Shellac (v.) & spit-coat

Rudolph C Troike rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU
Thu Nov 14 04:26:25 UTC 2002

I'm passing along this inquiry from a colleague.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 13 Nov 2002 16:24:44 -0700
From: Andy Barss <barss at U.ARIZONA.EDU>
Subject: word sources sought

I was recently talking to a professional wood finisher, who asked
me what the source of two terms was, the first of which is an odd
extension of a term from finishing, the other of which is a
compound whose origins he (and I) would like to understand.
If you can shed any light on these, please drop me a line.

(#1)  "[give x a good shellacking]"

 which means in comon parlance to either (a) defeat
decisively, or (b) to batter (beat physically, all over).  This
is somehow extended from the noun 'shellac' (also spelled
"shellaq"), which is a transparent, alcohol soluble
wod finish derived from the  excretions of a beetle native to
India. (It's also edible, and
has major use in the food and pharmaceutical industries; you eat
it on coated pills and M&Ms). The beetle is known as the
lac beetle, and the usual source for 'shellac' is 'shell lac',
the product in shell form (there's also stick lac, and

The two possible sources that might make sense for the slang
usage is either (a)  when one coats something with shellac, it's
a complete covering, so by extension from the completeness
componnet we'd get 'to completely' do something, or (b) a dark
red dye is made from shellac, and beating someone physically
bruises them.  This is all guesswork, so if anyone has something
to add please email me.

(#2) "spit coat"

 which means to give something (a tabletop, say) an exceedingly
thin coat of a finish, often as a prelude to another,
thicker coat of something else.

My best guess is that this derives from the sense of 'spit'
meaning to rain or snow very lightly, but that's just a guess.
No dictionary seems to list it.

Thanks --

Andy Barss

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