1816, "thin pasteboard," from French carton "pasteboard" (17c.), from Italian cartone "pasteboard," augmentative of Medieval Latin carta "paper" (see card (n.1)). Originally the material for making paper boxes; the word was extended 1890 to the boxes themselves. As a verb from 1921.
Entries linking to carton
early 15c., "a playing card," from Old French carte (14c.), from Medieval Latin carta/charta "a card, paper; a writing, a charter," from Latin charta "leaf of paper, a writing, tablet," from Greek khartēs "layer of papyrus," which is probably from Egyptian. The form has been influenced by Italian cognate carta "paper, leaf of paper." Compare chart (n.). The shift in English from -t to -d is unexplained.
The sense of "playing cards" also is the oldest of the French word. The sense in English was extended by 1590s to similar small, flat, stiff pieces of paper. As "small piece of cardboard upon which is written or printed the name, address, etc. of the person presenting it," from 1795: visiting-cards for social calls, business-cards announcing one's profession. The meaning "printed ornamental greetings for special occasions" is from 1862.
Application to clever or original persons (1836, originally with an adjective, as in smart card) is from the playing-card sense, via expressions such as sure card "an expedient certain to attain an object" (c. 1560).
Card-sharper "professional cheat at cards" is from 1859. House of cards in the figurative sense "any insecure or flimsy scheme" is from 1640s, first attested in Milton, from children's play. To (figuratively) have a card up (one's) sleeve is from 1898. To play the _______ card (for political advantage) is from 1886, originally the Orange card, meaning "appeal to Northern Irish Protestant sentiment."
Cards are first mentioned in Spain in 1371, described in detail in Switzerland in 1377, and by 1380 reliably reported from places as far apart as Florence, Basle, Regensburg, Brabant, Paris, and Barcelona. References are also claimed for earlier dates, but these are relatively sparse and do not withstand scrutiny. [David Parlett, "A History of Card Games"]
1670s, "a drawing on strong paper" (used as a model for another work), from French carton or directly from Italian cartone "strong, heavy paper, pasteboard," thus "preliminary sketches made by artists on such paper" (see carton). The extension to drawings in newspapers and magazines is by 1843. Originally they were to advocate or attack a political faction or idea; later they were merely comical as well.
Punch has the benevolence to announce, that in an early number of his ensuing Volume he will astonish the Parliamentary Committee by the publication of several exquisite designs, to be called Punch's Cartoons! [Punch, June 24, 1843]
Also see -oon. As "an animated movie," by 1916.
updated on November 09, 2022