in spades


  1. a tool for digging, having an iron blade adapted for pressing into the ground with the foot and a long handle commonly with a grip or crosspiece at the top, and with the blade usually narrower and flatter than that of a shovel.
  2. some implement, piece, or part resembling this.
  3. a sharp projection on the bottom of a gun trail, designed to dig into the earth to restrict backward movement of the carriage during recoil.

verb (used with object), spad·ed, spad·ing.

  1. to dig, cut, or remove with a spade (sometimes followed by up): Let’s spade up the garden and plant some flowers.
  1. call a spade a spade, to call something by its real name; be candidly explicit; speak plainly or bluntly: To call a spade a spade, he’s a crook.
  2. in spades, Informal.
    1. in the extreme; positively: He’s a hypocrite, in spades.
    2. without restraint; outspokenly: I told him what I thought, in spades.


  1. a tool for digging, typically consisting of a flat rectangular steel blade attached to a long wooden handle
    1. an object or part resembling a spade in shape
    2. (as modifier)a spade beard
  2. a heavy metallic projection attached to the trail of a gun carriage that embeds itself into the ground and so reduces recoil
  3. a type of oar blade that is comparatively broad and shortCompare spoon (def. 6)
  4. a cutting tool for stripping the blubber from a whale or skin from a carcass
  5. call a spade a spade to speak plainly and frankly


  1. (tr) to use a spade on


    1. the black symbol on a playing card resembling a heart-shaped leaf with a stem
    2. a card with one or more of these symbols or (when pl) the suit of cards so marked, usually the highest ranking of the four
  1. a derogatory word for Black
  2. in spades informal in an extreme or emphatic way

“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.

Considerably, in the extreme; also, without restraint. For example, They were having money problems, in spades, or Jan told him what he really thought of him, in spades. This expression alludes to spades as the highest-ranking suit in various card games, such as bridge, and transfers “highest” to other extremes. [Colloquial; 1920s]

see call a spade a spade; do the spadework; in spades.

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