Let Us Sing a Dirge for “Spit and Image”


We got some quick work from the Times copy desk today: the blurb on the left lasted only a couple of minutes before someone rebelled and fixed it. This reminds me of a Slate column from a couple of years ago in which Juliet Lapidos tried bravely to defend her use of spit and image on the grounds that “it makes more sense to me,” but that’s hopeless. Idioms aren’t supposed to make sense. (On the other hand, her plea to “make absolutely sure that you’re right, and the author’s wrong” before sending out grammar police nastygrams is good advice.)

It’s possible that you’re surprised to see this usage at all. But until the mid-50s it was pretty common. However, as a quick glance at the Google Ngram viewer will show you, that was its last hoorah. For more than a decade, spitting image has been more than 20x more common than its original variant. It’s time to throw in the towel.

UPDATE: Now it’s been changed yet again, to “who also looks nearly identical to Kermit.” I guess spitting image didn’t pass muster at the Gray Lady either.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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