"to call a spade a spade"(Phrase Origins)
is NOT an ethnic slur. It derives from an ancient Greek expression: _ta syka syka, te:n skaphe:n de skaphe:n onomasein_ = "to call a fig a fig, a trough a trough". This is first recorded in Aristophanes' play _The Clouds_ (423 B.C.), was used by Menander and Plutarch, and is still current in modern Greek. There has been a slight shift in meaning: in ancient times the phrase was often used pejoratively, to denote a rude person who spoke his mind tactlessly; but it now, like the English phrase, has an exclusively positive connotation. It is possible that both the fig and the trough were originally sexual symbols. In the Renaissance, Erasmus confused Plutarch's "trough" (_skaphe:_) with the Greek word for "digging tool" (_skapheion_; the two words are etymologically connected, a trough being something that is hollowed out) and rendered it in Latin as _ligo_. Thence it was translated into English in 1542 by Nicholas Udall in his translation of Erasmus's version as "to call a spade [...] a spade". (_Bartlett's Familiar Quotations_ perpetuates Erasmus' error by mistranslating _skaphe:_ as "spade" three times under Menander.) "To call a spade a bloody shovel" is not recorded until 1919. "Spade" in the sense of "Negro" is not recorded until 1928. (It comes from the colour of the playing card symbol, via the phrase "black as the ace of spades".) This, of course, does *not* necessarily render the modern use of "to call a spade a spade" "politically correct". Rosalie Maggio, in _The Bias-Free Word-Finder_, writes: "The expression is associated with a racial slur and is to be avoided", and recommends using "to speak plainly" or other alternatives instead. In another entry, she writes: "Although by definition and derivation 'niggardly' and 'nigger' are completely unrelated, 'niggardly' is too close for comfort to a word with profoundly negative associations. Use instead one of the many available alternatives: stingy, miserly, parsimonious..." Beard and Cerf, in _The Official Politically Correct Handbook_, p. 123, report that an administrator at the University of California at Santa Cruz campaigned for the banning of such phrases as "a chink in his armor" and "a nip in the air", because "chink" and "nip" are also derogatory terms for "Chinese person" and "Japanese person" respectively. In the late 1970s in the U.S., a boycott of the (now defunct) Sambo's restaurant chain was organized, even though the name "Sambo's" was a combination of the names of its two founders and did not come from the offensive word for dark-skinned person.
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