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What Is Table Talk?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The English idiom “table talk” refers to casual talk that is done around a table. In many cases, this idiomatic phrase is used in regard to the dinner table, where groups and families will informally talk about the events of the day. Another more specialized use of the phrase involves poker jargon, and references discussion of inappropriate information during a game that might constitute cheating.

One specifically different use of the term table talk relates to poker and various other card games. In poker, players win or lose money by playing against each other. In these cases, it’s essential to maintain a fair play environment. Often times, this includes a requirement to limit what buyers call table talk, which in this case is any conversation related specifically to the hidden cards, whether they are in a player’s hand or on the table.

Even when money is not at stake, card players often refer to rules requiring the limitation of talking at the table. This is a large part of etiquette for card players, and something that most experienced players comply with automatically. In some cases, it may be necessary to reference these rules using this common idiom, where the more experienced players, or those with command of the rules, will point out what is and is not allowed.

It’s important for all of the players at the card table to understand, not just what they can and cannot say, but how other players may be using table talk in subtle ways. One of the most common forms of hidden table talk consists of code words for the four suits in the card deck: hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs. In some cases, players may simply use these four words in a seemingly innocent context, for example, if a player says, “diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” in order to clue another player in that he or she is holding diamond cards or needs more of these cards. In other cases, a player may substitute a code word for diamonds, usually something that relates to value, like money. It can be very difficult to assess whether players are using code, which is why in some games, any kind of casual talking at the table is banned.

In general, table talk can consist of any sort of informal topic. It may even take place in a variety of areas, not just the dinner table in a home. For example, eaters in a local diner may engage in “table talk,” where the table at hand is the lunch counter or dining area of the restaurant. Though there are few limits to what this kind of casual conversation can consist of, it’s generally implied that the topic will not be excessively serious or important. Topics that are highly controversial, or which might conjure up unappetizing thoughts should be avoided.

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