Call a spade a spade

Posted by ESC on July 04, 2003

In Reply to: Call a spade a spade posted by andrew on July 03, 2003

: Charles Mackay in _The Lost Beauties of the English Language_ suggests it derives from the word spaed, meaning castrated. So to call a spaed, a spaed is to call a eunuch, a eunuch.

: I think it good palin English without fraud,
: To call a spade a spade, a bawd a bawd.
: Taylor, the Water Poet, 1630

Here's what one reference says:

CALL A SPADE A SPADE - "To be straightforward and call things by their right names, to avoid euphemisms or beating around the bush. The words are from the garden, not from the game of poker. So old is this expression that it wasn't original with Plutarch, who used it back in the first century when writing about Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great's father. The saying has been credited to the Greek comic poet Menander, who described the life of ancient Athens so faithfully that he inspired a critic to exclaim, 'Menander and Life, which of you imitated the other?' If this is so, to 'call a spade a spade'' could have been quoting a much older Greek proverb. The expression was introduced into English by Protestant reformer John Knox, who translated it from the Latin of Erasmus as: 'I have learned to call wickedness by its own terms: A fig, a fig, and a spade a spade.' Erasmus had taken the phrase from Lucian, a Greek writer of the second century and translated it as 'to call a fig a fig and a boat a boat,' which is possible because the Greek words for boat and garden spade were very similar." Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).