"call a spade a spade"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Wed Jun 18 14:22:11 UTC 2008

At 6/18/2008 08:33 AM, Murrah Lee wrote:
>The term "spade" for an American black person probably derives from
>the phrase, "black as the ace of spades," which was used at least in
>East Texas in the 1950s to describe a particularly black-skinned person.

This is what I remember also -- although I couldn't say from when.

1882,   s.v. "manually, adv.":  G. A. SALA Amer.
Revisited (1885) 185 An obliging waiter..facially
and manually as black as the Ace of Spades.  OED.

1827, confirmed, The Table Book, by William Hone
[2 vols.], page 181:  "She was, as her counsel
represented, truly made up of flesh and blood,
being what is called a strapping wench, as black
as the ace of spades."  London, Hunt and
Clark.  In "Loves of the Negroes. At New Paltz,
United States. Phillis Schoonmaker v. Cuff
Hogeboon."  (Its second sentence is "The parties,
as their names indicate, were black, or, as
philanthropists would say, _coloured folk_.)
Google Books  I note that Phillis and Cuff are
common names in the "bobalition" broadsides,
which IIRC date from the 1820s; see John Wood Sweet, _Bodies Politic_. .

1833, confirmed, Blackwood's Magazine, Vol 33,
Jan-June, page 752 (May):  "The aide-de-camp was,
as I have said, jet-black as the ace of spades,
but he was, notwithstanding, so far as figure
went, a very handsome man ..."  In "Tom Cringle's
Log". Harvard tells me this is by Michael Scott
(1789-1835), Edinburgh and London, 1833.  Google Books.

1835, confirmed, Blackwoods' Edinburgh Magazine,
Vol. 37 (Jan. - June, 1835), page 454 (March):
"The fellow was a negro, and as black as the ace
of spades ..."  In "The Cruise of the Midge,
Chap. 12.  Harvard tells me this also is by
Michael Scott, imprint varies, 1834-1835, 4
volumes; and two other editions in 1835.  Google
Books, which identifies it as No. 231, Feb. 1835.

1840, confirmed, Bentley's Miscellany, Vol. 7,
[ed.?] by Charles Dickens, William Harrison
Ainsworth, page 11.  "No wun would no me now, for
I am as black as the ace of spades as was, and so
is my shurt, and for clene ..."  In "Some Letters
froom the Letter-Bag of the Great Western. Letter
from a Stoker," by Sam Slick.  Google Books, full view available.

1849, confirmed, The Knickerbocker, Vol. 33, page
172 (February): "sitting in an inn in Baltimore,
the other day, be was struck with the singular
appearance of an old Guinea negro, • black as the
ace of spades,' who was attending to some menial
duty in the travellers' room."  In "Editor's Table".  Google Books.

And many others.

It's also, Google tells me, in Cassell's
Dictionary of Slang, ed. 2006; and The New
Partridge ..., 2006.  Do those give dates?


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

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