24 August 2017

How did that come around? – “Start from scratch”

During an office meeting today, somebody mentioned – while trying to design some stuff – “Let’s start from scratch”. At that point I made a mental note of finding out later – why do we say that?

In the evening, Nikita and I did some research to understand why do we say “start from scratch”? Of course, the meaning is generally to start from the beginning – but the nuance is to start without any relative advantage. Basically, you start without any head start.

Of course, it is difficult to deduce anything from the common meaning of “scratch”. What would minor skin lacerations originating from itching have anything to do with this? Other than tough puzzles – or posts with questions like this – when did you start anything by scratching your head first? đŸ™‚

Turns out this has its roots in sports. There are many sports we found out – boxing, cricket, golf as examples who use the word scratch to denote a line (usually to commence something from). There is an even earlier reference to this meaning of “scratch” – for runners – essentially the starting line for runners.

The real reference goes back another century before that. And it was about horse racing in England. All horses had to be lined up perfectly on the starting line without any hoof crossing that line to give any advantage. That starting line in horse racing was referred to as the “scratch line”.

And that is the origin of the phrase “to start from scratch”. You start from the beginning with no advantage at all.

There you go!! I learnt something today!!!

Posted August 24, 2017 by Rajib Roy in category "Word Play


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