RARA-AVIS: Wise Guys & Bloody Shovels

Bill Hagen (billha@ionet.net)
Wed, 3 Feb 1999 23:19:40 -0600 (CST) Couple of questions on phrases:

1. "wise guys" is usually associated with mafia types, espec. since
Pileggi's book (source of Goodfellas movie). Right so far? But it seems
to me that hard-boiled novels & movies of the 30s-40s--before mafia
"awareness"--often used the term for good guys with a mouth, like Marlowe,
or anyone with a mouth. So how did the term get narrowed to mafia
gangsters who are not usually portrayed as being that swift with the

2. In an article on Eric Ambler, a critic refers to the phrase "calling a
spade a bloody shovel." [In Coffin for Dimitrios, the protagonist has
written a novel called "A Bloody Shovel" which the critic wants to assert
is part of an allusion to Sam Spade.] I could find "calling a spade a
spade" in the Oxford English Dictionary (just handy in a neighboring
office), but nothing on the "bloody shovel." Had fun with this question in
the hallway, but now our inquiring minds would like to know: Is this is an
English slam on censorship or euphemisms, which itself, at one time,
couldn't have been printed because of the "bloody"? Or what?

Bill Hagen

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