Call a spade a spade

  • The idiom call a spade a spade has its roots in Classical Greece. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the phrase call a spade a spade, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.


    To call a spade a spade means to speak the unvarnished truth, to speak plainly and without embellishment and without softening the hard realities of that truth. The term to call a spade a spade has its roots in Ancient Greece, in a phrase found in Plutarch’s Apophthegmata Laconic: “…to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough.” Later, in the mid-1500s, the Dutch scholar Erasmus collected various Greek works and translated them into Latin, at which time he interpreted the aphorism as “…to call a spade a spade.” The spade in this case is a gardening implement. To complicate matters, the word spade came into use in the United States during the 1920s as a pejorative term for African-American. For this reason, the term call a spade a spade has sometimes been perceived as a racist phrase, even though its roots reach back to antiquity. Use caution when employing this phrase. Related terms are calls a spade a spade, called a spade a spade, calling a spade a spade.



    If there is a candidate for the PN leadership who has the guts to call a spade a spade, it is Frank Portelli. (The Malta Independent)

    The former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said it was time to “call a spade a spade”, otherwise the torturous crimes would not be prevented. (The Daily Express)

    Big applause to 7th District Councilman Marianne “Mitzi” Antezzo, a true woman of valor who fearlessly stood up once more to call a spade a spade. (The Stratford Star)


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