What Does A Card Up Your Sleeve Mean?

A Card Up Your Sleeve Meaning

Definition: To have a hidden advantage.

A similar expression is an ace up one’s sleeve or ace in the hole.

Origin of A Card Up Your Sleeve

This expression originated around the 1800s. It comes from gambling during card games. If a person wanted to cheat in a card game, he could hide an ace, or another winning card, inside his shirtsleeve. He could slip the card out of the sleeve and into his hand when he needed it to win.

Over time, people began to use the phrase for any secret resource, not just those in gambling.

Examples of A Card Up Your Sleeve

define a card up your sleeveThe first dialogue shows a sister and her brother trying to come up with another solution to a problem they are having.

Luke: So, I’ve looked at the budget again and again. I just don’t think there’s any way that we can afford to fix all the things wrong with this house.

Ella: Are you sure? What if we prioritize only the most urgent things?

Luke: It still won’t help. I’m all out of ideas, so unless you have a card up your sleeve, I think we might have to sell the house.

Ella: No. Unfortunately, I don’t have any card up my sleeve.

Luke: I guess we could ask our relatives for money.

Ella: You know they don’t have any money to lend us. 

 meaning of card up my sleeveThe second example shows one friend telling another about his day at work.

Ray: This customer was really rude to me at work today. He kept cursing at me and saying he was going to get me fired. 

Ricardo: Really? What happened? Did you get in trouble?

Ray: No, I didn’t get in any trouble at all because I had an ace up my sleeve.

Ricardo: What was it?

Ray: Well, when the guy went to complain to the manager, he learned that my father is the manager and owner.

Ricardo: I guess that taught him a lesson!

More Examples

This article excerpt is about a talented athlete who has a little known advantage in the Olympic games.

  • Even if Zetlin, whose charisma on the carpet complements her jumping ability, doesn’t get in by placing in the top five, she has a wild-card up her sleeve: As the highest finisher from North, Central and South America at the 2011 world championships, Zetlin could claim a place in the Olympic field as a continental representative. USA Today

This other example is about a professional poker player who often surprises people with her lesser-known skill: legal help.

  • When she’s not playing poker, Selbst heads to soup kitchens and shelters to pull out the ultimate card up her sleeve: free legal advice to the homeless. –New York Daily News


The phrase a card up one’s sleeve describes a secret resource that one can use to unexpectedly benefit himself or herself.