Posted by John Gall on May 25, 2001
In Reply to: Call a spade a spade posted by ESC on July 27, 2000
Call a spade a spade, instead of calling as spade a shovel (as well do, anyway) is clearly the origin of the word. A spade is a digging instrument that was (And still is!) confused with a shovel. I believe what I call (and everybody else calls) a shovel is really a spade. The shovel is the flat bladed instrument meant for picking up (a coal shovel)dirt, and the shovel is meant for breaking up ground.
I could be wrong (have been before), but I think that's the origin of the phrase.
: : : : : What is the derivation of this phrase: call a spade a spade. Some folks in the office think this is derogatory and racist. I'm thinking it comes from the construction trades.
: : : : : any ideas
: : : : : thanks
: : : : Sam,
: : : : This phrase goes back to Greek text at least as early as 300BC and doesn't have racist origins. John Knox introduced it into English when translating a Latin text by Erasmus. "I have learned to call wickedness by its own terms: A fig is a fig and a spade a spade."
: : : : My own origins are so humble I call a spade a shovel.
: : : : Gary
: : : "To call a spade a spade" not only predates slavery in North America by quite a bit but harks all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, occurring in the work of, among others, the playwright Aristophanes, and is still commonly heard in modern Greek. The original phrase seems to have been "to call a fig a fig; to call a kneading trough a kneading trough," applied to someone who spoke exceedingly frankly. Evidently, when the phrase was first translated from Greek in the Renaissance, the Greek word for "trough" was confused with the Greek for "spade," and thus the modern version was born. The "spade" referred to in the phrase, incidentally, was the digging implement, and not the black character on playing cards that underlies the racial epithet.
: : I found this explanation in this forums' Archives
: : Posted by Shawn on February 11, 2000
: : He wrote:
: : This term refers to tarot cards. The suit of swords (spades) has the most troublesome images, and some tarot card readers will try to soften the blow of the images by sugar-coating the information. The term "call a spade a spade", means to tell it like it is without holding back any bad news.
: 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).