Spitting image

中国日报网 2017-10-10 11:05



Spitting imageReader question:

Please explain “spitting image” in this headline (DailyMail.co.uk, March 28, 2017): Nicole Kidman’s young daughters Sunday Rose and Faith Margaret are the spitting image of their famous mother as the family stroll through Sydney Airport.

My comments:

This means Sunday Rose and Faith Margaret both take after their mother, Nicole Kidman the Australian actress. They both look like their mother, almost exactly.

That’s what “spitting image” means.

Here are two plausible and logical theories regarding the origin of “spitting image”, logical, that is, to the English native speaker, some of them at least.

According to one theory, if someone looks exactly like their father or mother, people would say that they appear to have been spat out of their parents’ mouth directly. This, from Phrases.org.uk:

That idea, if not the exact phrase, was in circulation by the end of the 17th century, when George Farquhar used it in his comic play Love and a bottle, 1689:

“Poor child! He’s as like his own dadda as if he were spit out of his mouth.”

Apparently, some parents in earlier times must have been explaining to their babies that they were born this way.

Sounds impossibly illogical to the Chinese ear, I’m sure but that’s expected, isn’t it, when you study and learn about a foreign language?

A second theory, on the other hand, has nothing to do with saliva. According to this theory, “spit” should be “spirit”. According to them, some day in the past somebody must have remarked “Well, this boy is the spirit and image of his father” or something like it but people didn’t hear it clearly and thought he said “spit image” instead.

Spirit and image, meaning that the child takes after their parent or parents in both manner and habit (spirit) as well as in appearance (image).


Doubt it?

Whatever. Just recognize the fact that today, people say “spitting image” much more often than they say “spirit and image” and, when they do, they mean to say that two people look exactly alike.

Just recognize and remember this, and forget about whether it’s logical or not. After all, other cultures have all sorts of beliefs and ideas that sound fanciful and incredible to us. For example, according to the Christian Bible, God created Adam out of dust from the ground and then took one of Adam’s ribs and made it into a woman, Eve.

In short, spitting image and remember it thus and so. Just don’t take it literally.

All right, here are media examples of “spitting image”:

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger worked it out with the son who has become his spitting image.

Arnold showed Joseph Baena the ropes Saturday at Gold’s Gym in Venice. The 18-year-old is jacked like an up-and-coming Mr. Universe, but the Pepperdine business major has other aspirations.

Arnold was bragging in the gym ... Joseph’s pulling straight A’s.

We haven't seen a single pic of the Arnold and Joseph together since he was a small boy, although we know the 2 were always in contact.

This kid could end up being the true Arnold protege.


2. It was only recent that we discovered that Liam Payne has held a grudge against his girlfriend Cheryl for the past seven years, and now he has revealed he and Cheryl almost broke up.

When the popstar couple first teased fans with their relationship back in early 2016 no one quite knew whether to believe them. After they confirmed their relationship they went on to become the most secretive celebrity couple ever and didn't actually confirm they were having a baby together until Chez proudly showed off her bump.

Since they announced they had welcomed their son into the world, Liam has been telling the world more and more about his little boy. From Bear Payne's middle name, revealing his unusual nickname to admitting Bear is the spitting image of his dad, we’ve learnt more about the two-month-old than our own family.

Although, recently Liam let it slip that like most couples, Cheryl wasn’t always happy in the relationship and at one point was ready to split with her boyfriend.

Liam opened up to Dan Wooton on his Bizarre Life podcast and said: “There’s one song that is basically a phone call that happened between me and her when she was about to let it go.

“This was a long time ago. It’s basically me trying to cling on and say ‘no, no, no, no it’s all going to work out don’t worry about it, give it time.’”

And it sure did work out – they’ve been together for over a year and have a baby together.

- Wait, what? Cheryl tried to BREAK UP with Liam Payne, LifeStyle.one, May 19, 2017.

3. If a child looks a lot like one of their parents, people will sometimes say they’re the “spitting image” of the parent. But others will say the child is the “spit and image” of their parent.

So which is right? That’s exactly what a listener from Kansas named Ken wanted to know.

“Growing up, I had always heard, or misheard, and repeated the phrase, ‘spitting image’ -- as in, he’s the spitting image of his father,” Ken writes.

Recently, Ken was reading a review for a camera when he saw the phrase “spit and image.” Now he wants to know which interpretation is correct.

When you think about it, neither really make much sense.

“Spitting image” is particularly hard to pick apart, because we don’t understand why an image would be spitting. However, “spit and image” makes sense if you know that spit can be a noun meaning image or likeness.

If that’s the case, then “spit and image” is redundant but emphatic. If someone is the spit and image of someone else, then they’re the image and the image.

But Yale linguist Larry Horn says that’s not where this phrase comes from. In an article in American Speech, he says the phrase actually began as “spitten image.”

“Spitten” is a regional, non-standard past-participle of spit. “Spitten image” refers to an image that someone has spit, just as the phrase “proven allegation” refers to an allegation that someone has proved.

But why spit? Fair warning, the answer delves into some adult content

Spit usually makes us think about saliva, but to figure out this phrase, you need to think about a different bodily fluid that can be, ahem, spit. One that’s involved in the act of procreation.

Catch our drift?

If you use that meaning of spit, then you can imagine how a child could be seen as something that could be spit -- a spitten image of their parent.

- ‘Spitting image’ has nothing to do with saliva, MichiganRadio.org, July 2, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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