According to the Japanese wikipedia, the playing cards ("trump") are named as follows (written in Japanese in katakana):

A: Ace

2: Deuce

3: torei

4: keito

5: shinku

6: saisu

7: Seven

8: Eight

9: Nine

10: Ten

J: Jack

Q: Queen

K: King

It's quite clear that many names among those are from English. Those in bold type here are quite etymologically obscure. Does anyone know about their origins?

3 Answers 3


That Japanese Wikipedia entry says


and English Wikipedia entry about dice says the following:

"While the terms ace, deuce, trey, cater, cinque and sice have been made obsolete by one to six, they are still used by some professional gamblers to designate different sides of the dice. Ace is from the Latin as, meaning "a unit";[18] the others are 2 to 6 in old French.[19]".

So, these names were borrowed from English (ultimately from old French). Aside from etymology, these are completely obsolete and most Japanese don't even know them.

  • 1
    collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/cater-cornered C16 cater, from dialect cater (adv) diagonally, from obsolete cater (n) four-spot of dice, from Old French quatre four, from Latin quattuor
    – marasai
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 17:29
  • 1
    The New And Complete Dictionary Of The English Language 1775 books.google.co.jp/… Sice: The six at dice.
    – marasai
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 17:43
  • I suspected that it had something to do with dice and stuff but I didn't consider the possibility that such forms as "torei" or "keito" could derive from English. What an eye-opener. Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 1:01
  • 1
    @HughVunVor Almost all Japanese people refer to them as エース、に、さん、よん、ご、ろく、なな、はち、きゅう、じゅう、ジャック、クイーン、キング.
    – marasai
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 5:27


This was quite an interesting bit of research. These now-mostly-obsolete Japanese terms look very Latinate, but as many commenters have noted, the phonetics do not align as expected.

After some digging, I've figured out why -- they are not directly from any Latinate language. The source was actually English, much to my surprise.

The now-mostly-obsolete English source terms were imported into English from Old French via the Norman invasion of 1066, which explains the weird phonetic variances: English phonology has undergone a number of historical processes that did not affect the continental Latinate languages.

Between the Japanese Wikipedia article linked by the asker, and the limited uses of the English terms (just cards and dice), a couple puzzling points become clear:

  1. Why do these strange terms only cover the numbers 1 to 6?
    • These terms were specialized uses for games using dice, and a single die only goes from 1 to 6.
  2. Why have these terms stuck around even though standard Japanese or standard English has other words for these numbers?
    • Specialty contexts (like gambling) can create the conditions for a sub-culture to have its own jargon, which tends to persist as long as people are interested in that sub-culture.
    • Once interest in that sub-culture wanes, the jargon terms themselves fade from use -- much as we see in both Japanese and English, where most of these terms have become obscure historical footnotes.

Etymologies back to Latin

Key: JA = Japanese, EN = English, ME = Middle English, OF = Old French, LA = Latin, * before a form = unattested in what I can find, before a form = obsolete in modern mainstream English

  • JA エース → EN ace → ME ās → OF as → LA as, originally meaning something like "a single penny"
  • JA デュース → EN deuce → ME dewes, deus → OF deus → LA duo, "two"
  • JA トレイ → EN trey → ME treye, treie, treis → OF treis → LA tres, "three"
  • JA ケイト → EN cater, possible dialect form *cate (compare Norman French quate) → ME cater, *cate → OF catre, quatre → LA quattuor, "four"
  • JA シンク → EN cinq → ME *cinq, cink → OF cinq or cinc → LA quīnque, "five"
  • JA サイス → EN sice → ME sice, sis → OF sies or sis → LA sex, "six"


Note: I have not found any source that specifically says "these Japanese terms are from English", except for エース, which is quite well attested. Other than エース, these terms are entirely missing from my JA dictionaries. That said, English is the one language that has all of these terms, all with the expected phonology to match the katakana (with the apparent exception of cater, which should be cate to match the Japanese; while there is circumstantial evidence suggesting such a form might exist in English, I cannot find a solid source for this).


The numbers in bold seem to be from Spanish, French or Italian.

3: tre (Italian) -> とれい
4: cuatro (Spanish)/quattro (Italian) -> けいと
5: cince (Italian) -> ちーんけー ; cinq (French) -> しんく
6: seis (Spanish) -> さいす

  • I did try to look for numeral terms in those languages. These etymologies seem rather phonetically unlikely. Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 14:23
  • I can assure that phonetically speaking 3 (tre) is very much like とれい the same for cinq and seis (more accurate pronunciation would be せいす), the only odd looking is けいと which is quite far form the original pronunciation of cuatro/quattro but it could be assumed that they get rid of the /tro/ sound by replacing it by /to/ and qua/cua became けい instead of くぁ (sound that does not exist in Japanese). Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 14:28
  • サイコロから来てるらしいです・・・rumic.gr.jp/~arai/dice/cult.html フランス語だって書いてあります・・・ (←本当かどうかわかりませんけど。)
    – chocolate
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 14:48
  • @chocolate If it really comes from French the pronunciation have quite changed. French: As (あす) (one only for playing cards), deux (でゅーす, the real pronunciation can't be approximated with kana because the /eu/ does not exists in Japanese), trois (/oi/ looks like わ and the s is silent), quatre (impossible to render in kana), cinq (しんく but that's really faithful to the real pronunciation), six (しす) reference pronunciation Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 15:07
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    「いくつかは」なんですよね・・・「ace, deuce, trey, quarter/cater, cinq/sink, sice」だけでは、わかりませんよね・・・(あってるかどうかもわからないし・・・)
    – chocolate
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 15:32

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