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In spades

Posted by Bob on June 28, 2000

In Reply to: In spades posted by ESC on June 27, 2000

: : : I've been hearing this phrase a lot lately, but I can't put my finger on what it means. Sounds like a reference to cards. Any ideas as to the meaning and origin? Thanks!

: : I've been wondering about that one too. People say things like "if you spend time learning to garden you'll be repaid in spades." I'm sure the reference is to cards, but I wonder what the meaning of the expression is. The origin would be interesting too, for sure. Patty

: I've heard the expression but couldn't find the origin of something "paying off in spades." For the sake of getting the discussion ball rolling, here's some information I found regarding the relation between spade, a garden implement, and spade, a card:

: SPADE - "A spade on a playing card is not called a spade because of its resemblance to a digging tool. The word 'spade' meaning 'a tool for digging' is only a distant etymological relative of 'spade' meaning 'a suit of playing cards.' The first 'spade,' the implement, is descended directly from the Old English word 'spadu,' which meant 'a digging tool.' The second 'spade' was borrowed into English from the Italian word 'spada,' which meant 'sword.' 'Spada' is derived via Latin 'spatha' from the Greek word 'spathe,' both words meaning 'broad blade.' 'Spathe' goes back to the same Indo-European form 'spadh' - as does the Germanic ancestor 'spadan' of Old English 'spadu,' so the two words spelled 'spade' are indeed distantly related. A broad-bladed sword was used on Italian playing cards as the symbol of a suit, and this suit was called 'spades' in English. However, the symbol for spades on English playing cards was borrowed not from the Italian sword but from the French pike ('pique' in French). The shape of this pike was probably fashioned after the leaf symbol that appeared on early German playing cards." From "Word Mysteries and Histories" by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1986).

I thought we'd been all through this before, so I didn't bother re-posting. Sorry. Spades is the highest suit in contract bridge, and many other card games where suits are ranked. (Clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades.) It is the most powerful suit, and the relation to winning decisively is a logical extension.

See also: the meaning and origin of 'in spades'.