call a spade a spade

Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to: navigation, search



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) 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]


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