spitting image

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Alteration of earlier spitten image (see spitten). A popular folk etymology explains this phrase as deriving from the idea of a father spitting out a child whole from his mouth, as if giving birth.[1] But spitten image actually developed from spit and image, where spit in this context means “likeness”.[2] Terban further suggests a derivation of this sense of spit from the word spirit, but evidence for this is lacking. Another theory is that the idiom is Biblical, after an image of God spitting into dry earth to make the clay out of which Adam would be formed.[3]



spitting image (plural spitting images)

  1. (colloquial) The exact likeness (of someone).
    You're the spitting image of my brother.




  1. ^ spitting image”, in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition, Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, →ISBN.
  2. ^ Terban, Marvin (1996, 2006), “Spitting Image”, in Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms, first edition, New York: Scholastic, →ISBN, page 179
  3. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (2016), “spitting image”, in Garner's Modern English Usage, New York: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 853