Green’s Dictionary of Slang

spade n.

[SE phr. black as the ace of spades; poss. derog. in the US, it is seen as a neutral/affectionate term in the UK; Kuethe, ‘Prison Parlance’, American Speech IX:1 (1934), defines as ‘a very dark Negro’]

1. (orig. US, also spademan) a black person, esp. West Indian or African.

[US]Ely’s Hawk & Buzzard (NY) 15 Mar. 1/1: Our Dutchman made out to give his Queen of Spades a smack which made her lips droop [...] she roll’d up de wite ob de eye and fainted like a lily in the dark.
[US]B. Fisher Mutt & Jeff 20 July [synd. strip] Don’t be bumpin’ into me, white man! I’se a tough spade, I is!
[US]H.C. Witwer Smile A Minute 142: I seen a colored guy comin’ out of the next place, and I guess that was No. 400 on account of spades bein’ double.
[US]C. McKay Home to Harlem 26: Spades beyond Eighth Avenue.
[Aus]Eve. News (Rockhampton, Qld) 27 May 3/1: A revolver is called a ‘gat’ in many circles; and the Americanisms, ‘spade’ (a negro) and ‘broad’ (a woman) are commonly used in Sydney.
[US]Metronome Aug. 16: The blues those spades put in my ear was great stuff.
D. Burley in Chicago Defender 13 June 7: The church deacon everybody knows who (according to a reliable Spademan) will get only six months [etc].
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 214: Half of them will say they had enough ’cause some spade just took a drink out of it.
[WI]S. Selvon Lonely Londoners 76: Wherever in London that it have Working Class, there you will find a lot of spades.
[UK]C. Wood ‘Prisoner and Escort’ in Cockade (1965) I iv: Nothing wrong with the Spades so long as they stick to themselves – I’m not discriminated.
[UK]E. Braithwaite ‘Prelude’ in Arrivants 29: To hell with Africa to hell with Europe too, just call my blue black bloody spade a spade and kiss my ass.
[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 35: He’s yo’ number one ‘spade,’ dig?
[UK]G. Burn Happy Like Murderers 153: There were no spades. It was very rare to see a black person.
[UK] in D. Seabrook Jack of Jumps (2007) 47: A lot of other spades used to go there.
[Scot](con. 1980s) I. Welsh Skagboys 239: Inner London’s pretty much ruled by the spade and the yuppie.
[US]C. Stella Rough Riders 46: Kind of what the Tea Party doing, right? Calling Obama a spade.
[US]D. Winslow The Force [ebook] ‘Could have been a Spade. they sure as shit gunning up’.
[UK]R. Milward Man-Eating Typewriter 122: [T]hose delectable naggy-chested spade-omis.

2. (US black) as sense 1, spec. in sense of a boyfriend, an adulterous lover.

[US]‘Digg Mee’ ‘Observation Post’ in N.Y. Age 27 Sept. 9/6: Have you ever been ‘blowed’ with your own money? [...] well, everytime ‘Sam’gets paid, his wife lays some green on her ‘spade’.

3. an Indian.

[UK]‘Raymond Thorp’ Viper 106: It sounded like a spade to me. An Indian spade.

In derivatives

Spadish (adj.)

pertaining to what is considered ‘typical’ of Black people.

[UK]T. Taylor Baron’s Court All Change (2011) 30: A young Spade [...] was looking at the chicks in a confident Spadish way.
Spadesville (n.)

(US) the black area of a town or city.

[US]H. Ellison ‘Gentleman Junkie’ in Gentleman Junkie 24: Spadesville, there’s usually a g-game going on.
[US]L. Block Diet of Treacle (2008) 174: I holed up in a little bar in the middle of Spadesville.

In phrases

queen of spades (n.) [queen n. (2)]

(US gay) a respected black homosexual.

J. Hayes ‘Gayspeak’ Quarterly Journal of Speech 62 256–66: Queen [...] may be used to build a limitless series of images: [...] Queen of Spades (black with high status).

SE in slang uses

In compounds

spadework (n.)

(S.Afr. campus) flirtation.

Eng. Usage in Southern Africa XVII:2 34: The current term for a steady girlfriend among University of Cape Town students is a ‘handbrake’. Flirtation is termed ‘doing spadework’ [DSAE].

In phrases

call a spade a (bloody) shovel (v.) [a play on the SE phr. call a spade a spade]

to speak aggressively or vehemently.

[UK]R.W. Seton-Watson Britain and the Dictators 233: Germany may call a spade a bloody shovel, but other nations may not even call it an agricultural implement.
[UK]A.S. Neill That Dreadful School 40: Any navvy will tell you with truth that a spade is a bloody shovel.
[US]J. Reston in N.Y. Times 14 Feb. IV 8: The time has come to call a spade a bloody shovel. This country is in an undeclared and unexplained war in Vietnam. Our masters have a lot of long and fancy names for it [...] but it is war just the same.
[UK]R.B. Ward Nation for a Continent 240: He loved yarning and drinking with friends and liked to call a spade a bloody shovel.
[Aus]R. Fitzgerald Fathers in Writing 68: As Mum put it, ‘Although he seldom swore, he’d call a spade a bloody shovel.’.
[UK]Birmingham Eve. Mail 7 June n.p.: He likes to call a spade a bloody shovel and worse.
in spades (adv.) (also in chunks) [SE spade, i.e. ‘spadefuls’; note in cards spades are the highest suit]

(orig. US) to the greatest extent, very much, extremely, any form of intensifier; thus you can say that in spades, you couldn’t be more right.

[US]D. Runyon ‘Hold ’Em, Yale!’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 158: He is a bum in spades.
[US]J. Weidman I Can Get It For You Wholesale 220: Don’t worry so much about the cost. We’ll get it back in spades.
[US]R. Chandler Little Sister 218: I’d love it [...] In spades redoubled.
[US]J. Thompson Alcoholics (1993) 58: He’ll bore you in spades.
[UK]G. Lambert Inside Daisy Clover (1966) 207: ‘Yes, I guess she’s narcissistic.’ ‘In spades.’.
[US]H. Sackler Great White Hope I ii: I gonna throw you at him in chunks.
[UK]Wodehouse Much Obliged, Jeeves 158: I had it again, in spades, at the present juncture.
Meyer & Ebert Beyond Valley of the Dolls [film script] I’ll get you back in spades.
[US]J. Ellroy Brown’s Requiem 191: ‘When you go to the cops, will you tell them I helped you?’ ‘In spades, Augie.’.
C.S. Hart A Little Class on Murder 107: Honey, you can say that in spades.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 23: ‘Pictures?’ ‘In spades.’.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett White Shoes 240: He’d certainly got his square-up with Jasper and the boys, in spades.
[UK]J. Cameron Brown Bread in Wengen [ebook] Old Bill arrived in spades.
[US]E. Weiner Drop Dead, My Lovely (2005) 189: Method? [...] Opportunity? In spades.
[Aus]P. Temple Truth 358: Robbers [i.e. the police armed robbery squad] had to be special men, they needed hard shells, they had to give it back in spades.
[US]J. Ellroy Widespread Panic 21: ‘So Michael Wilding’s a gay caballero?’ ‘In spades, love. His house is known as the “Fruit Stand”’.
[UK]J. Meades Empty Wigs (t/s) 380: ‘The casting director / producer said I got the lot in spades but I needed more’.