocco because he is unreasonably trying to extort money from someone. Another is tarocco because he has no idea he is being cuckolded.

These indications point to the game of the fool, in a wide sense, its most characteristic card standing for all of them.

Another support for this hypothesis is that if you need a new name, do what "minchiate" did to "trionfi", but using a different root. We don't know what the game of minchiate was in 1466, or how many cards, but if later use is any clue, it was a variation on the game of trionfi. Either it or its alternate name "Germini", a more polite term, appears in the 1470s, then 1506, then 1510, 1526, etc. "Minchiate" I would submit is from "minchione", meaning "fool", going back to the Latin "mentia" and "mentula", for the male organ and a derogatory term for an obstreperous or dim-witted person ( Andrea has an essay with many literary examples of "minchione",

In some uses it is actually close to that of the Lombard "tarluch" as that Lombard dictionary presented it, "a certain inappropriate slackness in attitude, clothing and manners." Since the dictionary is 1814 and is meant to describe the Lombard dialect existing at that time, it seems to me that we have no idea whether there is anything Germanic about the etymology, unless the dictionary actually says it is. It might just as well be a spin-off from the card game. "Lombard" in this context I would think just means "dialect of Lombardy".

But to get back to Minchiate and Tarocchi, Andrea has an essay "Farsa Satira Morale", about a 1510 poem in which one character ends a long enumeraton of games by saying:
Mancava anchora el gioco de tarocchi,
Chesser mi par tuo pasto: e un altro anchora
Minchion, sminchiata voise dir da sciocchi.
Hor prende qual tu voi, chel fugge lhora. 132

(We have yet to mention the game of tarocchi,
Which seems to be your meal: and yet another
Minchion, sminchiata, which is to say of fools.
Now choose what you want, because time is fleeing.)
Then in 1526 we have Francesco Berni, (Capitolo del Gioco della Primera, Rome, n.p.), in a very similar context. People tend to omit the last part of the sentence, so I will quote the whole thing. The translation, fairly literal except in one place, is by Samuel Weller Singer, 1816:
...viso proprio di Tarocco colui a chi piace questo gioco, che altro non vuol dir Tarocco che ignocco, sciocco, Balocco degno di star fra fomari & calzolari & plebei a giocarsi in tutto di un Carlino in quarto a tarocchi, o a trionfi, o a Sminchiate che si sia, cche ad ogni modo tutto importa minchioneria e dapocagine, passendo l'occhio col Sol, et co la Luna, et col Dodici, come fanno i puti.

(Let him look to it, who is pleased with this game of Tarocco, that the only signification for this word Tarocco is [literally, “the proper face of Tarocco, for one pleased with this game, is that it wants to say nothing other than...”] stupid, foolish, simple, fit only to be used by cobblers & bakers & the vulgar, to play at most the fourth part of a Carlino [a coin], at tarocchi, at triumphs, or any Sminchiate whatever, which in every way signifies only foolery and idleness, feasting the eye with the Sun, and the Moon, and the twelve [signs], as children do.]
So instead of taking the Latin-based word, those who want a new word take a Greek and Arabic based word for the same general thing, without the lewd connotation.

As to why the name changed, it might have been to distinguish it from the game of triumphs using the four regular suits. It depends on when those other games caught on in Italy. If only after 1500, that is probably too late. But such games would certainly have accelerated the use of the new term. Another possibility, suggested by Vitali, Depaulis (2013) and myself (2012), all for somewhat different reasons, is a change in the rules so that it was a new game. I don't think that it would have been to get around prohibitions, because the game of Triumphs by the late 15th century wasn't prohibited in the areas we see the new name. The change might have been to distinguish the 78 card game from something using a smaller deck, but perhaps there was a change in the rules, or both, so that "triumphs" was the old game and "tarocchi" the new one.

But why change it to "the game of the fool", of all things? vh1610 asks. A very good question, deserving of some thought.

It is also a game where some players are fooled and some are fools. A tactic called "sminchiare" in Bologna meant "play your highest triumphs". To lead with your highest triumph early in the game is on the face of it a foolish strategy, because all the other players have to do is play their low triumphs, that don't count for anything, and then when you use up your high ones, they still have theirs, with which to harvest all the point-getters that have been held back. It is only in certain circumstances that it will work, and even then it takes some expertise on the part of both partners to pull it off. Given the derivation of "sminchiare" from "minchione", it implies a foolhardy strategy, but also one where the joke might be on the opponents, if the partners can make it work.

There is much irony in the Italian sense of humor (they've needed it). It is of course a difficult game, there weren't even numbers on the cards, and that's not the half of it. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of time-wasting, to get it down..

Andrea has an essay in which he argues that references to tarocchi as a "new game" in the early 16th century imply that these authors thought it was of more recent invention than trionfi. ... 85&lng=ENG, but also before 1500.
If so, it wouldn't have had the same rules as Trionfi.

So the idea arises that the name change has to do with the rule change(s).

Depaulis argues, purely as a hypothesis, for a specific rule connected with the Arabic/Greek "tarakh/tarache", namely the discard rule, something I suggested in 2012, building on a comment of Dummett's. I have mentioned this argument before, but I may have left out something, so I'll do it again. There is a rule in which the last two or three cards are left on the table after the deal, and the dealer has the option of discarding the same number and picking up the ones on the table. This is not just because there are leftover cards, because in the three person game there is no remainder, and the dealer still can exchange three of his cards for the last three, which are not dealt to anybody but him. He will most naturally discard his weakest cards. These are the "remainder" that isn't used, like rubbish, or the part trimmed around the edges, or the container that isn't part of the sale, pr the stump of a tree, or those who contribute least to society, who are defective in some way. The Arabic word meant "rubbish" and "reject, deduct", according to Wiktionary' on the evolution of the word "tara" ( The discard rule may have been borrowed from the game of "scartino," with its suggestive name easily converted to "tara". So you take a "fool" word (as in Minchiate) that also means "remainder", "leftover","discard," "garbage" to distinguish it from the old game of Triumphs, where either there wasn't a remainder, due either to the number of players or the number of cards, or the remainder just sat there in the middle, to be taken by the person who wins the last trick (for example), or exchanged by the dealer if they all agreed beforehand, or for some reason I haven't thought of. But naturally there would be a period in which the old name would be used even with the new game.

However vh1610's question gets me thinking about another way in which "game of the fool" might connect with a rule change. It may have been to reflect an increased role in the game for the Fool card. We don't know what role it played initially. Dummett thought it originally it was just the lowest trump. If so, it could have been number zero, as we see on the Sola-Busca Fool, or as corresponding to the "Misero" card of the Mantegna, its lowest card out of fifty. I have no opinion on that. At some point, it became the "excuse," to substitute in any trick rather than let another valuable card, either in terms of trick-taking or points, be captured by the opponent. Since that use occurs everywhere the early Fool card was known, that may well have been its original use, including the proviso that the side playing it could get it back by trading a card it had captured in return. But it also had another use, which didn't survive everywhere, that of serving to fill gaps in sequences when it came to scoring points for them, as in Bologna and Piedmont, or being tacked onto sequences to increase the number of cards in them, as we see in Minchiate. Since it can do these things in any sequence the player or partners may have, this good-for-nothing layabout card can become the most important point-gatherer in the deck, as long as the other cards do the work, so to speak. It may have had this role everywhere by the late fifteenth century, even if it disappeared later (for more on this see the end of my post at viewtopic.php?p=23947#p23947). I see this latter role as something that reasonably could have come later than the "excuse" role.

Either or both of these two rule changes elevate the Fool to great importance; the second one even makes the Fool the most important card in the game, the "tarocchi" in the "game of the fool" now a natural name for the game with this or these innovation(s). In Bologna the Bagattino also could play this role. Perhaps that is why in Liguria the game had a name, Ganellini, connected with that card, the Ganellino (see and

So I am left with various possibilities, none of which I can eliminate, but all related to the meaning of the word "taroch-" words (foolish time-wasting and money-risking, but said ironically, because the game's benefits are greater; analogy with "Minchiate"; as a word for the discard; and as a word for the most important card, ironically also the least powerful). The issue of why the word changed, and why that word, remains for me much up in the air. And it might just be that a confluence of reasons, some related to the properties of "taroch" words and some not (e.g. the necessity to distinguish it from new games with trumps), that proved decisive.