Word Origin & History
"tool for digging," O.E. spadu, from P.Gmc. *spadon (cf. O.Fris. spada, M.Du. spade, O.S. spado, M.L.G. spade, Ger. Spaten), from PIE *spe- "long, flat piece of wood" (cf. Gk. spathe "wooden blade, paddle," O.E. spon "chip of wood, splinter," O.N. spann "shingle, chip"). To call a spade a spade "use
blunt language" (1542) translates a Gk. proverb (known to Lucian), ten skaphen skaphen legein "to call a bowl a bowl," but Erasmus mistook Gk. skaphe "trough, bowl" for a derivative of the stem of skaptein "to dig," and the mistake has stuck.
"figure on playing cards," 1598, probably from It. spade, pl. of spada "sword, spade," from L. spatha "broad, flat weapon or tool," from Gk. spathe "broad blade" (see spade
(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.