early 14c., "slab or flat surface for an inscription" (especially the two Mosaic tables of stone), from O.Fr. tablete (13c.), dim. of table "slab" (see table). The meaning "lozenge, pill" is first recorded 1580s; that of "pad of writing paper" in 1880.
c.1400, from M.Fr. carte (14c.), from L. charta "leaf of paper, tablet," from Gk. khartes "layer of papyrus," probably from Egyptian. Form influenced after 14c. by It. carta (see chart). Sense of "playing cards" is oldest in French and English; the sense extended by 1590s to similar flat, stiff bits of paper. Meaning "printed ornamental greetings for special occasions" is 1869. Application to clever or original persons (1836, originally with an adjective, e.g. smart card) is from the playing-card sense, via expressions such as sure card "an expedient certain to attain an object" (c.1560). Verb meaning "require (someone) to show ID" is 1970s. Card-carrying first attested 1948, during U.S. Cold War anti-Communist paranoia. Card table is from 1713. Card-sharper is 1859. House of cards in the figurative sense is from 1640s, first attested in Milton. To have a card up (one's) sleeve is 1898; to play the _______ card is from 1886, originally the Orange card, meaning "appeal to Northern Irish Protestant sentiment (for political advantage)."