Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Spic And Span

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 14, 2010

Most of us know “Spic and Span” to be a well-known cleaning product that’s been around since 1933 when two housewives — Elizabeth MacDonald and Naomi Stenglein — came up with the formula in Saginaw, Michigan.  It’s been said that Naomi referred to her spotless home as being “spick and span” and with that, the two women decided to drop the “k” from the word spick and to market their product as “Spic and Span.”

However, the term “spic and span” dates back more than  400 years, to Sir Thomas North‘s translation of Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes” in 1579:

They were all in goodly gilt armours, and brave purple cassocks apon them, spicke and spanne newe.

This term combined two nouns that are now obsolete:  spick, which was a “nail” or “spike,” and span, which was a “wooden chip.” In the 1500s, a sailing ship was considered “spicke and spanne newe” when every spike and chip was brand-new.

Spicke and spanne newe” later became simply “spicke and span” and first appeared in the diary of Samuel Pepys  in 1665 where he wrote:

My Lady Batten walking through the dirty lane with new “spicke and span” white shoes.

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