Learn English – Why do we “scotch” a rumour


The etymology of the verb to scotch is unclear. Here is the origin note from Oxford Dictionaries:

early 17th century (as a noun): of unknown origin; perhaps related to skate1. The sense 'render temporarily harmless' is based on an emendation of Shakespeare's Macbeth iii. ii. 13 as ‘We have scotch'd the snake, not kill'd it’, originally understood as a use of scotch2; the sense 'put an end to' (early 19th century) results from the influence on this of the notion of wedging or blocking something so as to render it inoperative

In contemporary English are there any other common uses of scotch? I'm interested in whether there used to be wider use of the verb beyond just that relating to rumours.

Best Answer

According to Etymonline, scotch means: "stamp out, crush," 1825, earlier "make harmless for a time" (1798; a sense that derives from the reading of "Macbeth" III.ii.13), from scocchen "to cut, score, gash" (early 15c.), perhaps from Anglo-Fr. escocher, O.Fr. cocher "to notch, nick," from coche "a notch, groove," perhaps from L. coccum "berry of the scarlet oak," which appears notched, from Gk. kokkos. Related: Scotched; scotching.

As for your question, I found only one reference to this verb used with the noun plan in OAED: Plans for a merger have been scotched.

Searching the corpora at Brigham Young University for "[scotch].[v*]" shows that it is a British expression (most occurrences were in the British National Corpus) and that although rumour is by far the most common collocate, it's also possible to scotch myths, plans, speculations, suggestions and ideas.