Call a Spade a Spade – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Today’s phrase I’m slipping under the microscope is call a spade a spade. No, it’s not about garden tools or card games; it’s more about cutting straight to the chase. But there’s more to it than that. Intrigued? Stick around, and let’s dig deeper (pun totally intended).

Meaning of Calling a Spade a Spade

Call a Spade a Spade Idiom Origin Meaning

When someone calls a spade a spade, they’re speaking frankly and directly, often about an unpleasant truth or difficult topic. It’s like saying that it is without beating around the bush. Remember, it’s not about love for gardening but about honesty—brutal honesty, that is.

Origin and Etymology of Calling a Spade a Spade

Call a Spade a Spade Ngram
Call a spade a spade usage trend.

This phrase has quite a history. It actually goes back to Ancient Greece, to the works of Plutarch. But back then, it was “call a fig a fig and a trough a trough.” Sounds catchy, huh? Not quite.

Thankfully, it morphed over time and made its English debut in 1542 in Nicolas Udall’s translation of Erasmus, Apophthegmes. Fast-forward to today, and it’s still used to highlight honesty and frankness.

Call a Spade a Spade Synonyms

Can you say it differently? Of course! Thanks to synonyms, you can mix up your phrases and relay your message in other words.

  • Tell it like it is
  • Lay it on the line
  • Be frank
  • Be direct
  • Speak one’s mind

Calling a Spade a Spade Examples in a Sentence

Call a Spade a Spade Idiom Origin Meaning 1

With a strange phrase like this, it helps to see it put to use in full sentences. Here’s a list of all the ways you can implement this phrase in conversation or writing.

  • John always calls a spade a spade, which sometimes upsets his colleagues.
  • I appreciate her ability to call a spade a spade, regardless of how harsh the truth may be.
  • “Let’s call a spade a spade. Your performance this quarter hasn’t been up to the mark,” said the manager.
  • I’m known for calling a spade a spade. I believe it’s better to be upfront than to sugarcoat the truth.
  • He isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade, even in tense situations.
  • “You’re just not ready for this role. I’m calling a spade a spade,” the coach said.
  • She called a spade a spade, acknowledging the flaws in her plan.
  • “I have to call a spade a spade. This is not your best work,” the teacher told the student.
  • During the meeting, he called a spade a spade and addressed the elephant in the room.
  • Listen, I’m just gonna call a spade a spade here and point out that you’re a racist. 

Keep Digging Deeper

There you have it—the inside scoop on calling a spade a spade. Isn’t language a fascinating treasure trove of history, culture and evolution? I love it! Just whenever you encounter a phrase or idiom that sparks curiosity, we’re here to help you dig deeper. Keep exploring and keep learning with our other guides!