Spirit and Image, Spittin’ Image, Hurricanes, Colonels and Kernels, Denim and Jeans


Where did the phrase “the spittin’ image,” as in he is the spittin’ image of his father, come from?

It is my understanding that the phrase was originally “the spirit and image,” but it fell in with a rough crowd and became the spittin’ image.

From The Associated Press Stylebook:

Capitalize hurricane when it is part of the name that weather forecasters assign to a storm: Hurricane Hazel.

But use it and its — not she, her or hers — in pronoun references.

And do not use the presence of a woman’s name as an excuse to attribute sexist images of women’s behavior to a storm. Avoid, for example, such sentences as: The fickle Hazel teased the Louisiana  coast.

As a personal note I think the day may come when men’s names will be used to identify hurricanes, a move which could lead to sentences such as: Ol’ Harry wobbled ashore just east of Miami, seemingly on a rampage, wrecking two hotels.

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From Webster’s Word Histories:

A study of colonel: One of the spelling-versus-pronunciation oddities in English is that “colonel” is pronounced the same as “kernel.” A review of the history of colonel shows how this discrepancy between spelling and pronunciation came about.

In many languages when a word contains two identical or similar sounds, one of these sounds will often change over a period of time. A familiar example of this kind of change (called dissimilation) is the common pronunciation of February without the first “r”.

For a similar reason when the Italian word colonello, denoting the commander of a column of soldiers, was taken into French it became coronnel.

In the 16th century, the word was borrowed by the English from French in the form coronel.

Soon afterward, in writing the spelling colonel came to be used in order to reflect the Italian origin of the word. By that time however the pronunciation with “r” was well established,and today we still say kernel while we write colonel.

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A study of denim: The name of many a fabric is derived from the name of the place in which the fabric originated or in which it was manufactured. It is rather unusual, however, that two different names derived from the names of cities in different countries should be applied to the same material.

Denim comes from the French de nimes, meaning of nimes, originally used in the phrase serge de nimes, which appeared in English in the 17th century as serge denim.

Serge from the Latin adjective sericus, of silk, is a durable twilled fabric, and Nimes is a city of southern France where textiles are still an important industry. Today denim is not only a term for a type of cloth, in the plural it is used for overalls or trousers made of denim.

Another common name for these same garments is jeans, used in the plural like denims.

In the singular, jean is also a term for a durable twilled cotton.

You just never know where a loose thread will lead to.


Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at morgarg7@aol.com


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