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Craps – What a Strange Name for a Very Exciting Game!

By Samantha Williams

“Craps” does somehow seem to be a strange name for what is actually a very exciting casino game. It seems almost as though it is an expletive! Although I can imagine throwing the dice, not winning, then shouting across the table, “Oh craps, I lost again!”

Just thinking about this made me curious as to the actual true beginnings of craps. I mean if you walk into a land based casino and pass a craps game in session there is always a lot of people shouting encouragement to the players. So it appears to be both popular to play and popular to watch with a good deal of interaction happening. It also happens to be the one game where the most money is wagered world-wide, and it has completely captured the imagination of the public, including me.

It is believed to be a descendent of a game called Hazard and was played by the Knights during the Crusades. One Englishman – Sir William of Tyre is credited with its invention as his knights laid siege to a fortress known as Hazarth in 1125 AD. Encylopaedia Britannica is far less romantic about the beginnings and name of the game, and state it stems from the Arabic words for “the dice” , “azzah” or “al zah”. Which makes sense if the Crusaders brought it back! It would have been a game of Arabic origin, they were fighting the Saracens, why not steal their games too?

Craps is certainly first recorded in British History and Sir Geoffrey Chaucer refers to it frequently in Canterbury Tales. Fortunes were lost by many a noble young buck in luxurious gambling houses during the 17th century, and the name change is thought to have come about because of a losing throw of 2 being called “crabs”. There are arguments as to whether the British or French took craps to the USA, but most historians believe that this is where the name change occurred, I still think my theory is sound.

An American, not having the moral scruples or the genteel refinement of the French or British, threw the dice, landed twos and shouted “craps, I lost again!” and it caught on! It is actually believed that the earliest British settlers arriving on the Mayflower were certain to have brought dice with them.

The historical argument continues with the French and British fighting again – this time in the USA. The French moved south and many people believe that the game was actually invented by French African Americans from Cajun country. Cajuns were often referred to as being “Johnny Crapaud” and “crap” happens to be French for frog. So putting all the pieces of the puzzle in place and a “crab-2” being a losing throw, a “crap” being a frog in French and everyone being at war; the natural deduction is that Hazard became Craps as a corruption of the name for that “2”, the losing throw. See my theory is quite sound!!