Call a Spade a Spade – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did someone just say that they always “call a spade a spade,” regardless of what other people think? This post gives you the meaning, origin, and use of this idiomatic expression.

Call a Spade a Spade Meaning

If you “call a spade a spade,” it means that you are telling it like it is or “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” Essentially, they’re upfront with you about what they think about you, another person, or an object.

The phrase means to be upfront and honest about what they think, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Regardless of the consequence, the person is willing to be tough with you, and they are not willing to compromise on what they think.

You can use the expression when talking about another person or speaking to someone directly. They aren’t “beating around the bush” about what they think; they give you the straight facts as they see it from their perspective.

Call a Spade a Spade Example Usage

“Look, I call a spade a spade, and Jack is no good for you; he’s a bum.”

“Felix tried to convince me that I was wrong about Sarah and that’s she’s actually a good person. I call a spade a spade, and anyone that treats a friend like that doesn’t deserve any.”

“They tell me that John is a great guy, but I see through the façade he gives everyone else. I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade.”

“Stop trying to hide who you are; I can see right through you. I call a spade a spade, and it’s your actions that are important, not your words.”

Call a Spade a Spade Origin

To “call a spade a spade” has its origin in Ancient Greece. Plutarch’s “Apophthegmata Laconic” contains the following.

“to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough.”

This saying has a similar meaning, with the use of “fig” and “trough” later replaced by “spade.”

In the mid-1500s, Dutch scholar Erasmus translated various Greek works into Latin. As he read through Plutarch’s works, he translated the saying to “to call a spade a spade.” In this case, the spade is the gardening tool.

The phrase would also go on to develop a sinister meaning in the 1920s, with racist individuals using it to describe African Americans. We assume that this saying refers to the jet-black spade in a deck of cards.

Phrases Similar to Call a Spade a Spade

  • Say it like it is.
  • Call someone out.
  • Wear your heart on your sleeve.

Phrases Opposite to Call a Spade a Spade

  • I got you all wrong.
  • I have no idea about your character.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Call a spade a spade.
  • Called a spade a spade.
  • Calling a spade a spade.

Ways People May Say Call a Spade a Spade Incorrectly

Some people may use the phrase as a gambling reference, which isn’t the correct use. Also, the phrase used to have a racist meaning to it, pertaining to African American people. Using it in this context today would likely have you ostracized from society and social media.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Call a Spade a Spade

You can use the phrase “call a spade a spade” in social and professional settings. The term is a way of saying that you tell it like it is and that people can rely on you for your honest judgment. It’s a way of saying that you don’t use favoritism when speaking to other people, and you’re not afraid to call people out on their actions or words.

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