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Up to scratch etc.

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on February 02, 2010 at 09:32

In Reply to: Up to scratch etc. posted by Shenfield on February 01, 2010 at 18:33:

: What is the origin of:

: They come up to scratch

: They arrived at the eleventh hour

: Here's mud in your eye

1. In 18th and 19th century bare-knuckle prize-fighting, each round started with both fighters being called to a mark scratched in the centre of the ring. If either man failed to 'come up to scratch' within 30 seconds of the call, he lost the match.

2. The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, in the Gospel of St Matthew 20:2-16, tells of the owner of a vineyard who hired labourers throughout the working day, and at the end of the day paid them all the same; so that those who had arrived 'at the eleventh hour' (i.e. with only an hour of the working day left) got as much as those who had been working all day. The parable is usually taken to mean that even people who come to Christianity at the end of their lives will earn salvation as much as people who have been 'working in Christ's vineyard' all their lives.

3. This has been discussed here several times before. Although it dates only from the 1920s, it's original meaning isn't known. One theory is that it dates from the trenches of WWI - if a shell landed near you and the worst you got was mud in your eye, you were lucky. Another is that it refers to horse racing - any jockey but the winner is likely to get mud in his eye, thrown up by the hoofs of the horse in front. Another extremely far-fetched idea is that it refers to Jesus curing a man who had been blind from birth by putting mud on his eyes and having him wash it off in the pool of Siloam. I don't believe that one for a moment - if only because in the 1920s the only widely-used English-language Bible in Britain was the King James Version, in which the word used is 'clay', not 'mud'. It's quite possible that the saying didn't actually mean anything. People do sometimes create nonsense catchphrases, and in fact that was rather a fashion in the 1920s.