Printable Version
Pronunciation: skræch Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To rub the nails, claws, or another abrasive object gently over the skin to relieve itching. 2. To score or make a shallow cut or cuts on a surface. 3. To make a harsh scraping sound, as 'to scratch a blackboard'. 4. To eke, as to 'scratch a living from a small farm'. 5. To cancel, remove, or withdraw, as 'to scratch the third event of a sport competition'.

Notes: Scratch is an authentic (not borrowed) English word with a rich complement of derivations. Someone who scratches or a tool for scratching is a scratcher. Something that can be scratched is scratchable; if not, it is unscratchable. An object without scratches is scratchless. The present participle, scratching, is used for the regular action noun and adjective.

In Play: Since today's word has so many common meanings, let's focus on the last two metaphorical uses: "In the mid-1800s people scratched a bare existence soaking up surface oil around Oil Creek in Pennsylvania." The fifth sense above may be heard in expressions like this: "The three-legged race was scratched because of a pouring rain."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a blend of late Middle English scrat "scratch" + cratch(e) "to scratch". Scrat seems to be Proto-Indo-European. It turns up in several Indo-European languages without the initial PIE Fickle S: Swedish kratta "to rake" and Spanish gratar "to polish". We also find Italian grattare, French gratter, and German kratzen, all meaning "to scratch". Of course, these words implicate Middle English cratch(e), too. PIE had a word, (s)ker-/(s)kor- "to cut", which with metathesis could have let its meaning slip to "scratch". In English it ended up as shear and shred (which is close to scratch). A lot has happened to the PIE languages over the past 5000 years since PIE's existence. (Let's thank Maureen Koplow, whose first suggestion came out in 2006, for today's ordinary Good Word with the fascinating history.)

Dr. Goodword,

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