In Spades

The ‘spades’ in this phrase refers to the highest suit in cards, not the shovel. How did this shape get its name?

Playing Cards originated in Asia and spread across Europe around the 14th century. It arrived in England a little later than in Spain, Italy and Germany.

In spades“Essentially, the Italian versions of early cards used the suits CupsSwordsCoins and Batons — which, on migration to England, became HeartsSpadesDiamonds and Clubs. The image for Spades on English and French cards looks somewhat like that of the German Acorn or Leaf suits, but its origin is revealed by its name rather than its shape. The Spanish and Italian for sword is ‘espada’ and ‘spada’ respectively, hence the suit ‘Swords’ became anglicized as ‘Spades’.”

So where does the non-card-playing meaning come from? It is an Americanism:

First of all, the phrase isn’t found before the 1920s. Damon Runyon, an American journalist and writer, used the expression that way in a piece for Hearst’s International magazine, in October 1929:

I always hear the same thing about every bum on Broadway, male and female, including some I know are bums, in spades, right from taw.

Some other spade phrases: “cocky as the King of Spades”, “call a spade a spade”, “spade something up”

Everyday Life Oddities

Kick the Bucket

The link between buckets and death was made by at least 1785, when the phrase was defined in Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue:

“To kick the bucket, to die.”

Although there is not much evidence to support it, one theory as to why the phrase originates from the notion: people hanged themselves by standing on a bucket with a noose around their neck and then kicking the bucket away.



1937, from Yiddish zaftik, literally “juicy,” from zaft “juice,” from Middle High German, saft “juice”

Computer Technology


The origin of the term is uncertain, but it may be derived from Harvard University Cruft Laboratory, which was the Harvard Physics Department’s radar lab during World War II. As late as the early 1990s, unused technical equipment could be seen stacked in front of Cruft Hall’s windows. According to students, if the place filled with useless machinery is called Cruft Hall, the machinery itself must be cruft. This image of “discarded technical clutter” quickly migrated from hardware to software.

Cruft may also be a play on the old typeface form of the letter “s”, rendering “crust” as “cruſt”.

Another possible origin is that the word evokes the words crust, fluff and scruffy. The latter word is the source of similar words in Jamaican English such as cruff, meaning scurfy, coarse or uncouth.

From Wikipedia:

Everyday Life Political


Skullduggery (spelled with either a “k” or “c” and/or two “l”s) comes from the Scottish word for adultry:  “sculdudrie”.  The word is used in modern parlance as a term for underhanded dealings or trickery, often political in nature.  Ex. The skullduggery that was Watergate.

The word Skullduggery has been used to title various things from a 1970s Burt Reynolds film to the University of Adelaide orientation week, established in 1896.