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.
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- Pig Latin 08/19/2017: Grant and Martha discuss the L-word — or two L-words, actually: liberal and libertarian. They reflect different political philosophies, so why do they look so... [more]
- Whistle in the Dark 08/12/2017: The language and melodies of military marching songs connect grown children with their parents who served, as do parents' love letters from World War II.... [more]
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- Fickle Finger of Fate 07/29/2017: 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]