Tuesday, February 18, 2014


The word scratch came up several times during today’s show,the result of the observation that it abounds in multiple meanings. The word seems to have come from similar words in Old Scandinavian and Germanic dialects.

As a verb, it has gone through a succession of meanings since the 15th century.

·      to wound with claws of fingernails in a superficial manner
·      to use claws or fingernails as an offensive weapon
·      to fight without doing serious injury
·      to relieve itching
·      to make only slight progress (‘that market has barely been scratched”)
·      to lightly furrow soil for cultivation
·      to make light incisions on a surface
·      to remove earth with claws or fingernails
·      to struggle to make money
·      to get through with difficulty
·      to depart in haste
·      to produce with difficulty
·      to struggle fiercely to obtain
·      to remove a name from a list or a horse from a race
·      to refuse an invitation
·      to move a pen over paper with a slight noise
·      to scribble or write carelessly
·      to forge checks or banknotes
·      to make a penalty-incurring stroke, as in billiards
·      to cancel a project

As a noun, many of the actions described above are transformed into names. So there’s a tearing of the skin, a shallow incision, a mark, a sketch, a trivial fight, a shot that incurs a penalty, and so on. But there’s also a disease of horses, slang for paper money, a position with no advantage or favorable odds, and a hiss heard when a record is played. It’s also a name for the devil (Old Scratch), probably because he was often pictured with claws.

As an adjective, it may be used to describe an impromptu selection of teammates for a game, a hastily-assembled work crew, a vote that does not reflect the actual will of a constituency or deliberative body, or a golfer with a handicap of 0 or below.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

Nook edition

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Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to wtcmradio.com and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


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