He is the very/ the spitting image of sophistication

I am wondering whether or not those mean the same thing, if so, are they interchangeable?

Would you please throw a light on this confusion in a simple way?

I have just updated this issue, waiting for your invaluable explanations.


h=Having taken into account the following linke, I am wondering which one I should use, and eventually which one of the following bold ones you use?

metaphor: “it’s like he was spat out of his father’s mouth” (1689).

metonymy: “he’s the very spit of his father” (1825) — when the metaphor is commonplace enough, it no longer gets spelled out in full.

idiom/cliché: “the spit and image of his father” (1859) — a particularly effective wording of the metonymy solidifies into a widely re-used phrase.

corruption: “the spitten image” (1878) — the original analysis of the phrase is lost.

reanalysis: “the spitting image” (1901) — this strange new word “spitten” gets replaced by something which is at least syntactically more comprehensible.

further reanalysis/eggcorning: “the splitting image” (1880(!?), 1939) — the phrase changes to something which is more semantically plausible — it’s easier to imagine ways that “splitting image” could have arisen than “spitting image”.

spitting image”

splitting image

enter link description here

Thanks in advance


1 Answer 1


He is the very image of sophistication
He is the spitting image of sophistication

I guess the meaning is the same, or largely the same (let native speakers correct me).

The spitting image is a colloquial expression, and the very image is a more "high-hat" or literary expression.

They are interchangeable in terms of meaning, but you might prefer one or the other in a particular situation due to considerations of style. Citing a street conversation, you might choose "the spitting image", writing a romantic poem you might choose "the very image".

Note that the word is spitting, as in to spit, not splitting, as in to split.

Some people say splitting image, and there's a nice discussion of this at ELU.

  • 2
    In American English I have never heard "splitting image" before, ever, though I do hear "spitting image" on occasion (particularly in fiction.) In my experience, "spitting image" is almost exclusively used to describe physical similarity between two (often, but not necessarily, related) people or animals. I'm from a working class background, and anyone using "very image of ---" would have been mocking the subject, and probably using a hoity toity accent to do it. This might be very different in British English, or in upper-crust American circles. It would be more broadly applicable though. Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 0:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .