noun (used with a singular verb) Veterinary Pathology.

a disease of horses marked by dry rifts or chaps that appear on the skin near the fetlock, behind the knee, or in front of the hock.

Origin of scratches

First recorded in 1605–15; see origin at scratch, -s3



verb (used with object)

to break, mar, or mark the surface of by rubbing, scraping, or tearing with something sharp or rough: to scratch one's hand on a nail.
to dig, scrape, or tear (something) out or off with or as if with the nails, claws, etc.: to scratch the burs off one's coat.
to rub or scrape slightly, as with the fingernails, to relieve itching.
to rub or draw along a rough, grating surface: to scratch a match on the sidewalk.
to erase, cancel, strike out, or eliminate (a name, something written, etc.) by or as if by drawing a line through it (often followed by out): Scratch out the third name on the list.
to withdraw (an entry) from a race or competition.
U.S. Politics.
  1. to divide (one's vote) though predominantly supporting one political party or faction.
  2. to strike out or reject a particular name or names on (a party ticket) in voting.
to write or draw by scraping or cutting the lines into a surface: She scratched her initials on the glass.
to manipulate (a phonograph record) back and forth under the stylus to produce rhythmic sounds.

verb (used without object)

to use the nails, claws, etc., for tearing, digging, etc.
to relieve itching by rubbing or scraping lightly, as with the fingernails.
to make a slight grating noise, as a pen.
to earn a living or to manage in any respect with great difficulty: We scratched along that year on very little money.
to withdraw or be withdrawn from a contest or competition.
(in certain card games) to make no score; earn no points.
Billiards, Pool. to make a shot that results in a penalty, especially to pocket the cue ball without hitting the object ball.


a slight injury, mar, or mark, usually thin and shallow, caused by scratching: three scratches on my leg; a noticeable scratch on the table.
a rough mark made by a pen, pencil, etc.; scrawl.
an act of scratching.
the slight grating sound caused by scratching.
the starting place, starting time, or status of a competitor in a handicap who has no allowance and no penalty.
Billiards, Pool.
  1. a shot resulting in a penalty, especially a pocketing of the cue ball without hitting the object ball.
  2. a fluke or lucky shot.
(in certain card games) a score of zero; nothing.
Baseball. scratch hit.
Slang. money; cash.


used for hasty writing, notes, etc.: scratch paper.
without any allowance, penalty, or handicap, as a competitor or contestant.
Informal. done by or dependent on chance: a scratch shot.
Informal. gathered hastily and indiscriminately: a scratch crew.
done or made from scratch: a scratch cake.

Origin of scratch

1425–75; late Middle English scracche (v.), blend of Middle English scratte to scratch, and cracche to scratch; cognate with Middle Dutch cratsen
Related formsscratch·a·ble, adjectivescratch·a·bly, adverbscratch·er, nounscratch·less, adjectivescratch·like, adjectiveun·scratch·a·ble, adjectiveun·scratched, adjectiveun·scratch·ing, adjective




Old Scratch; Satan.

Origin of Scratch

1730–40; alteration of scrat hermaphrodite (late Middle English scratte; compare Old English scritta (once), which may be an error for *scratta); cognate with Old Norse skratti devil, goblin, wizard, Old High German skraz wood-demon Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for scratches

Contemporary Examples of scratches

Historical Examples of scratches

  • For he was vexed at the scratches he had got in the struggle.

    Rico and Wiseli

    Johanna Spyri

  • Pennington and Warner both had scratches, but the colonel was unharmed.

    The Rock of Chickamauga

    Joseph A. Altsheler

  • You have nearly reached that point, and you look right cheerfully on your scratches!

    His Masterpiece

    Emile Zola

  • And they saw that his feet were lame and bruised, and his body covered with scratches.

  • The scratches on his own flesh were not serious, though they nipped a little at first movement.

    The Fiery Totem

    Argyll Saxby

British Dictionary definitions for scratches



(functioning as singular) a disease of horses characterized by dermatitis in the region of the fetlockAlso called: cracked heels, mud fever

Word Origin for scratches

C16: so called because it makes the pastern appear to be scratched



to mark or cut (the surface of something) with a rough or sharp instrument
(often foll by at, out, off, etc) to scrape (the surface of something), as with claws, nails, etc
to scrape (the surface of the skin) with the nails, as to relieve itching
to chafe or irritate (a surface, esp the skin)
to make or cause to make a grating sound; scrape
(tr sometimes foll by out) to erase by or as if by scraping
(tr) to write or draw awkwardly
(intr sometimes foll by along) to earn a living, manage, etc, with difficulty
to withdraw (an entry) from a race, match, etc
(intr) billiards snooker
  1. to make a shot resulting in a penalty
  2. to make a lucky shot
(tr) US to cancel (the name of a candidate) from a party ticket in an election
(intr often foll by for) Australian informal to be struggling or in difficulty, esp in earning a living
to treat (a subject) superficially
you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours if you will help me, I will help you


the act of scratching
a slight injury
a mark made by scratching
a slight grating sound
(in a handicap sport)
  1. a competitor or the status of a competitor who has no allowance or receives a penalty
  2. (as modifier)a scratch player
the time, initial score, etc, of such a competitor
  1. the line from which competitors start in a race
  2. (formerly) a line drawn on the floor of a prize ring at which the contestants stood to begin or continue fighting
a withdrawn competitor in a race, etc
billiards snooker
  1. a shot that results in a penalty, as when the cue ball enters the pocket
  2. a lucky shot
poultry food
from scratch informal from the very beginning
up to scratch (usually used with a negative) informal up to standard


sport (of a team) assembled hastily
(in a handicap sport) with no allowance or penalty
informal rough or haphazard
Derived Formsscratchy, adjectivescratchily, adverbscratchiness, noun

Word Origin for scratch

C15: via Old French escrater from Germanic; compare Old High German krazzōn (German kratzen); related to Old French gratter to grate 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for scratches



c.1400, probably a fusion of Middle English scratten and crachen, both meaning "to scratch," both of uncertain origin. Related: Scratched; scratching.

Billiards sense of "to hit the cue ball into a pocket" is first recorded 1909 (also, originally, itch), though earlier it meant "a lucky shot" (1850). Meaning "to withdraw (a horse) from a race" is 1865, from notion of scratching name off list of competitors; used in a non-sporting sense of "cancel a plan, etc." from 1680s. To scratch the surface "make only slight progress in penetrating or understanding" is from 1882. To scratch (one's) head as a gesture of perplexity is recorded from 1712.



in Old Scratch "the Devil," 1740, from earlier Scrat, from Old Norse skratte "goblin, wizard," a word which was used in late Old English to gloss "hermaphrodite;" probably originally "monster" (cf. Old High German scraz, scrato "satyr, wood demon," German Schratt, Old High German screz "a goblin, imp, dwarf;" borrowed from Germanic into Slavic, e.g. Polish skrzot "a goblin").



1580s, "slight skin tear produced by a sharp thing," from scratch (v.). Meaning "mark or slight furrow in metal, etc." is from 1660s. American English slang sense of "money" is from 1914, of uncertain signification. Many figurative senses (e.g. up to scratch, originally "ready to meet one's opponent") are from sporting use for "line or mark drawn as a starting place," attested from 1778 (but the earliest use is figurative); meaning "nothing" (as in from scratch) is 1918, generalized from specific 19c. sporting sense of "starting point of a competitor who receives no odds in a handicap match." Sense in billiards is from 1850. Scratch-pad is attested from 1883.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with scratches


In addition to the idioms beginning with scratch

  • scratch one's head
  • scratch someone's back
  • scratch the surface

also see:

  • from scratch
  • up to par (scratch)
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.