Printable Version
Pronunciation: spik-en-spæn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Brand new. 2. Absolutely clean, spotless.

Notes: Since Americans see the household cleaning products sold under the brand name 'Spic and Span' more often than the actual phrase, the spelling spic-and-span is generally accepted as a legitimate alternative to the original spick-and-span. As always, we prefer the original.

In Play: In most of the English-speaking world, today's Good Word still carries the meaning of newness: "When you say that you have a 'new' car, do you mean a new used car or a spick-and-span car?" This is a variant of the ancient epithet span-new "brand new", already in use in the 13th century. Today's Good Word more often, of course, refers to cleanliness: "When I get home from work today, I want to find your room not just tidy but spick-and-span!"

Word History: Today's complex word is, believe it or not, a shortening of an earlier phrase, spick-and-span new. Spick is a variant of spike, while span once meant "chip". The term comes from the ship-building trade at a time when ships were built of wood. A ship was 'spike and chip' new if you could still find the occasional unused spike and left-over chips lying around. Spanking new might be a variant of span new, a phrase that came along about the same time as "spike and span". (In a world flooded with dirty words, we especially thank Henry F. Koch for suggesting such an exceptionally clean one for today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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