To call a spade a spade
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2010)|
|Look up call a spade a spade in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
To "call a spade a spade" is to speak honestly and directly about a topic, specifically topics that others may avoid speaking about due to their sensitivity or embarrassing nature.
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1913) defines it as
|“||To be outspoken, blunt, even to the point of rudeness; to call things by their proper names without any "beating about the bush".||”|
The phrase previously appeared in chapter 1 of Joseph Devlin's book "How to Speak and Write Correctly" (1910) where he satirized speakers who chose their words to show superiority:
|“||For instance, you may not want to call a spade a spade. You may prefer to call it a spatulous device for abrading the surface of the soil. Better, however, to stick to the old familiar, simple name that your grandfather called it.||”|
Its ultimate source is Plutarch's Apophthegmata Laconica (178B) which has την σκαφην σκαφην λεγοντας (ten skafen skafen legontas). σκαφη (skafe) means "basin, trough", but Erasmus mis-translated it (as if from σπάθη spáthe) as ligo "shovel" in his Apophthegmatum opus. Lucian De Hist. Conscr. (41) has τα συκα συκα, την σκαφην δε σκαφην ονομασων (ta suka suka, ten skafen de skafen onomason) "calling a fig a fig, and a trough a trough".
The phrase was introduced to English in 1542 in Nicolas Udall's translation of Erasmus, Apophthegmes, that is to saie, prompte saiynges. First gathered by Erasmus:
- Philippus aunswered, that the Macedonians wer feloes of no fyne witte in their termes but altogether grosse, clubbyshe, and rusticall, as they whiche had not the witte to calle a spade by any other name then a spade.
The phrase predates the use of the word "spade" as an ethnic slur against African Americans, which was not recorded until 1928; however, in contemporary U.S. society, the idiom is often avoided due to potential confusion with the slur and/or confusion with playing card references such as "black as the ace of spades".