Search Term Friday: Old Scratch

Recently, the search term

old scratch

brought someone to the blog.

Do you know who Old Scratch is?

I discovered and wrote about who Old Scratch was in 2012.

At our prison bible study Herb, my co-teacher, was leading a prayer. Herb is a Baby Boomer and a son of the South. I'm Gen X and a transplanted Northerner. So our idiomatic expressions are different.

So when Herb was leading the prayer he said, "And Lord, protect us from Old Scratch."

After the prayer was over I asked aloud, "Who is Old Scratch?"

Herb was incredulous. Didn't I know that Old Scratch was the Devil? I did not. Nor, it seemed, did any of the guys in the class.

Apparently, Old Scratch is a name for the Devil that was more widely known a generation or so ago. It apparently started in New England but eventually took hold in the South. Here's the entry from The Free Dictionary:
Old Scratch
n. Chiefly Southern U.S.
The Devil; Satan.

[Probably alteration of scrat, from Middle English, hermaphrodite goblin, from Old Norse skratte, wizard, goblin.]

Regional Note: Old Scratch, like Old Nick, is a nickname for the devil. In the last century it was widely used in the eastern United States, especially in New England...Now the term has been regionalized to the South. Old Scratch is attested in the Oxford English Dictionary from the 18th century onward in Great Britain as a colloquialism: "He'd have pitched me to Old Scratch" (Anthony Trollope, 1858). The source of the name is probably the Old Norse word skratte, meaning "a wizard, goblin, monster, or devil."
In literature Aunt Polly describes Tom Sawyer as being "full of the Old Scratch" because of his rebellious and mischievous ways. In A Christmas Carol during the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come Scrooge overhears a conversation describing his death: "Old Scratch has got his own at last."

I find the name Old Scratch delightful. Herb and I now use it all the time. And here and there in our church we hear the name catching on. The name is just too quirky and fun to be allowed to slip away.

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2 thoughts on “Search Term Friday: Old Scratch”

  1. it is also a fine American Amber Lager by Flying Dog Brewery out of Frederick, MD.

  2. It also features prominently in the song Beelz by the singing comedian Stephen Lynch. (parental warning)

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