Calling a spade a spade: why this expression?

Calling A Spade A Spade: Why This Expression?

To avoid frankly expressing the core of one’s thoughts, one sometimes uses detours of language. Making long sentences when a single word would suffice is a process that can lead to confusion. say things directly, calling a spade a spade, clears up any misunderstandings. History of an expression, from its (saucy) origin to today.

Call A Spade A Spade Or… Don’T Mince Words

The phrase “to call a spade, a spade” describes the action of calling things by their name, of expressing oneself in all franchise without using euphemisms or circumlocutions. The formula invites you not to speak in veiled terms, on the contrary, it encourages you to discuss without detour or false modesty subjects as delicate or troublesome be they. In summary, the phrase “call a cat, a cat” refers to the fact of holding a language direct. Among the expressions with an approaching meaning, we can cite “not to beat around the bush” or “to speak without language of wood”.

When We Called A Cat A Cat…

To understand the expression “to call a spade, a spade“, we must transport ourselves to the XVIIe century. At that time, the word cat referred – in language slang – to the woman’s pubic hair. A part of the female anatomy that we now roughly call a cat or a kitty. In society, out of modesty or convenience, people avoided pronouncing the words fleece, pubis or sex considered obscene. Good people then used oratorical precautions. For that, it was enough to replace the shocking term by another which corresponded more to the rules of propriety. This is how the cat, designating the female sex, appeared in 1690 in the dictionary universal of Antoine Furetière through the quote “a girl let the cat go to the cheese”, to signify that she yielded to the eagerness of a man before the marriage.

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From fig to cat, birth of an expression

In the Quarter Book published in 1552, Rabelais makes the character Homenaz, bishop of Papimania, say that “we are simple people, if it pleases God. And call the figs figs, plums plums, and pears pears”. The writer would have been inspired by an adage of the philosopher Erasmus dating from 1530: “He calls a fig a fig, a spade a spade” (“ficus ficus ligonem ligonem vocat”). The formula would itself derive from a proverb Greek from 1er century according to which “the historian must be (…) a friend of frankness and truth, calling fig a fig, boat a boat”. You should know that in Italianthe word fica (fig) vulgarly designated the female sex, which could explain how “calling a fig a fig” became in French “calling a cat, a cat”.

“Call A Spade, A Spade” Enters The Dictionary

In the XVe century, an approach similar to that was used: “He hears cat well without people saying minon to mean he hears half-words and without a clear explanation of the thing (minon being a name formerly given to the cat). But it was in 1666 that the true expression was born. The poet Nicholas Boileau is indeed considered to be the first author to have used it in “Satires”, a work denouncing thehypocrisy of society: “I cannot name anything except by name. I call a spade a spade, and Rollet a scoundrel. The author thus evokes in all franchise Charles Rollet, a French prosecutor of the XVIIe century known for its cheatings and acts fraudulent. In 1694, Pierre Richelet introduced the expression into his “Dictionnaire françois“, giving it the meaning of “calling things by their true name without bringing any disguise “.

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Those Writers Who Call A Spade A Spade

From Boileau, who would be the first to have used the expression in the sense that it is understood today, many authors have taken up the formula in their writings. In this regard, we can cite the Marquise Henriette de Mannoury d’Ectot : “Prudish readers, timorous readers, who are afraid to call a spade a spade and Rollet a rascal, go no further; I am not writing for you. (Le roman de Violette, 1870); Felix Pyat “The speeches were simple and sincere; things called by name… a cat a cat, Falloux a Tartufe and Thiers a Mandrin. (The ragpicker of Paris – Great dramatic novel, 1892); Leo Malet “I won’t cut corners with you, Mr. Nestor Burma. You are a man with whom one can discuss frankly and call a spade a spade. (Nestor Burma versus CQFD, 1945); Last example with Jean paul Sartre in his work What is Literature? published in 1948: “The function of a writer is to call a spade a spade. If the words are sick, it is up to us to heal them. Instead, many live with this disease. »

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