Calling a spade a spade, and other phrases

Continuing the discussion from How to combat manspreading on the subway - sit on the offender:

To the best of my knowledge, the origin of the phrase was in the Army. A spade is officially known as a “personal entrenching tool”, and many other common things also have overly complex names. That’s why they love acronyms so much. As a veteran and a former POW, I would be more inclined to think Mr. Vonnegut picked it up from that context.

But this gets me to thinking: how many other phrases come from similar innocuous roots, but due to words evolving we assume more nasty origins?

1 Like

“A snowball’s chance in hell” evolved from the phrase “[19th century epithet for a Chinese person]'s chance in hell” which was at best a reference to the fact that there were few Chinese Christians, but more often than not was just plain old racism.

I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of things that originated as servicemen’s slang took on different meanings when people got back home.

1 Like

A 3-for-1 (by my count), though one is so old it probably doesn’t count anymore –

“We’re gonna snatch that pussy and put him in a box and take him on an airplane.”

– George Carlin

1 Like

I always thought of racial epithets generally as "personal entrenching tools”. For those who like to dig themselves in deeper.


Yeah, the Blaxpolitation-styled Bond movie where this is used is pretty cringeworthy. i don’t think the phrase is racial in origin though - it’s used in the Importance of Being Earnest in the original sense, with humour derived from class snobbery around proximity to manual labour.

“When I see a spade I call it a spade.”

“I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.”


Speaking of over-complexity, when I worked for the local council, fire drill was known as ‘two-stage progressive horizontal evacuation procedure’. God knows what they came up with for buildings that had stairs in them.

Which now makes me think of how some programmers need to be taught brevity in variable names. I keep seeing such names as

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 30 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.