I call a spade a spade means I say what I mean. A spade is for digging and a shovel is for moving coal or snow. In my family’s folk-lore a farmer used to say, I call a spade a b*****y shovel!
In a rut means having little variety in one’s life. Ruts are the depressions made by wheels on mud tracks.
As light as a feather is a simile. A small child may be told, “You’re as light as a feather!” This is not strictly true. The opposite is as heavy as lead. Lead is denser than many other metals.
Clutching at straw is part of a proverb. Drowning men clutch at straws. Straw is the dried stem of a cereal crop. Brewer explains the proverb as:
persons in desperate circumstances cling in hope to trifles wholly inadequate to rescue or even help them.
A clutch of eggs uses the correct collective noun for eggs in a nest.
By hook or by crook means in any possible way. A shepherd used a crook, which had a hook on the end. In autograph books a popular entry used to be:
By hook or by crook
I’ll be last in this book.
If the person left too much space afterwards, there might be a competition to see who could be last.
On’t big hook is a dialect expression for on the floor. If people are too lazy to hang their clothes up on a hanger or hook and just drop them they are on’t big hook. I came across this in Lancashire.
In the cart means in serious trouble. Graeme Donald gives the derivation as a condemned criminal’s last journey – in a tumbril. The Concise Oxford Dictionary explains that prisoners were taken to the guillotine during the French revolution in a tumbrel or tumbril. A horse and cart in a pastoral scene has no connection with this expression.
Plough a lonely furrow means to manage without help or companionship. Furrows are the lowest parts of ploughed fields.
To plough a straight furrow is a useful skill for farmers. It requires concentration and determination. There are still ploughing competitions in agricultural areas. Nowadays the plough is attached to a tractor.
In Biblical times a pair of oxen was yoked to the plough. In Matthew 11:29-30 Jesus invites “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”