Spitting Image

A quick thought to start your week. If someone looks exactly another person, we can that they’re the spitting image of that person. Why on earth would we use such a disgusting phrase? 

Before I looked into it, I thought this might be a simple case of some old Proto-Germanic word sounding like spitting, but having nothing to do with the actual practice.

That’s not the case however, and the original meaning is all about spit! The original phrase was the spit and image of him/her, and referred to the notion that a child looked so like one of their parents that it was though they’d been spat out by them and formed from their spit. This evolved into the spit of…, and then the spitting image of.

So yes, a bit disgusting. But it probably didn’t seem so bad 400 years ago when people were generally dirtier than now. And people used to believe lots of disgusting things, like flies were born from rotting carcasses, or that artificial humans (homunculi) could be created by mixing human sexual material with earth and various filthy substances.

And you could say that the idea of a child being created from its parents’ spit is an example of people having a vague grasp of genetics before we’d really pinned the science down.

Pretty impressive, but still, pretty disgusting too.

15 thoughts on “Spitting Image

  1. That’s interesting. Years ago I’d heard it was a mispronunciation by American slaves of “spirit and image.”

    Thanks for clearing this!

    Liked by 1 person

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