I love bands that and musical artists that sing silly songs and parodies. One of the bands that I love is The Arrogant Worms. They have a song called “Carrot Juice is Murder.” In the song, they use the phrase “Let’s call a spade a spade.” Of course, they are using this phrase to be silly because a spade is a gardening tool and the phrase that comes before “let’s call a spade a spade” is “it’s time to stop all this gardening.”
However, I know that let’s call a spade a spade is actually a common phrase used to mean call something as it is, plain and simple. Don’t use fancy or ornate words or try to create a way to describe a way around something else. If you tell a lie, it’s a lie. Don’t try to turn it into something else like “it was just a tiny fib,” or “but, he didn’t need to know that.” It is in times like those that somebody might say, “let’s call a spade a spade.”
However, I don’t know how it originated. All I can imagine is that it is either related to the gardening tool or to the suit found in a deck of cards.
It does not seem that I am correct, though. Spade actually seems to refer to a race or a class of people.
It seems that the earliest known written documentation comes from Nicolas Udall’s Apophthegmes, that is to saie, prompte saiynges. It was first gathered by Erasmus and translated in 1542. It said, “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.”
This refers back to Plutarch’s Apophthegmata.
Then, in 1647, it appeared in John Trapp’s Mellificium theologicum, or the marrow of many good authors.
It said, “Gods people shall not spare to call a spade a spade, a niggard a niggard.”
Some people think that “spade” was derogatory and was a word such as “nigger,” especially given the use of the word “niggard.”
However, niggard was not meant to be derogatory and was synonymous with words such as “lout” or “barbarian.”
Niggard and nigger probably did have some effect upon each word becoming common use in speech, but they never meant the same thing.
It is certain, though, that Trapp did not mean to be offensive in his use of the word “spade” and was probably just a way to refer to a class of people.
Then, in the mid 1900s, there was a Tory politician, Sir Gerald Nabarro, that was known to be very eccentric. He supported Caribbean immigrants coming into the United Kingdom and to make himself known as “a man of the people,” he was fond of saying, “I call a spade a shovel.”
“Arrogant Worms – Carrot Juice is Murder Lyrics”. LetsSingIt. June 3, 2010 http://artists.letssingit.com/arrogant-worms-lyrics-carrot-juice-is-murder-sdnfw88>.
Martin, Gary. “Calls a spade a spade”. The Phrase Finder. June 3, 2010Arrogant Worms – Carrot Juice is Murder Lyrics http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/call-a-spade-a-spade.html>.
Sainburg, Tim. “The Arrogant Worms”. The Arrogant Worms. June 3, 2010 http://www.arrogantworms.com/>.