Calling 'spades' other things

Geoff Nathan geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU
Thu Jun 19 09:58:01 UTC 2008

Baker, John said:

> In a way,
> the problem actually is easier with the phrase "call a spade a spade,"
> since there really is a racist meaning of "spade."  (And, by the by, the
> phrase itself is not very compelling, since nobody ever actually does
> call a "spade" anything but a "spade.")
Interestingly enough, my mother (and, it turns out, Somerset
Maugham--OED, dated 1919) sometimes called it a 'bloody shovel'.  At
least in British English the expression was:

'He doesn't just call a spade a spade, he calls it a bloody shovel'

It's also discussed in Dave Wilton's book, incidentally. (Google is amazing)


Geoffrey S. Nathan <geoffnathan at>

Faculty Liaison, Computing and Information Technology,
and Associate Professor of English, Linguistics Program
Phone Numbers (313) 577-1259 or (313) 577-8621
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI, 48202

The American Dialect Society -

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