[Ads-l] A spade is not a shovel.

David K. Barnhart dbarnhart at HIGHLANDS.COM
Tue Aug 1 11:56:14 UTC 2017

I don't recall seeing a playing card in spades in which the tip is squared off.  The expression _in spades_ meaning "strongly" or "without holding back" comes, I suspect, from the dominating character of the suit in card playing.

Good morning all,

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Chris Waigl
Sent: Tuesday, August 01, 2017 4:10 AM
Subject: Re: A spade is not a shovel.

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Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       Chris Waigl <chris at LASCRIBE.NET>
Subject:      Re: A spade is not a shovel.

On 7/30/17 11:42 PM, Barretts Mail wrote:

> What would be interesting to know is whether people who regularly use both types of tools use the distinction, in which case “spade” might remain in the US as jargon. 
> When I’m shoveling dirt, I usually use a spade because: 1) it’s lighter, 2) shovels are more common, and 3) it doesn’t occur to me that there is an advantage to using the squarish type.
I've been following this discussion with some consternation, but have held back because I'm not an AmE native speaker. But checking with my spouse, who has the requisite credentials (and has also done a fair bit of amateur farming in her life) has convinced me I'm on the same page as her.

Spade and shovel are quite clearly distinct tools! A spade's primary function is to cut into soil and loosen chunks of it, while a shove's primary function is to scoop up and remove the loosened or other loose material (such as snow, leaves, manure, ...). They are related of course, but specialized. Digging a hole normally requires the use of a spade (for the digging) followed by a shovel (for the scooping, lifting, removing). Filling a hole from a supply of loose material requires only a shovel.

A spade's blade is usually flat, and typically either rectangular or slightly trapezoid . Like so:
. (There are specialized models for certain planting tasks that make cylindrical holes and therefore have a single cylindrical bent to the blade, for example: http://hunsci.com/WDF-1070364.html . Also, they can be pointed, as long as they remain a digging tool, such as this collapsible one:
) In a spade, the central axis of the blade is in the same plane as the handle -- everything is straight and aligned.

A shovel is a scoopy sort of thing, and to facilitate the lifting and moving, the central axis of the blade is at an angle to the handle.
Also, the blade is usually curved. Here is a prototypical shovel:
http://www.ldoceonline.com/media/english/illustration/shovel.jpg Not at all the same thing! For looser materials, you get even more angled and curved shovels such as this snow shovel (which would be pretty much completely unsuitable to use as a spade):

So much for the usage I am used to. So no, a spade is not a shovel.


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