Monday, November 13, 2006

Spade and Neutered: A Treatise in Ignorance

There's a kerfuffle brewing over In a post from November 13, Bess "Jewess" Levin reviewed some contestants vying for an internship at Morgan Stanley (the details aren't important). One hopeful, who happens to be black, was described thusly:
Uncomfortably charismatic. You know the type—little too smooth for their own good. But the kid quotes Michael Jackson and let’s call a spade a spade—Morgan Stanley could use a little Michael Jackson in its life.
Well, run for the hills, Ma Barker! Looks like DealBreaker has a little Eichmann in its midst. Wait, you didn't catch the blatantly racial epithet? Good thing we have commenters:
"call a spade a spade"? *cough*

The ethnic slur that Levin inserted into her comments on Cameron has not gone unnoticed.

"let's call a spade a spade"???? about the only african-american in the piece???? you have GOT to be kidding!

Are you serious? That Levin wasn't aware of the implications of her ethnic slur is beyond belief.
Go back to Brown people! Let's forget for a moment that Bess has used the phrase before on DealBreaker, and with no racist undertone. Although I hate to be the pooper at a hate-crime party, I busted out with some etymology in an attempt to curtail the all-Bess pile-on:
Per the Online Etymology Dictionary:

To call a spade a spade 'use blunt language' (1542) translates a Gk. proverb (known to the Romans), but Erasmus mistook Gk. skaphe 'trough, bowl' for a derivative of the stem of skaptein 'to dig,' and the mistake has stuck. The original, then, is 'to call a bowl a bowl.'
My attempt failed. A commenter replied to me with this gem:
The origins of the word are pretty much irrelevant. It's how they are used that matters.
With this argument I can call anyone anything and can be considered offensive simply by how the word is used in a sentence (e.g. You're a chair. Why do you have to be such a buckyball? When did you become a cup of tea?). Someone should have warned David Howard. The comments get even better:'s absurd to presume that Levin was totally unaware of the alternative, and much more common, meaning of the word "spade" when she used it...
As publisher Elizabeth Spiers observes,
That may be the "much more common" usage where you are...but Amherst (Bess's alma mater) and liberal well-educated Silicon Alley are not exactly known for their pockets of seething bigotry. I haven't heard it used that way since i moved out of Alabama...
And if you agree with the commenter just do a Google search for spade--I found shovels, playing cards, Sam Spade, Jack Spade, Kate Spade, "Single Page Application and Development Environment", and way too much David Spade. But in the 10 pages of results I examined I only found spade used offensively when I actually clicked through into dictionary definitions. advises
If the expression is assumed to be offensive, it should be used with caution even if there's no real basis for the assumption.
That's poppycock. If a person is offended because of their own ignorance the speaker has absolutely no obligation to apologize. It's hyper-sensitive paranoia, blatant ignorance and political correctness run amok which gives right-wing loonies like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh ammo to say the left are the crazy ones. Stop the insanity!


:: posted by David, 6:46 PM


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