"call a spade a spade"

ronbutters at AOL.COM ronbutters at AOL.COM
Thu Jun 19 12:42:32 UTC 2008

Arnold wrote:

"a key consideration is whether there are people who wield the expression contemptuously -- certainly not the case for "picnic", but clearly the
case for ''squaw' "

Not quite. Almost any term used to reference people CAN be "wielded contemptuously"--e.g. "Yankee," "Hoosier," "Jew." There are people "who wield the expression [Republican] contemptuously." Rather, the "key consideration" is how normal speakers of the language will perceive the motives and/or linguistic sophistication of the speaker as determined by the sociolinguistic environment.

I suspect that there is some variation with "squaw." There is probably some variation with "Polack" and "Canuck" and even "Jew." There is little variation with, say ""Kike" or "Spic." Perhaps one test of a term's intrinsic offensiveness is whether or not there is an in offensive alternative? Another would be polysemy.

Judging by the reactions of most of the people who have replied to this thread, "Call a spade a spade" will not be perceived as offensive unless it is used in a context in which it is clear that the speaker intended it to be a slur--as some kind of pun.
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