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Posted by ESC on March 01, 2000

In Reply to: Spit posted by Tomar on February 29, 2000

: Does anyone know the origin of spitting image, or, failing that, spitting distance? How did people start using this phrase?

I think spitting distance is self-explanatory. The distance one can spit. That's a guess.

"SPITTING IMAGE. There is far from complete agreement among students of language as to whether the 'spit' in this expression comes from the same root (Anglo-Saxon 'spittan') as the common word meaning 'to eject from mouth.' One authority, claiming that the phrase means 'speaking likeness,' quotes a source dating back to 1602 to support his claim that the two words are the same. However, one of our early collaborators on reference books, Harold Wentworth, suggests in his 'American Dialect Dictionary' a different source. He notes that the phrase 'He's the very spit of his father' is widely heard in the South and suggests that 'spit' in this sense is probably derived from 'spirit.' Nothing that the letter 'r' is often indistinct in Southern speech, he suggests that the phrase may actually have started as 'He's the very spirit and image of his father.'" From "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1988).