Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: spitting image (1).

spitting image (1). Today: Etymology. "Spitting image" (= the exact likeness; an identical duplicate) is actually a corruption of "spit and image," from the notion of God's using spit and dust to form the clay to make Adam in his image. As far back as the early 1800s, the phrase "the very spit of" was used in this sense {the child is the very spit of his grandfather}. By the mid- to late 1800s, "spit" was coupled with "image" (or "fetch" or "picture") to form "spit and image." But around the turn of the 20th century, "spitting image" (or "spittin' image") appeared. Though originally an error, it's so common today — some 50 times as common in print as "spit and image" — that most dictionaries fully countenance it without recording "spit and image." E.g.: o "He remains the father of two children — a son who is growing into his spitting image and a daughter who has no memory of him." Mike McAndrew, "Slain Officer's Legacy Lingers," Post-Standard (Syracuse), 30 Oct. 1995, at A5. o "Robby Unser, the 29-year-old spittin' image of three-time Indy 500 king Bobby Unser, delivered his best effort by qualifying fourth fastest." Robin Miller, "Cart Notebook," Indianapolis Star, 1 June 1997, at C10. A contrarian view comes from Webster's New World College Dictionary, which records only "spit and image." It's a much rarer form — e.g.: "Bobby Mauch, who played the pauper (or was it the prince?) in the rambunctious 1937 film of Mark Twain's Prince and the Pauper opposite his spit-and-image twin brother, Billy, who portrayed the prince (or was it the other way around?), died Oct. 15 near his home in Santa Rosa, Calif." "Bobby Mauch" (obit.), Dallas Morning News, 29 Oct. 2007, at B5. Language-Change Index — "spitting image": Stage 5. Next: And *"splitting image." ——————– Quotation of the Day: "If you try to talk about the history of American English, you will find yourself discussing its words, word by word, and idiom by idiom, helplessly committed to anecdote and hearsay and neighbourhood talk. This is because the history is not metropolitan; it is essentially regional, and if you want to find out how America speaks, you must have a sense not only of how it goes in New York and Los Angeles, but also of how it goes in Dime Box, Texas, and Punxatawney, Pennsylvania." Walter Nash, An Uncommon Tongue: The Uses and Resources of English 180 (1992).
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