call a spade a spade

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English[edit]

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Etymology[edit]

A mistaken translation of Ancient Greek τὰ σῦκα σῦκα, τὴν σκάφην δὲ σκάφην ὀνομάσων ('calling figs figs, and a trough a trough'). The word σκάφη (skáphē, trough) was mistranslated by the medieval scholar Desiderius Erasmus as σκαφείον (skapheíon, digging tool).

Verb[edit]

call a spade a spade

  1. (idiomatic) To speak the truth; to say things as they really are.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Some take offence at this expression, because one sense of spade refers to a black person. However, the two expressions are etymologically unrelated; this one refers to the digging instrument, the other refers to the card suit.

Translations[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • "Call a spade a spade" in Michael Quinion, Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds, 2004.