"call a spade a spade" furor

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Nov 14 04:56:24 UTC 2001

At 9:26 AM -0500 11/14/01, Baker, John wrote:
>         I would argue the opposite:  "Call a spade a spade" has at times
>been used in fact to refer to African-Americans (in spite of its etymology),
>while "niggardly" is never or almost never used to refer to
>African-Americans.  And the connotations seem to fit better too:  "Call a
>spade a spade and not an African-American" has a clear (and offensive)
>meaning that I won't bother to spell out.  But the African-American
>stereotype does not include niggardliness.
No, but I can imagine a reconstruction whereby "niggardly", as used
in the unfortunate Mr. Howard's warning "I will have to be niggardly
with this fund", could have been reanalyzed to allude to the fact
that the stereotypical African-American does have less money than the
stereotypical Caucasian-American and therefore (like Mr. Howard's
municipal agency at belt-tightening time) has fewer funds to access.

As for spade-calling, my favorite on this is the folk etymologist who
published an ad in our local advertising weekly in 1995 that read

SR. CITIZEN KITTY needs loving home, spade, all shots, healthy.
I've been a good kitty & promise to be a purr-fect pet.  Please
call ____.  Love Kitty.

I didn't call to determine if the spade kitten-emeritus in question
was neutered, black, or both.


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