Idiom Tips: Spitting Image or Spit and Image?
  • 3-minute read
  • 13th March 2022

Idiom Tips: Spitting Image or Spit and Image?

Both “spitting image” and “spit and image” are common phrases. But which one should you use in your writing? In today’s post, we’ll try to answer this question by taking a look at the background of these expressions.

What Do These Phrases Mean?

“Spitting image” and “spit and image” are variants of an idiom used to refer to someone who looks very much like another person:

Many would agree that Natalie Portman is the spitting image of Keira Knightley.

That baby is the spit and image of his dad.

The Origin of the Phrase

This is an old phrase that has changed a lot over the years, so there are many theories as to where it came from. However, it seems to have origins in the use of “spit” to mean “perfect likeness.” You might still hear the word used like this in the phrase “the spit of [someone],” although this is mostly used in the UK.

The idea here was that a parent and child looked so similar, it was as if the parent had “spat” the child out of their mouth. Not a pleasant image, but certainly an evocative one!

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

Over time, this evolved into the idiom “spit and image,” which emphasizes the idea of two people looking similar by adding “image.” And this then turned into “spitten image” (with “spitten” either a non-standard past participle of “spit” or possibly a contraction of “spit and”). And, finally, this evolved into “spitting image,” which is the most common spelling of the phrase today.

As well as the spelling changing, we now use the phrase more widely to refer to not just parents and children but to anyone who looks very much like another person, whether related or not.

Summary: Spitting Image or Spit and Image?

The idioms “spitting image” and “spit and image” both refer to someone who closely resembles another person. Both are based on the idea that there could only be such a close resemblance if one of the people was spit out of the other.

Language keeps changing, and while “spit and image” was once the more popular version, it’s since been overtaken by “spitting image.” We’d therefore suggest using “spitting image” if you’re not sure. However, both versions are acceptable, so you can choose which one you prefer.

If you want to make sure you use idioms correctly, you should have your writing proofread by an expert. To find out how our team can help you polish your writing, send us a free trial document today.

Comments (2)
Gia Dzika
1st May 2022 at 08:57
My grandfather who was born in 1904 told me that this phrase (spitting image) was in reference to a fire "spitting" and causing a second but smaller fire. So it seems it would be a verb, the fire spitting out a smaller image of itself.
    2nd May 2022 at 09:34
    Hi, Gia. That's an interesting theory. It's not one we've heard of and the phrase is at least a hundred years older than that, so it would be hard to verify, but the image of a fire spitting is certainly less icky than the idea of a parent spitting a child out of their mouth!

Got content that needs a quick turnaround?

Let us polish your work.

Explore our editorial business services.

More Writing Tips?
Trusted by thousands of leading
institutions and businesses

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.