call a spade a spade

call a spade a spade


  • this phrase means to say something the way it is
  • to not dress the truth up and speak in a straight forward manner
  • it is used when the description of something is given in an honest manner

Example Sentences

  1. That dress made her look fat, let’s call a spade a spade before she goes out wearing it and embarrasses herself.
  2. He failed the exam twice. If you were to call a spade a spade then you would not push him to give it again.
  3. Parents are often reluctant to see any faults in their children. It is always better to call a spade a spade rather than spoiling the children with this behaviour.


The phrase is said to have originated from the slang that was used for African-Americans, which is ‘spade’. This was used in a derogatory manner in the United States and was popular in the early 20th century.

The first known publication of this term precisely is from John Trapp’s work in 1647 where he claims that God’s people would call a spade a spade and a niggard a niggard. The term niggard here does not necessarily refer to African-Americans but could be an indication of the misers at the time.

C 2 Comments


AuthorG writes on 12th December 2017

I’m not sure where this website is hosted, or who posts most of the content but “Negro” is an extremely dated word in American English. I would strongly suggest that it be replaced with “black people” or “African-Americans” to be current with modern accepted usage. “Negro” is not necessarily a slur, but it unquestionably evokes usage in the United States from before the 1970’s, and thus the eras of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation in the US. This entry is admirably honest about the derogatory slang origins of this idiom, so it seems especially strange for the word “Negro” to appear in the definition.

AuthorFatima Savoy writes on 13th December 2017

Hello! Thank you for pointing out something that should have been taken in a sensitive stride already. We have accepted your suggestion and replaced the word. Perhaps an unrequited justification is that the message sought to be conveyed through the idiom was taken to its crude form by the writer. We do not encourage it.

Thank you again!
The Idioms Team

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