Spit and image vs. spitting image

Spitting image is the usual modern form of the idiom meaning exact likeness, duplicate, or counterpart. The original phrase was spit and image, inspired by the Biblical God‘s use of spit and mud to create Adam in his image. But spitting image has been far more common than spit and image for over a century.

A few writers still use spit and image, but trying to keep the original idiom alive is probably a lost cause. Though it is older and makes more logical sense, it can also be distracting to readers who have been hearing spitting image their whole lives. Of course, spitting image can be just as distracting to some careful readers.


But Olsen is delighted with her beloved horse’s spitting image. [Washington Post]

American folk singer Dani Shay is a spitting image of the teenage heartthrob. [Telegraph]

It doesn’t hurt that at just 12 years old, Bianca is already 1.86m tall and the spitting image of her mother. [New Zealand Herald]

Suffice it to say that Stalin’s son, the spitting image of his father, strides onto the scene. [Wall Street Journal]

13 thoughts on “Spit and image vs. spitting image”

  1. the New York TImes used Spit and Image just yesterday, so this is why i looked it up (they do make mistakes sometimes, or quote people who do, such as the very urban gay marriage proponent who said that getting a gay marriage bill through states like Mississippi would be a ‘hard road to how’ [sic – this common mistake shows how little understanding this guy must have of farming or even mild gardening!]

      • Well, except it’s “row to hoe”, so it’s an issue of not knowing that the saying is directly farm-related.

        • The row vs road is easy to understand, but I don’t see how anyone would say “how.” That’s not an aural error. That’s an entirely different pronunciation that would not hinge on any lack of farm knowledge.

  2. “Spitten” is a non-standard (read: incorrect) form of the past participle of “spit.” The past participle is “spat” throughout the English-speaking world, although “spit” as a past participle is common in North America and is considered an acceptable variant. “Spitted” as a past participle is only used when referring to meat impaled on a skewer or spit.

  3. I was bred and buttered in the American South 72 years ago, and it has always been “spit and image” here; however, the way we say it is “spit ‘n’ image,” thus, I suppose, the transmogrification to “spittin’ image” and finally to “spitting image” (which I heard just this morning on the BBC radio).

  4. According to Yale linguist Laurence Horn (who wrote about the original being ‘spitten image’) ‘spit’ is an archaic euphemism for a different bodily fluid. I’d always heard Adam was made from Almighty spit and dirt. (Actually, I prefer ‘earth’.)

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