i was writing an email to a friend and i said something about “calling a spade a spade.” she wrote back and asked me if that was racial … i.e., was that a bad racial phrase that people had been mindlessly tossing around for years without thinking? (at some point, spade being used to refer to black people — spade in cards = black = black people.) i was glad she asked, because i sort of wondered myself. there had come a time when i realized my saying that i was “whipped and beat” (a phrase i had been using since childhood, since my parents said it all the time) HAD to have been referring to slaves being whipped and beat, no? fucking uncool.
i also just heard an acquaintance verbally correct herself recently when she said, “i’m starving.” then she said, “no. i’m NOT starving. i’m hungry.” and that’s stuck in my head ever since. no shit. i’m not starving. i haven’t one clue what that’s like, no matter how fucking hungry i’ve been.
anyway, i went and looked up the origin of the phrase “calling a spade a spade.” turns out the phrase is translated from an ancient greek phrase “to call a fig a fig.” to call something for exactly what it is. however, in reading some about it, some suggest avoiding the phrase for exactly the confusion i have just brought up.
i brought up the conversation with some other people, and then the words fag (cigarette) and the word niggardly (stingy, miserly) came up. words are so powerful in some regards, and so meaningless in other regards. it’s so interesting and fascinating to me. i simply love etymology*.