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"spit and image"/"spitting image"
by Mark Israel
[This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]
These phrases mean "exact likeness". "Spitting image" is first
recorded in 1901; "spit and image" is a bit older (from the late
19th century), which seems to refute the explanation "splitting
image" (two split halves of the same tree). An older British
expression is "He's the very spit of his father", which Eric
Partridge, in his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
(Routledge, 1950) traces back to 1400: "He's ... as like these as
th'hads't spit him." Other languages have similar expressions;
e.g., the French say C'est son pere tout crache = "He is his
father completely spat." Alternative explanations are "so alike
that even the spit out of their mouths is the same"; "speaking
likeness"; and a corruption of "spirit".