"call a spade a spade"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jun 18 02:17:49 UTC 2008

At 6:54 PM -0700 6/17/08, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>What exactly does the racial connotation term mean? From this thread,
>it appears to be the most common meaning in US English, but I'm not
>sure what it would mean or how it could be used that way. I'm familiar
>only with the meaning of not using euphemisms or circumlocutions for
>something bad. BB

from AHD4:

1. Games
a. A black, leaf-shaped figure on certain playing cards.
b. A playing card with this figure.
c. also spades (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The suit of cards
represented by this figure.

2. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a Black person.

Interestingly to me, there is apparently no etymological relation
between this "spade2" and the digging tool "spade1".  I had always
assumed they were related.


>On Jun 16, 2008, at 4:39 AM, Charles Doyle wrote:
>>For some speakers of American English (by no means all of them), the
>>word "spade" has lost all applications except for use as a
>>derogatory racial designation.
>>On the reanalysis of the proverbial phrase "call a spade a spade,"
>>one might consult Wolfgang Mieder's monograph _Call a Spade a Spade:
>>>From Classical Phrase to Racial Slur_ (NY: Peter Lang, 2002).
>>---- Original message ----
>>>Date: Mon, 16 Jun 2008 00:02:08 -0400
>>>From: Doug Harris <cats22 at FRONTIERNET.NET>
>>The Same Dowd piece, datelined Paris, also included this:
>>>'Angela Merkel dodged when asked at a press conference whether she
>>>would miss W., but said she liked being able to "call a spade a
>>>spade with him."'
>>>Twas that a fox paw, an indication of a lack of familiarity with
>>>American vernacular, or merely a hopefully-NOT noteworthy phrase?
>>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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