in spades

Discussion in 'English Only' started by perpend, Feb 1, 2013.

  1. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
    I hadn't heard this until today, but it is on WR.

    spade /speɪd/n
    • the black symbol on a playing card resembling a heart-shaped leaf with a stem
    • 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
    • a derogatory word for Black1
    • in spades ⇒ informal in an extreme or emphatic way

    Keith Urban said it on American Idol. I don't have the quote, but he was complimenting someone's singing and said something like "You hit that in spades."

    I have to say I really didn't get it at first. Are AE/BE speakers familiar with this? (He's Australian.) I am also interested in the derivation of the term.
  2. Beryl from Northallerton Senior Member

    British English
    It derives from Bridge, a card game in which the spades are the highest ranking suit. It's quite commonly used in BrE, I'd say.
  3. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
    Ahhh ... brilliant. Most card games I know in the USA have "spades" as the lowest suit, thus my confusion. Thanks, Beryl.
  4. Beryl from Northallerton Senior Member

    British English
    This is cheating really: "In spades" (over at the phrase finder .org)


    It's easy to believe that this expression derives from the imagery of digging with spades and that 'in spades' is just short for 'in spadefuls'. However, the spades concerned here aren't the garden tools but the suit of cards. Spades is the highest ranking suits in the game of Contract Bridge, a very popular pastime in the USA in the early 20th century, which is when and where the phrase originated.
  5. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
    Thanks for posting that. I've outed myself as a non-Bridge player. :) Interesting derivation.
  6. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    I don't know any card games in the USA in which spades is the lowest suit. If you have Windows, you may have noticed that it comes with a game called Spades. :)
  7. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    I speak American, and I've been familiar with that emphatic use of "in spades" all my life.

    From Chapman's New Dictionary of American Slang (1986): "in spades adv phr To the utmost; in the highest degree"

    From the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed. (2000): "idiom: in spades To a considerable degree: They had financial trouble in spades."
  8. Sparky Malarky

    Sparky Malarky Moderator

    English - US
    I agree with Parla - I've heard it all my life. But IL didn't know the origin, so thank you for raising the question.
  9. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
    Myridon, I've only played 500, or euchre, and what else ... hmm. Maybe that's what I'm basing it on. Maybe poker too (spades are low, right?).

    Anyway, thanks. Always finding something new that I've never heard of. I guess I need to get out from underneath this rock once in a blue moon. :)
  10. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    English - US (Midwest)
    Don't look at me - I play cribbage.

    But like Sparky, I've known the phrase forever, without knowing the origin. So thank you, perpend and Beryl.
  11. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    Poker doesn't care about suits.

    High card by suit
    High card by suit and Low card by suit refer to assigning relative values to playing cards of equal rank based on their suit.

    Most poker games do not rank suits; the ace of clubs is just as good as the ace of spades. However, small issues (such as deciding who deals first) are sometimes resolved by dealing one card to each player. If two players draw cards of the same rank, one way to break the tie is to use an arbitrary hierarchy of suits. (Wikipedia)

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