Call a spade a spade

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Johnyxxx

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Hello,

Could the idiom to call a spade a spade be used in the context below?

"Let us call a spade a spade; your husband is definitely not normal. Nobody would turn up at a party, disguised as Stalin."

Thanks a lot.
 

emsr2d2

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The use of "call a spade a spade" seems a little extreme there. I don't see any reason for someone not to turn up at a fancy-dress party dressed (not "disguised") as Stalin unless, maybe, they were going to a party in Russia.
 

Johnyxxx

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The use of "call a spade a spade" seems a little extreme there. I don't see any reason for someone not to turn up at a fancy-dress party dressed (not "disguised") as Stalin unless, maybe, they were going to a party in Russia.

I am not talking about a fancy-dress party; I am talking about a regular barbecue party.
 

emsr2d2

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I am not talking about a fancy-dress party; I am talking about a regular barbecue party.

Well, admittedly, that would be unusual/weird. However, "not normal" is an adjective, not a noun, and usually the "spade" in question is a noun.

Let's call a spade a spade. Your husband is a nutter! Who turns up at a barbecue dressed as Stalin?!
 

Tdol

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If you want to go with the normal idea, how about abnormal?
 

TheParser

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Hello, Johny:

Because I am elderly, I was jarred (slightly shocked) when I read the title of your thread.

Yes, that expression is fine in the proper context, as the other posters explained.

Nevertheless, I would respectfully advise you to NEVER use that expression here in the United States.

I do NOT know whether the younger generation is aware of the fact, but that expression was often considered very offensive in some contexts.

I cannot be specific here, so you need to google the expression to find out why it is (was?) considered offensive by some people.

If you come to the States, do NOT take any chances. It is my opinion that you should avoid the expression in all contexts.
 

GoesStation

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"Spade" was once a very offensive racial slur. Nobody has used it that way in decades. Although to call a spade a spade is a little less used than it once was, the expression predates the racist use of the word by centuries.

You can use the expression if you want to.
 

emsr2d2

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The Parser's "explanation" is so vague as to be worthless. In years gone by, "spade" was an offensive term for a black person. Used in that context, it would be completely unacceptable and offensive. Used in the perfectly acceptable phrase "call a spade a spade", it's absolutely fine.
 
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jutfrank

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I very much respect TheParser's advice on this but I'm a little unsure as to whether he/she is referring only to the derogatory and completely unacceptable 'a spade' or whether also to the idiom 'to call a spade a spade'? It's just that I have trouble imagining how the latter idiom could be used in a racially abusive context. (I'm not suggesting it wasn't, though.)
 

Johnyxxx

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It is my opinion that you should avoid the expression in all contexts.

Thank you very much for answering but call a spade a spade was introduced into English in 1542 and I can see no reason why it should be connected to a racist and unacceptable expression. By the way, call a spade a spade can be found in 1000 englische Redensarten (1996), so I doubt they would dare to publish something which cannot be or should not be used because it is offensive.
 
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Barb_D

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The idiom is perfectly fine to use. Ems example is exactly how you see it (except we don't, unfortunately, use the word "nutter" here much, which is a pity because it's the perfect word for so many situations).

Mary, it's time to stop dancing around it. Let's just call a spade a spade. You're in an abusive relationship and you need to end it.

John, you can say he has a bit more to learn if you want, but I'll call a spade a spade. He's an utterly ineffective leader and the sooner someone else takes over this project, the better the chance we can deliver it on time.
 

Johnyxxx

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Speaking of which, I had no idea a spade could be an abusive term for a black person. I have found out it has been used since cca. 1928 and comes from the playing cards suit. Strange and bizarre.
 

Rover_KE

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By the way, call a spade a spade can be found in 1000 englische Redensarten (1996), so I doubt they would dare to publish something which cannot be or should not be used because it is offensive.

It's fine to use 'call a spade a spade', but not for that reason, Johny. Words and phrases can become 'politically incorrect' overnight, let alone during the course of a 20-year period.
 

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Speaking of which, I had no idea a spade could be an abusive term for a black person. I have found out it has been used since cca. 1928 and comes from the playing cards suit. Strange and bizarre.

I would imagine that as an racial slur, it was intended to be a double entendre. There's of course the obvious reference to the color black, but also to 'spade', which is a type of shovel. So there would be a second racially offensive reference to forced or unskilled labor. Digging tasks, such as ditch digging, are usually seen as menial labor.

I suppose there could even maybe be a reference to the work being done by chain gangs in prison as hard labor, which also invokes references to slave labor.

Edit: I just found this related NPR article. Unfortunately, it ends with a conclusion similar to Parser's, which, like most of the other people in this thread, I disagree with.


 
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GoesStation

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Speaking of which, I had no idea a spade could be an abusive term for a black person. I have found out it has been used since cca. 1928 and comes from the playing cards suit. Strange and bizarre.

It was used as a racial slur. It had fallen out of use by the 1960s.
 

Raymott

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Ems example is exactly how you see it (except we don't, unfortunately, use the word "nutter" here much, which is a pity because it's the perfect word for so many situations).
It's a good word, but wouldn't it potentially offend the mentally ill? - as in "going nuts", meaning becoming psychologically ill. My understanding from watching YouTube, is that you can say almost nothing which has a possibility of offending anyone in the US - especially on college campuses. How widespread has that become?
(Or should I stop watching YouTube?)
 
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Tdol

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It might be advisable to avoid using it in contexts where it could be ambiguous, but where the meaning is clear, I see no reason not to use it, any more than using the word spade for the garden tool or the playing cards suit. I haven't heard the word used as a racial slur for years- I'd have to go back to films from the 1970s for that.
 
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