Two familiar terms that have inspired lots of bogus etymologies are “dead ringer” and “spitting image.” “Dead ringer” probably comes from horse racing, where a ringer is a horse that may look like other horses in a race but is actually from a higher class of competitors, and therefore a sure bet. The dead in this sense suggests the idea of “exact” or “without a doubt,” also found in such phrases as “dead certain.” As for the term variously spelled “spitting image” or “spittin’ image” or “spit and image,” Yale University linguist Larry Horn has argued convincingly that the original form is actually “spitten image,” likening a father-son resemblance to an exact copy spat out from the original. This is part of a complete episode.
- Fickle Finger of Fate 11/21/2016: A young woman wants a family-friendly way to describe a statement that's fraudulent or bogus, but all the words she can think of sound old-fashioned.... [more]
- Stars and Garters 11/14/2016: Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he's also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like "flummox" and "butterfingers." Also, the life's... [more]
- Proof in the Pudding 11/05/2016: Have you ever offered to foster a dog or cat, but wound up adopting instead? There's an alliterative term for that. And when you're on... [more]
- Boss of Me 10/31/2016: If you want to be a better writer, try skipping today's bestsellers, and read one from the 1930's instead. Or read something besides fiction in... [more]
- Sunny-Side Up 10/24/2016: Baseball has a language all its own: On the diamond, a snow cone isn't what you think it is, and three blind mice has nothing... [more]