to "spit-shine"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Mar 4 16:07:14 UTC 2007

FWIW, regardless of any "spit and polish" connection (OED: 1895, though said to be from "the old days" in Britain) I cannot recall any references to "spit-shining" the "Shoes, russet, 1 pr." issued during 1917-18.

  So I just searched _Stars & Stripes_ (Paris) 1917-1919 at American Memory, without success for either "spit shine" or "spit and polish,"  which I believe was once most typically associated with the British and the Germans.

  I agree with Wilson that the emphasis in the recent use of "spit shine" is on the brilliance of the shine, not on the spit.  My SWAG is that in early use (say 1922) the emphasis was on the spitting and the _hasty nature_ of the shine.  In that case OED might need to list two senses of the noun. The more recent usage is likely to have been influenced by "spit and polish," itself arising not from the brilliance of the shine but from the frequency of the shining - hastily with spit when necessary.


Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Wilson Gray
Subject: Re: to "spit-shine"

I'm familiar with stove polish from my East-Texas childhood. In that
time and in that place, central heating was unknown. My family used
gas stoves that were lighted and turned off as we moved from one room
to another. Stove polish could certainly be used to polish a pair of
shoes or a pair of boots, but, IMO, the result wouldn't bear any
resemblance to a spit shine. It wouldn't have the mirror-like,
patent-lleather reflective quality that defines a spit shine. Of
course, Mr. Ellis's opinion of what constitutes a spit shine may
differ from mine.

IAC, I'm willing to give Mr. Ellis the benefit of the doubt, since I'm
almost certain that the spit-shining of boots and shoes in the
military predates WWI, though I have no evidence to support that


On 3/3/07, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: "Douglas G. Wilson"
> Subject: Re: to "spit-shine"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> More or less the same concept has been around for quite a while in "spit
> and polish".
> Here is an early "spit shine" example ... I think ... from N'archive:
> ----------
> Earl Ennis, "The Puckett's Barn Gang", Ch. XXXI, in _Olean [NY] Evening
> Herald_, 26 Dec. 1922, p. 9:
> [some boys are dressed up]
> <> bicycle pants with the knee buttons, and Pooch Lawrence had a spit shine
> done with stove polish. Everybody was washed within an inch of his life.>>
> ----------
> -- Doug Wilson
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