Spadework is a noun used figuratively to mean "routine or difficult preparatory work". The original (and more obvious) meaning, of course, refers to "work done by digging with a spade".
Sometimes the word is separated into two words but the earliest recorded usage of the compound word is from 1778. It is, of course, entirely possible that an earlier usage remains buried.
As a metonymy the word is a not part of common speech outside of politics, punditry, or academia. The term is still used in its original sense within gardening manuals.
Since the mid-20th century or so, users of the word spadework as a political term risk being perceived as a racist—much like those who use the word niggardly. During Barak Obama's 2008 campaign for US presidency, Hillary Clinton, being his contender-at-the-time for the Democratic ticket, was roundly lambasted for a highly-publicized soundbite from an interview with the Today show in which she stated that Obama "had not done the kind of spadework" which she had. After much political drama over this comment Clinton ended up losing the Democractic bid to run. A week later Rush Limbaugh commented on his show a diatribe that when Obama "finishes with the spade in the garden of corruption planted by the Clintons, he turns to the hoe".
Limbaugh's quip is quite interesting in that Hillary Clinton would, four months later, endorse Obama and subsequently accept his offer to become the next secretary of state. So, while he may be a big fat idiot, if Limbaugh is also either a time traveller or an Illuminati-insider, he done called Hillary a ho.
Hillary Clinton's usage of spadework is more curious in light of Timothy Irving Frederick Findley's final novel of the same name. Published in 2001, the action of Findley's novel begins right around the same time when Kenneth Star gets Monica Lewinsky to agree to testify in the Clinton Impeachment Hearings—a time otherwise known as the summer of 1998. The tropes of that scandal (namely, the blue dress and the question of fidelity) also frame Findley's novel.
As Findley was a Canadian author of Canadian literature, the story of Spadework is set in his adopted hometown of Stratford, Ontario. Findley offers a bit of the town's history and how it came to achieve international recognition for hosting an annual Shakespeare festival.
The plot of the book centers upon the ripple effect of a gardener's errant thrust which severs the landline belonging to a young family involved in the local theater company. The father of the family is playing Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing and another lead in The Tempest; his wife designs sets. They live a comfortable life, smoking too many cigarettes and getting way too drunk. The wife just happens to have a tidy inheritance which pays for the maid who runs their house and raises their bookish son. The married couple squabbles about whether or not to use the wife's inheritance to buy the house they rent. He doesn't want to be tied down. Oh, and the house is on Cambria Street, which goes back to the Lewinsky/Clinton scandal.
Each section is prefaced by a different Auden quote, most of them from a cute little poem he did on detective fiction. But this is no noir. It's a light, romantical romp about suspicious minds.
Spadework is by no means a Great Book, or even a great one, but it is fairly entertaining. If you enjoy the world of the theatre, then you might like this book a lot. There's a huge cast of characters, many of whom are relatively underdeveloped and/or stereotypes. But, unlike other books with large casts, keeping track of these characters is an easy job.
Flaws: There are several instances of distinct brands being mentioned repeatedly, just enough to become grating. Just enough to cause one to suspect that Findley got paid for harping over the same brand of wine or popcorn or canned soup. The ways in which the narrator justifies the characters' consumer choices did make me chuckle. Some people on LibraryThing/GoodReads got really irked about this but it didn't bother me so much, especially not after I learned that Findley relied on caregivers due to poor health. The old man just wanted to provide for his family the best way that he knew how. He passed away less than a year after Spadework was published.
More interestingly, one commentator on LibraryThing reports that some residents of Stratford, Ontario have spread the rumor that the actual author of this novel was Findley's partner, Bill Whitehead. Given that Findley was in poor health during the time in which much of Spadework was written, it would make sense that the book was ghostwritten at least in part. In any event, the general consensus amongst his fans is that Spadework is Findley's weakest book.
But the story itself, it's a little bit too long at just over 400 pages—every loose end gets tied up in a series of successive finales. A more substantial issue is the book's depiction of homosexual relationships as being primarily exercises in lusting over power, in a manner somewhat similar to another Shakespeare-inspired romance published the following year. But then Findley levels the playing field by casting all forms of coupling within the book as being politically motivated. But then there is also that old stereotype regarding male eligibility and sexual orientation.
Read this book if you don't have to pay for it. Read this book on an international flight or during a beach vacation. Read this book if you need something light but not wholly asinine to occupy your thoughts.
But if you do read this book, the choices which the characters end up making may fail to satisfy you, considering the rigmarole of it all, but in the end, it's all the same, isn't it?
Somehow I doubt that Hilary Clinton has ever read Spadework. But if I ever happen to be in the same room with her, I know now what I would ask her.
Note that there are also a few other books with this word as a title: one Spade Work from 1919 by an Alice Dudeney, a 1902 guide to starting a flower garden by Henry Hoare, and the 1949 "Spade-work: the story of Thomas Greenwood" by Grace Carlton.