One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A gambling game, fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries, in which each player was dealt four cards from a forty-card pack, and players bet on the combinations of the cards they were dealt. Compare prima vista, "prime".
Mid 16th century; earliest use found in Thomas Elyot (c1490–1546), humanist and diplomat. Probably from Spanish primera gambling card game in which only four cards are dealt, use as noun of feminine of primero first. Compare Italian primiera gambling card game in which only four cards are dealt, winning combination of four cards in this game, and also (apparently all ultimately from Spanish) Middle French, French † premiere denoting the game, post-classical Latin primera denoting the game and the winning combination of cards, primaria denoting the game (both 1576 or earlier).
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