"Call a Spade a Spade": From Classical Phrase to Racial Slur: A Case Study


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This book is an attempt to trace the origin, history, dissemination, and meaning of the well-known proverbial expression «to call a spade a spade.» The first four chapters discuss the previous scholarship on this classical phrase turned proverb, trace its history from Aristophanes to Erasmus of Rotterdam, review the appearance of the expression in dictionaries of quotations, and analyze the inclusion of the phrase in proverb and idiom collections. The fifth chapter treats various meanings of the word «spade» – shovel, eunuch, playing card, and «black.» This is followed by four chapters dealing with the appearance of the phrase in literary texts from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, in scholarly writings, in the mass media, in advertisements, and in cartoons. A significant chapter shows how the innocuous proverbial phrase became a racial slur in the written media. The final chapter contains four demographic studies based on questionnaires to show the various interpretations of the «spade»-phrase among modern English speakers, including its unfortunate misuse as a stereotypical statement.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780820461762
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
Publication date: 07/05/2002
Series: International Folkloristics Series , #2
Pages: 251
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.06(h) x (d)

About the Author

The Author: Wolfgang Mieder is Professor of German and Folklore at the University of Vermont. In addition to editing Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship since 1984, he has written numerous books on proverbs, including American Proverbs: A Study of Texts and Contexts (Peter Lang, 1989); A Dictionary of American Proverbs (1992; with S. Kingsbury and K. Harder); Proverbs Are Never Out of Season: Popular Wisdom in the Modern Age (1993); The Politics of Proverbs: From Traditional Wisdom to Proverbial Stereotypes (1997); Proverbs in World Literature: A Bibliography (Peter Lang, 1996; with G. Bryan); Proverb Iconography: An International Bibliography (Peter Lang, 1999; with J. Sobieski); Strategies of Wisdom: Anglo-American and German Proverb Studies (2000); «No Struggle, No Progress»: Frederick Douglass and His Proverbial Rhetoric for Civil Rights (Peter Lang, 2001); and International Proverb Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography, Supplement III (1990-2000) (Peter Lang, 2001).

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