call a spade a spade

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A mistaken translation of Ancient Greek τὰ σῦκα σῦκα, τὴν σκάφην δὲ σκάφην ὀνομάσων (tà sûka sûka, tḕn skáphēn dè skáphēn onomásōn, 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).


call a spade a spade (third-person singular simple present calls a spade a spade, present participle calling a spade a spade, simple past and past participle called a spade a spade)

  1. (idiomatic) bluntly put, to put it bluntly, to be outspoken; 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, this expression long predates that use of spade, and is etymologically unrelated: this expression refers to the digging instrument, the racial designation refers to the card suit.


See also[edit]