Printable Version
Pronunciation: hahp-skahch Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: Hippity hop! No, hopscotch is not a scotch that makes you hop, or scotch made from hops rather than from barley. It is 1. a game in which children hop on one foot across a checkerboard drawn on the ground in order to retrieve a small object previously tossed in one of the squares. 2. (Verb) To move from place to place erratically, with little or no plan.

Notes: Today's word is a lexical orphan with no relatives unless you want to consider other compounds beginning on hop, such as hophead "alcoholic, addict", hoptoad "toad (US regionalism)", hopshackle "a hobble", hop-o'-my-thumb "a small person, Tom Thumb". They are an interesting lot, but with little to nothing semantically in common with the focus of our attention today.

In Play: Children have been playing hopscotch since at least the middle of the 18th century. The Oxford English Dictionary's first citation is from The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt (1801): "Among the school-boys in my memory there was a pastime called Hop-Scotch." Today this Good Word is used as often as a verb: "The candidates for president are hopscotching the country in an effort to distinguish themselves from each other before the election."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a compound of hop + scotch, spelled with a small S. That's right, this scotch has nothing to do with whisky from Kiltland. This scotch comes from Middle English scocchen "to cut, notch", which probably was borrowed from Old French escocher "to notch" from coche "notch". Where these words came from is a mystery. Hop is as much of a mystery. Variants of it may be found in most Germanic languages such as Swedish hoppa and Danish hoppe. However, we do not find reliable traces of it in any Indo-European languages other than the Germanic ones. (We don't want to hopscotch over expressing our gratitude to Chris Berry for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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