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<   No. 1902   2008-04-11   >

Comic #1902

1 Wendy: Arrr! We be ready to be findin' and diggin' up the treasure now.
2 Ponsonby: {carrying two shovels, while the Mate is holding a brace of picks} Wait! Mr Mate, give me one of those, and you can carry this shovel instead. {they swap}
3 Wendy: What difference be it makin' what tools ye be carryin'?
4 Ponsonby: In the Royal Navy we don't allow our crew to be two picky.

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I was really worried about this strip. Is that actually a shovel, or is it a spade? If I got it wrong, surely I'd get several thousand angry e-mails from readers pointing out how ignorant I am.

So I did some research.

Wikipedia wasn't much help. A spade is a "tool designed primarily for the purpose of digging or removing earth". A shovel, on the other hand, is a "tool for lifting and moving loose material". So which is this LEGO® utensil designed for? I dunno.

But wait. A spade "is sometimes considered a type of shovel". And a spade's "typical shape is a broad flat blade with a sharp lower edge". At least on the page about spades. The page about shovels says a spade "usually has a point and is designed to be pushed into the soil with a foot. Spade blades usually have a rounded face without sharply upturned sides". So does a spade have a broad flat blade, or a point, a rounded face, and upturned sides? I dunno.

Digging further into the difference (pun most definitely intended), I discovered the following page on (warning, contains vulgar language): Call a spade a ****ing shovel. This confirms my own experience that here in Australia we generally consider spades and shovels to be basically the same sort of thing, and that "spade" is just a snobby name for a "shovel". So if I was to go on that, Captain Ponsonby would undoubtedly call the utensil in question a "spade", because he's an upper-class British twit and for no other reason.

But further reading of that page contains the following information:

Spades and shovels aren't the same. A spade has a flat rectangular blade, while a shovel's blade is often rounded on the end, and is more scoop-shaped. A spade's blade is in a straight line with the handle, whereas a shovel has a bend behind the blade. If you put a spade's blade flat on the ground, the handle will also be on the ground. If you put a shovel's blade flat on the ground, the end of the handle will stick up to about thigh or waist high because of the bend, which is called a gooseneck or lift.
Okay, now I'm really confused. The LEGO® implement in question has a flat, rectangular blade. Therefore it must be a spade according to this paragraph. However, the handle is bent behind the blade, such that if you lay the blade flat on the ground, the handle sticks up, in fact to about waist height on a LEGO® minifigure. Therefore, according to this same paragraph, it must be a shovel. So what is it? A spade or a shovel? I dunno.

Hmmm. Let's try here. According to the LEGO® Group, who make the darn thing, it's a shovel. But then, so is this. And this. So what is it really? I dunno.

In desperation I turned to a bunch of people on an Internet chat. I should have known better. Someone said a spade is just a small shovel. Someone else said a spade is pointy on the end, which someone else denounced as wrong-headed and ignorant. Someone said spades were actually cutting tools, used to cut peat sods, not digging tools as such. Someone said a spade is big and flat, except if it's being used to move snow, in which case it's a shovel. Pretty soon people were calling each other Nazis and riots were breaking out across North America, and I think The Netherlands declared war on somewhere. And was it a spade or a shovel? I dunno.

I was going crazy! Then I found spade-shovels! And shovel-spades!

Spades! Shovels! Shovels! Spades!


As anyone who has followed this comic for any length of time could have predicted, I have received numerous correspondences regarding this topic. The findings can be summarised as follows: Naturally, this clears up my confusion no end.

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This material is presented in accordance with the LEGO® Fair Play Guidelines.

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Last Modified: Friday, 11 April 2008; 03:11:03 PST.
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