How Well Do You Know English Slang?
"tool for digging," Old English spadu, from Proto-Germanic *spadon (cf. Old Frisian spada, Middle Dutch spade, Old Saxon spado, Middle Low German spade, German Spaten), from PIE *spe- "long, flat piece of wood" (cf. Greek spathe "wooden blade, paddle," Old English spon "chip of wood, splinter," Old Norse spann "shingle, chip").
To call a spade a spade "use blunt language, call things by right names" (1540s) translates a Greek proverb (known to Lucian), ten skaphen skaphen legein "to call a bowl a bowl," but Erasmus mistook Greek skaphe "trough, bowl" for a derivative of the stem of skaptein "to dig," and the mistake has stuck.
"figure on playing cards," 1590s, probably from Italian spade, plural of spada "sword, spade," from Latin spatha "broad, flat weapon or tool," from Greek spathe "broad blade" (see spade (n.1)). Phrase in spades "in abundance" first recorded 1929 (Damon Runyon), probably from bridge, where spades are the highest-ranking suit.
The invitations to the musicale came sliding in by pairs and threes and spade flushes. [O.Henry, "Cabbages & Kings," 1904]Derogatory meaning "black person" is 1928, from the color of the playing card symbol.
To speak directly and bluntly; to avoid euphemism: “The prosecutor said, ‘Let's call a spade a spade. You didn't borrow the money, you stole it.’”
A black person: The spades inhabited Harlem and let the ofays have Wall Street to themselves
[1928+; fr the color of the playing-card symbol and fr the phrase black as the ace of spades]