"call a spade a spade"

Andrea Morrow aandrea1234 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 18 17:00:16 UTC 2008

Amen, Charlie.  Who on this list would argue that because certain
words historically meant one thing, they must always and only mean that? Or
that an "irrational" or "stupid" meaning acquired by a word should not be
acknowledged to exist?  Yet it seems like there are many who are making
similar claims about the phrase in question.  Take a look on google for
"Archie Bunker" and "call a spade a spade" and see what is out there.  The
phrase makes many people uneasy, and delights others for precisely this
reason.  I don't think it would get that reaction if we were all just
talking about shovels.

On Wed, Jun 18, 2008 at 12:43 PM, Charles Doyle <cdoyle at uga.edu> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Charles Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "call a spade a spade"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The opinion seems prevalent among our list discussants that because a
> certain use or interpretation of the phrase is irrational or stupid, it
> should not exist--therefore it does not exist and cannot exist. Who would
> have anticipated THAT response from such a scientific and non-prescriptive
> congregation?!
> From Rosalie Maggio, _The Bias-Free Word Finder. A Dictionary of
> Nondiscriminatory Language_ (Boston: Beacon, 1991):  "_call a spade a spade_
> get to the point, speak plainly . . . . The expression is associated with a
> racial slur and should be avoided" (p. 61).
> From Christine Ammer, _Have a Nice Day--No Problem! A Dictionary of
> Cliches_ (NY: Dutton, 1992): "A cliche since the nineteenth century, it
> acquired a slightly more sinister meaning when 'spade' became an offensive
> slang word for a black person" (p. 48).
> In 1984 U.S. Sen. Jake Garn had to defend his use of the expression in
> relation to Rev. Jesse Jackson's having gone to Syria to negotiate the
> release of Lt. Robert Goodman [likewise a Black man], imprisoned after his
> military plane was downed; [anon.], "'Call a Spade a Spade' Quip Defended by
> Utah Senator," _Globe and Mail_ 4 Jan. 1984.
> In the monograph I referred to earlier in this thread, Wolfgang Mieder,
> _"Call a Spade a Spade": From Classical Phrase to Racial Slur_ (NY: Lang,
> 2002), various such "insensitive" uses of the expression are
> reported--mostly not intended to be racist or racial but so interpreted (pp.
> 188-98).
> --Charlie
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