say what?

Deal. Deal with it. In other words, cope with the situation, get over it. It’s a smug challenge rather than a sensitive deference to someone else’s feelings or opinions. So this is a recent slang term that has become a meme, or a “mimicked theme” over social media.

Deal, as an American slang term, is not new. It began with card playing in America in the 19th century. It originally comes from Old English, daelan, meaning divide or distribute. So when playing cards, one would “deal” them to the other players. The one dealing was the dealer. This gave rise to many expressions such as deal me in, square deal, good deal, bad deal, no deal. Deal also means an arrangement, an agreement. This is likely a natural progression from card playing. So a card game is an agreement of sorts. If you say, “Deal me in.”, this could mean either get me into the game or the business arrangement, the deal. If a deal is an arrangement, or understanding between parties, then it can be rated. Is it a raw deal, the best deal, such a deal? You can sweeten the deal, clinch the deal. You can present it, as in “Here’s the deal.” or confirm it with “It’s a deal.” or “It’s a done deal”.

The American gambler in the 1800s began this flurry of “deal” expressions as gambling became a popular activity on the riverboats. Five Card Stud, a form of Poker, was the favorite game. Gambling was often illegal in town but gamblers had free reign on the water. Other expressions arose from the game, like “pass the buck” which came from the players passing a buckhorned knife around the card table to show who was dealing. Card playing then, was the source of an expression which came to mean pass on the responsibility. Harry Truman’s Oval Office desk sign “The Buck Stops Here” was the declaration that as president he took the final responsibility in government matters.

Card “sharps”, later called card “sharks”, were skilled at cheating the inexperienced out of their money and as the West opened up with railroad expansion after the Civil War, gamblers and con men plied their trade on unsuspecting cowboys and miners. Gamblers like Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickok, and Doc Holiday enticed others to play Chuck-a-Luck, Three Card Monte, and the favorite at the Western saloons, Faro.

One of the most colorful and most notorious of these con men of the West was Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. He got this sobriquet (nickname) because he was particularly adept at tricking the public with “The Prize Package Soap Sell”, a display of bars of soap which were supposed to be randomly wrapped in bills anywhere from $1 to $100. Smith would call on a “shill”, a plant in the audience who pretended to discover a $100 bill with his $5 purchased bar of soap. Smith would pretend to double wrap the bill and the plain soap wrapper together around the bar. But with sleight of hand, he got the money back into his pocket with no one the wiser. I won’t go into the details of Soapy’s rise and decline ending in a gunfight in Alaska in 1898. But I do want to mention that his sobriquet (French for “a chuck under the chin”) mmm… inspired writers to create other “soapy” characters in fiction. Soapy SlickĀ is the nefarious saloon owner and racketeer in the Uncle Scrooge comics. But my favorite spin off of this real life character is Soapy Sid in the story, “Aunt Agatha Takes the Count” or “Pearls Mean Tears” in the BBC film series version, authored by P. G. Wodehouse. Bertie Wooster is encouraged by his heavy-handed aunt to take up with sickening sweet Aline Hemingway and her pious curate of a brother, Sidney. Ironically, they are actually the notorious confidence tricksters, Soapy Sid and his female accomplice. All their “soapy” behavior, meaning fawning, phony, and saccharine, was not enough to clean them up. The story ends just as Soapy Smith’s did…justice, for their dirty, rotten tricks.