Spit and Image, Spitting Image, or Splitting Image

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

As a word nerd and full-time writer, I’m always scanning things for interesting phrases, idioms, and expressions I can use in my books and content. One of the strangest phrases I’ve come across is spitting image, but I’ve seen “spit and image,” “spitting image,” and “splitting image” used in different contexts.

But which one is correct? The phrase itself is a common expression used to describe someone who looks or behaves exactly like someone else, but there’s a lot of debate about the correct form. So, let’s talk about it.

Grammarist Article Graphic V4 2023 02 07T014922.568

Spitting Image Origin

After doing some digging around, I think I can safely say it derives a bit from the Middle English word spitten, which means spit or to have spit out saliva.

Here in Newfoundland, it’s a common phrase for old-timers to use when they see their grandkids or children of people they know. My grandmother always told me I was the spit right out of my mother’s mouth. While a gross image to think of, I now know she meant that I looked just like my mom.

But the best explanation is that it’s just a play on the words “spit image,” which was used in the early 17th century from a play by George Farquhar, when describing two people who were so similar that it was almost impossible to tell them apart.

Spitting Image vs Spit and Image Ngram
Spitting image vs. spit and image usage trend.

Spitting image is the more modern form of the idiom meaning exact likeness, duplicate, or counterpart. The original phrase was spit and image, but spitting image has been far more common than spit and image for well over a century.

Is It Spitting Image or Splitting Image or Spit and Image?

Well, I think it depends on who you ask. Some people might argue with you and say that “spit and image” is right because it’s the original form of the phrase. And, sure, that makes sense.

But “spitting image” would actually be the correct form today because it’s the most commonly used. But still, I’ve seen some people say that “splitting image” is the right way to go when using the idiom. But from what I can tell, that’s the one version of the three that’s actually incorrect.

Personally, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, especially if we’re dealing with a casual setting. It comes down to personal preference and the regional dialect in question. I mean, I’m from Newfoundland, and we change and make up words and phrases all the time.

What’s the Difference?

To me, the difference is just personal preference and whatever regional dialect you’re dealing with. “Spit and image” has a more traditional and old-fashioned feel to it, but “spitting image” feels a little more modern and contemporary. So, use what you like best.

But, there are some slight differences in the connotations of both forms of the phrase. “Spit and image” sometimes carries a negative connotation, depending on who you ask. It suggests that the person being described is a copy or imitation of someone else.

But then “spitting image” has a more positive connotation because the person being described is a close match or pretty darn close to someone else in a good way.

Whether you use “spit and image,” “spitting image,” or “splitting image,” there’s no denying that the meaning of the phrase remains the same.

It’s all about describing someone who looks or behaves exactly like another person. Simple as that. So, feel free to use whichever form of the phrase you prefer, and don’t worry about whether it’s the “correct” form or not unless you’re working in a professional manner.

Which One Should You Use?

While it seems like a silly detail, take it from me; it’s always a good idea to use the proper form of any phrase when you’re using it in professional settings.

For things like work emails, a business report, or some kind of presentation, try to use language that’s clear and appropriate for the audience you’re speaking/writing to. If you ask me, I’d say play it safe and use “spitting image” for anything in a professional setting just because it’s probably the most common form, and just about everyone will know what you mean.

Spitting Image Phrases in a Sentence

  • “She’s the spitting image of her mother. It’s like looking at a younger version of her.”
  • “Their baby was the spit and image of his father. It was uncanny how similar they looked.”
  • “That sculpture is the spitting image of that famous actor you love. It’s like looking at a life-size model of him.”
  • “The new building was the spitting image of the old one that was torn down. They even used the same blueprints.”
  • “He’s the spitting image of his grandfather. You can see the family resemblance in his eyes.”
  • “The painting was the spitting image of the original. The artist captured every detail perfectly.”
  • “Our dog is the spitting image of its breed. It has all the classic features and markings of an old English bulldog.”
  • “She’s the spit and image of her sister. People often mistake them for twins.”

Which One Will You Use?

At the end of the day, what matters is the point of your message and the tone you’re trying to set. For a traditional and old-timey approach, go with “spit and image.” To sound more professional and in the now, use “spitting image.” It’s totally up to you. Just try not to use “splitting image.”