"call a spade a spade"

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Wed Jun 18 12:09:56 UTC 2008

FWIW:  The "original" sense of the prototype expression, in Greek, used the word "scaphe," a noun referring to a small boat or a tub. In the early 16th century Erasmus, whether by mistake or intentionally (perhaps influenced by his awareness of a Greek verb "skaptein," meaning 'dig'), gave the Latin noun "ligo," meaning 'spade', instead of the more accurate or literal "scapha," in his translation of the Greek adage.

Anyhow, the "racial" use of the English phrase "call a spade a spade" means something like 'courageously disdain to use any mincing "politically-correct" terminology (for something or someone)'--which, of course, is just a specialized case of the more traditional sense, 'speak directly'.

The irony is that the term "spade" for 'black person' may be impolite but it's hardly literal or direct!


---- Original message ----
>Date: Tue, 17 Jun 2008 20:18:23 -0700
>From: Douglas Wilson <douglas at NB.NET>
>     Or, is this phrase still used in European English in its original sense, with no racial meaning?

 . . . .

 -- Doug Wilson

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

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