Oh, you sad scraper, scruting some screed scribbled by a scruffy scribe, be it scrubbed on your screen or scrawled in scrimped script on a scroll, or scratched like scrimshaw: so much lexical scree to scramble through, you could just screech. Can a scrupulous scrutator scrounge some scrap of sense from it, or should you just tell the scoundrel to scrute themself?

Scrute? And why not? We have scrutiny and scrutineer and scrutinize, with that in in, but we also have scrutate, and we have inscrutable and also (yes) scrutable. And they all trace back to Latin scrutari ‘examine, scrutinize’. It, in turn, apparently comes from scruta ‘old or broken stuff, trash, frippery, trumpery’ (per OED). Which means that the source sense of scrutiny and all the other scrut words is rag-picking. Digging through the detritus, scraping and scrabbling in the scraps and scree. Scruting.

And yes, scrute is in the dictionary. OK, OK, it’s in the OED, marked with an obelisk, attested with a single citation from 1536. But look – search it in Google Books or where you will – it does get used. True, it is often referring back, ostensibly wittily, to inscrutable, but that doesn’t revoke its word status. And yes, many of the usages you will find are French – scruter is a French word meaning (yes) ‘scrutinize’, so je scrute, tu scrutes, il scrute, elle scrute, nous scrutons, vous scrutez, ils scrutent. But so what? It is also used in English.

It’s a nice, grabby, short word. It has the same scr onset, which shows up on words to do with contracting, grasping, detritus, and writing (among others); it’s a multivalent phonaestheme. The ute gives a rhyme with loot, boot, chute, and various others, but here its high tight round back sound works nicely with the claws and drawstrings of scr. Some speakers may even hear a couple of naughty echoes. It sticks nicely in the mind.

Scrute the record all you want; screw your perspicacity to the sticking point. The word, whether it be backformation or scrupulous Latinate derivation, is out there, and it is clear and sensible and, at least for the moment, a bit brisk and witty. If we prefer the cogent, surely a shorter form is superior. If you insist that we must instead say scrutinize, I invite you to go scrute yourself and your assumptions.

3 responses to “scrute

  1. Daniel E. Trujillo Medina.

    Michael Jackson did use scrutinize in Scream, with his sister. Feels wrong to send the King to scrute himself. But hey! Scrute away!

    Daniel E. Trujillo M. @VolcadoDePila ________________________________

  2. Chips Mackinolty

    “scrute” is a standard term in Australia when talking about elections. Scrutineers are appointed by candidates to physically watch (scrute) the counting of ballot papers, and in preferential voting, to watch the allocation of preferences.

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