from scratch,
    1. from the very beginning or starting point.
    2. from nothing; without resources: After the depression he started another business from scratch.
    up to scratch, in conformity with a certain standard; adequate; satisfactory: The local symphony orchestra has improved this year, but it is still not up to scratch.

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 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for scratching

Contemporary Examples of scratching

Historical Examples of scratching

  • At about noon we found some water in a gully by scratching a hole, but it was quite salt.

  • "I know not about that," said the big archer, scratching his head in perplexity.

    The White Company

    Arthur Conan Doyle

  • We're all like a lot of hens in a backyard, scratching so many hours a day.


    Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius

  • "There is one other lodging," answered the headborough, scratching his head.

    A Hero of Our Time

    M. Y. Lermontov

  • Then Tom took an attitude and let on to be studying with all his might, and scratching his head.

    Tom Sawyer, Detective

    Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

British Dictionary definitions for scratching



a percussive effect obtained by rotating a gramophone record manually: a disc-jockey and dub technique



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 scratching



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 scratching


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.