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(See also TRICKERY.)
ace up one’s sleeve A surprise; something of special effectiveness that is held in reserve or hidden from others; a trump card; sometimes card up one’s sleeve. Very similar to an ace in the hole, this expression comes from the cardsharper’s stratagem of hiding needed cards (e.g., aces) in his sleeve until the most advantageous moment to play them. By extension, it has come to mean any secret asset or ploy.
bag of tricks All of one’s resources; the means to an end. This phrase derives from La Fontaine’s fable of the fox and the cat.
But fox, in arts of siege well versed, Ransacked his bag of tricks accursed. (Elizur Wright, trans., La Fontaine’s Fables, 1841)
Bag of tricks can refer to one’s survival techniques in general, or to a specific design one might have up one’s sleeve.
Men were all alike. A woman didn’t have to carry a very big bag of tricks to achieve her purpose. (L. C. Douglas, White Banners, 1936)
bottom of the bag The last resort or expedient in one’s bag of tricks; a trump card held in reserve; an ace up one’s sleeve. Thomas Burton used the phrase in his Diary in 1659:
If this be done, which is in the bottom of the bag, and must be done, we shall … be able to buoy up our reputation.
have something up one’s sleeve To have a secret scheme or trick in mind, to have a surprise planned. The allusion is probably to the way magicians use their sleeves as convenient hiding places for the articles employed in executing their feats of magic.
red herring A diversionary tactic or misleading clue, a subject intended to divert attention from the real issue; a false trail; from the phrase draw a red herring across the trail. In the 17th century, dog trainers followed this practice to sharpen the scent discrimination of hunting hounds. Smoked herring drawn across the trail of a fox is said to destroy or markedly affect the original scent. Figurative use of the term outside the complete phrase dates at least from the late 19th century.
The talk of revolutionary dangers is a mere red-herring. (Liverpool Daily Post, July 11, 1884)
springes to catch woodcocks Snares for the unsuspecting; traps for the unwary. This expression appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (I, iii), when Polonius warns Ophelia that Hamlet’s protestations of affection are but the wily words of a youthful lover, meant to ensnare his naive victim: “springes to catch woodcocks,” he calls them. The phrase usually refers to a deceitful ploy.
Alas, poor woodcock, dost thou go a birding? Thou hast even set a springe to catch thy own neck. (John Dryden, Wild Gallant, 1663)
stalking horse Anything used to conceal a design or scheme, a pretext; a person who serves as a means of allaying suspicion or obscuring an ongoing activity; the agency through which an underhanded objective is attained. The expression appeared in Shakespeare’s As You Like It:
He uses his folly like a stalking horse, and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit. (V, iv)
In bygone days, hunters hid themselves behind a horse as they stalked to within shooting range of the game. The expression early carried its still current figurative sense of the intended concealment of plans, projects, or intentions.
Do you think her fit for nothing but to be a Stalking-Horse to stand before you, while you aim at my wife? (William Congreve, Double Dealer, 1694)
The expression has evolved the extended political meaning of a person whose candidacy is intended to conceal the true candidacy of another, or whose place on the ballot is meant to split the opposition.
throw a curve or a curve ball To employ clever and often deceptive artifice in verbal dealings with another; to trick so as to entrap; to accomplish one’s ends by indirection. The expression derives from baseball; a curve ball is a pitched ball which appears to the batter to be approaching outside the strike zone, but which breaks over the plate and is thus “right on target.” As employed metaphorically, a curve ball is usually a verbal technique, such as a leading question or seemingly casual comment which aims to evoke a specific reaction or to elicit a revealing response, usually one in some way damaging to the respondent. It thus appears innocuous or irrelevant but in actuality it is highly manipulative, and “right on target.”
throw a tub to the whale To create a diversion, or to mislead or bamboozle, in order to avoid an awkward, embarrassing, or dangerous situation.
It has been common to throw out something to divert and amuse the people, such as a plot, a conspiracy, or an enquiry about nothing, … which method of proceeding, by a very apt metaphor, is call’d throwing out the tub. (Charles Molloy, Select Letters taken from Fog’s Weekly Journal, 1728)
Jonathan Swift explains the origin of this expression in the preface to A Tale of a Tub:
Sea-men have a custom when they meet a whale, to fling him out an empty tub, … to divert him from laying violent hands upon the ship.
Tale of a tub meaning ‘an apocryphal story’ dates from the 1500s. However, Swift’s use of throw a tub to the whale in 1704 is the earliest cited use of the expression in the OED.
Trojan horse A snare or trap, a treacherous device or ploy, particularly one appearing as an attractive lure. The allusion is to the tale recounted in Homer’s Iliad. The Greeks, pretending to abandon their siege of Troy, left at its gates a gigantic wooden horse, within which were concealed several Greek soldiers. Interpreting the horse as a gift or peace-offering, the Trojans brought it into the city, whereupon those within stole out during the night to admit the entire Greek force and thus conquer the city. See also beware of Greeks bearing gifts, PRETENSE.
trump card An ace in the hole; a decisive, winning argument, ploy, piece of evidence, etc.; a clincher.
Justice … is the trump card of the western world. (The Times Literary Supplement as quoted in Webster’s Third)
A trump card is literally any card of a suit which outranks the other three suits in a card game. Trump in this term is a corruption of the now obsolete triumph ‘a trump card.’
|Noun||1.||ploy - an opening remark intended to secure an advantage for the speaker|
|2.||ploy - a maneuver in a game or conversation|