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Origin of 'up to scratch'

Posted by R. Berg on June 05, 2001

In Reply to: Origin of 'up to scratch' posted by mortimer on June 05, 2001

: : A phrase used in pugilists' fights.A line was scratched on the ground to which the contestants had to put their forward foot before the fight could begin.

: Are you saying thats the origin for sure? I mean I could think of other possibilities. Like a scratch on a wall for the height of a person, or horse, or something. mortimer

Although Mitchell didn't cite any sources, the Oxford Engl. Dict. confirms his story. Under "scratch" (noun): "'Sporting.' A line or mark drawn as an indication of a boundary or starting-point; in Cricket, a 'crease' (obs.); in Pugilism, the line drawn across the ring, to which boxers are brought for an encounter. Hence in various phrases (often fig.), as 'to come up to the scratch,' 'to bring to the scratch,' 'to toe the scratch,' etc."

"Starting from scratch" and "cooking from scratch" similarly come from the scratch line drawn to mark the starting point for a foot race.

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