spitting image

John Young: I am looking for confirmation on the phrase "Spittin Image". I have read that it dates pack to the post Civil war time in the South, where the people would remark that the younger boys were the "spirit and image" of their fathers, who presumably died in the war. The southern drawl and time converted spirit and image to spittin image. A nice story, however, is it true?
Graham Toal: I think you're trying to be too fancy in your explanation. If I hold up a photograph or (more likely from the time the phrase was first used) a painting of someone, an onlooker might say that "it is his very image". If a person turns up who looks as like the original person as a painting, you'd say he's a 'spitting image", i.e. the very image of someone but an image that is alive, ie alive enough to spit. The imagery of the expression is that the person referred to is as like the original person as a painting that could spit. In fact I vaguely recall that an alternative form of the expression is "the very spit and image of him". I suppose in this modern world of DNA manipulation and cloning, that phrase might acquire new significance as a measure of verisimilitude :-)G
Bill Doggett: I had heard this as well, except for the Southern origin -- I had heard that it was a Yankee expression. However, neither OED nor Random House 2d give any mention of this origin, and the earliest OED citation (1825) using "spit" but not "image" to mean likeness is English, not American. I suppose this must be a sophisticated but nevertheless untrue folk etymology.


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