Which Word Wednesday: Itch vs. Scratch

By May 16, 2012 language 2 Comments

Language lovers can lead a lonely life. Seriously, there are few people interested in discussing etymology or proofreading menus with me. I really don’t know why!

So how very excited I was when, while enjoying pizza with friends, dear Lisa said she had two submissions for us here at Which Word Wednesday. Oh, joy! We then had a fabulous language discussion, easing my language loneliness. And now we get to wrestle out the first of Lisa’s submissions, the nuances between itch and scratch.

Her premise? When you have an itch, you scratch it—you do not itch it. Looks like a question of whether itch is a proper synonym for scratch. Let’s start with definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

noun :: an uncomfortable sensation on the skin that causes a desire to scratch
verb :: be the site of or cause an itch

noun :: a mark or wound made by scratching
verb :: score or mark the surface of (something) with a sharp or pointed object

Both words take on double-duty as nouns and verbs. As a noun, an itch is something we feel when our skin is irritated and itchy. Itch can be an action (a verb), but it refers to the “experience [of] an itch” or to “feel a restless or strong desire to do something.” But it does not mean “to scratch.”

Things can be itchy—bug bites, scratches, rashes, and so on. But people do not perform the act of itching, unless they itch us with a rough personality.

So we can scratch our itches, but we cannot itch them, because that would only compound our discomfort.

What’s my WWW verdict? An itch is something we experience, not something we do.

What’s your verdict? Do you itch your scratches or scratch your itches? Does your personality give others an itchy feeling? Does this post remind you of Itchy and Scratchy? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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