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  1. #1
    sitifan is offline Member
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    He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    Please translate the following sentence into Chinese:
    He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.
    (Joint College Entrance Examination in Taiwan, 1983)

    What does the phrase in red mean?
    I need native speakers' help.

  2. #2
    GoesStation is offline Moderator
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    Re: He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    To call a spade a spade is an old expression that means "to speak frankly". The quote refers to that. It's an obscure way to say that his ancestors were accustomed to plain speaking.

    Few native speakers would understand this.
    I am not a teacher.

  3. #3
    Rover_KE is offline Moderator
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    Re: He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    I agree with Piscean – otherwise the instruction would have been 'Translate the following sentence into Chinese:

    He came of a line of people who called a spade a spade.

  4. #4
    GoesStation is offline Moderator
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    Re: He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    I think the line comes from some published work. The manual-laborer explanation is certainly possible, so I guess a literal translation would be best. OP, you can translate this to get Chinese which would match the original: He was descended from people who knew what a shovel was.
    I am not a teacher.

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    Quote Originally Posted by GoesStation View Post
    To call a spade a spade is an old expression that means "to speak frankly". The quote refers to that. It's an obscure way to say that his ancestors were accustomed to plain speaking.

    Few native speakers would understand this.
    It's still known in BrE.

  6. #6
    GoesStation is offline Moderator
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    Re: He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    It's still known in BrE.
    I didn't mean the expression isn't understood anymore. I meant that if my explanation was right, the reference was so obscure that most modern readers wouldn't notice it.
    I am not a teacher.

  7. #7
    teechar's Avatar
    teechar is offline Moderator
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    Re: He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    Quote Originally Posted by sitifan View Post
    He came of a line of
    You're more likely to encounter "came from a line of".

  8. #8
    abaka is offline Senior Member
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    Re: He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    The point about the saying "to call a spade a spade" is that the upper and lower classes were expected to speak plainly, whereas the middle classes would not.

    But it's not clear that the upper classes would actually ever see -- or know -- a spade that wasn't drawn on their playing cards. There's not much in it, but I will agree with Piscean.
    Retired proofreader. ESL tutor. Not a teacher. Nor a typist, evidently.

  9. #9
    abaka is offline Senior Member
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    Re: He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    If you want literary confirmation that "to call a spade a spade" and "to know a spade when one sees one" are not the same thing, look no further than Oscar Wilde:


    Cecily: When I see a spade I call it a spade.

    Gwendolen: I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.


    (The Importance of Being Earnest)
    Retired proofreader. ESL tutor. Not a teacher. Nor a typist, evidently.

  10. #10
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: He came of a line of people who knew a spade when they saw one.

    That does not confirm your point IMO- it is simply meant to illustrate how removed the upper classes were from some things in Oscar Wilde's time.
    Last edited by Tdol; 08-Aug-2019 at 16:05.

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