One nice thing about kids: they haven’t been trained out of scratching itches, linguistically.

Take for example my friend Trish’s daughter Nenya, not (quite) yet in grade 1. She asked Trish why some hand weights were on a towel. Trish told her it was to protect the floor. Nenya’s response: “Why? They’re not scratchative.”

You will not find scratchative in the dictionary. The more desiccated among us will therefore insist that it is not a word and must be replaced by something that is. Because, as we all know, every word that is a word was in the dictionary before anyone used it.

As long as by “every” we mean “one” – and that word is flauccinaucinihilipilification, which means ‘the action of estimating something as worthless’… fitting, no? Pretty much every word except that one (and maybe a slight few others) was invented by someone at some time and then, after people used it enough, put in a dictionary.

And how did those invented words catch on? They scratched the right itch. They were appropriately scratchative.

So why shouldn’t Nenya learn to put a different, more established word in place of scratchative? Well, what word? “They’re not scratchy” doesn’t really carry the same sense – scratchy has applications to clothing and sounds, but is ambiguous with something like hand weights. “They’re not scratching” is definitely out; of course they’re not scratching right now, they’re just sitting on a towel. Nor need we form a Latinate neologism such as, say, grattive. I mean, really, that’s just pretentious. If we can say someone who talks a lot is talkative, we can say something that scratches a lot (or perhaps at all) is scratchative.

Anyway, grattive wouldn’t truly trace to Latin. It would trace to the German root that Italian got grattare from. That German root showed up in two English words: cratch and scrat. They both meant about the same and both had rather suitable sounds, and eventually this doublet started to chafe and people simply merged the two into scratch. And Nenya took that new root and the established suffix ative and made a word. A perfectly serviceable word. She didn’t have to start from scratch. Just from scratch.

She’s not the first person to make up the word, either. It gets a couple of Google hits. We find that the word was used in a Missouri newspaper in 1889 (as transcribed in 2011) in reference to getting “a good scratchative cat.” And a 2007 account of using poetry for psychoanalysis reports a 10-year-old referring to her gerbil as “a good scratchative pet.”

So clearly this is a word that has been contained in potential in the available morphemes, just scratching to get out. And every so often it has managed to come free. Rather than scratch it out, why not admit it’s up to scratch?

2 responses to “scratchative

  1. I love these kinds of made up words that actually make sense. Living over in France, I ran across a 5 l container of engine oil. The selling point for this particular product is that it was “anti-gloup”. Even if you don’t speak French, you ought to be able to figure that one out.

  2. Pingback: clackled | Sesquiotica

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