"Spit and Image"

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
March 31 2011 4:41 PM

"Spit and Image"

In my "Completeist" article on Woody Allen (I've seenall of his movies, and have lived to tell the tale), I write in theintroductory paragraph that he has a tendency to recycle character types,including "the neurotic Jewish New Yorker (the filmmaker's spit and image)." Myuse of spit and image provoked a lotof comments. Here's one example from someone calling him/herself Inspyrd1:"SPIT AND IMAGE? C'mon, Juliet Lapidos. It's "SPITTING IMAGE." Tell your iPadto behave itself. And be advised that if you're going to opine, it's best toproofread. Thanks."

Well, thanks, but "be advised" that spit and image is perfectly correct! As this site explains , spit and image is actually the originalphrase, used since around 1825, and spittingimage is a later variant.

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And here's The Straight Dope take on the origins ofspitting/spit and image:

The term "spittin' image" isa shortening of the original "spit and image," which means that youare both the stuff that your parents are made of (the spit) and you look likethem, too (the image). There are many folk etymologies (fanciful stories madeup to explain the usage), but this is the only one that has any basis in fact.Webster's says that one of the older uses dispenses with the image, as in"You are the very spit of your father," i.e., he might just have spityou out.

At this point, so many people say spitting image that either usage is acceptable . (I'm noprescriptivist.) But I prefer spit andimage because it makes more sense to me. What's a "spitting image," anyway?

I'll close with a plea to commenters, which I know will beignored: Before you correct something you see in an article, make absolutelysure that you're right, and the author's wrong. A simpleGoogle search will usually do the trick.

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Juliet Lapidos is a staff editor at the New York Times.

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