Date: Mon, 9 Mar 1998 14:38:41 -0500
From: Larry Horn laurence.horn[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YALE.EDU
Subject: Re[2]: Spittin' Image

At 11:35 AM -0600 3/9/98, Ellen Johnson wrote:
Nevertheless, instances of "spirit and image" do indeed occur, for
example in the LAMSAS records, though I don't have the data available
here to comment on a racial distribution. (I did have an elderly
white woman tell me that "X is the spit of Y" was heard from AfAms.)
Is this a further reinterpretation of spitten image (possibly
euphemistic) or a separate development?

What dates do you have, Larry of the collocations
spitten image
spitting image
spit and image
in the United States?

ellen.johnson[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Well, I don't have an historical dictionary of specifically American usage
on me and don't have earliest citations, but Wright's English Dialect
Dictionary makes it clear that verbal and nominal 'spit', along with such
collocations as 'as if one was spit out of a person's mouth' or 'as if one
had spit it'--'used to describe a startling resemblance or likeness'--have
been kicking around in Scotland, Ireland, England, and the U.S. since at
least the early 19th c. (I'm not sure if Wright, like the OED, seeks to
attest first citations.) Wright also lists 'spitten' as a dialectal
participle in Yorkshire and Cumberland, specifically in 'spitten image',
although he also lists 'spit and image' separately; his citations neither
confirm nor disconfirm my hypothesis that 'spitten image' came first. Of
course, my account would claim Wright's 'spit and image' was first 'spit
'n' image' (from earlier spitten image), the anD coming in only after
reanalysis--and sure enough, his first four citations of the "conjunction"
do indeed have it as 'the (very/varry) spit an' image'. Although these
citations are all from the British Isles (Northumberland, West Yorkshire,
Lancashire), it seems implausible to me that a specifically AAVE innovation
(spirit and image -- spit an(d) image) just happened to replicate the
pre-existing noun and verb 'spit' cited above and then migrate across the
Atlantic from the pre-Civil War south to rural English speech. The
alternative chronology, i.e. that 'spit an' image' originated
simultaneously by chance in Britain and southern U.S. speech, from entirely
different sources (spirit and image, spitten image) but yielding exactly
the same meaning, is hard to refute but to me both implausible and
inelegant. So my answer to Ellen's query above would be that 'spirit and
image' is indeed another reinterpretation/ reanalysis/folk etymology of
'spitVn image' rather than an entirely separate development.