Scotch (adjective)

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Scotch is an adjective meaning "of Scotland". The modern usage in Scotland is Scottish or Scots, where the word "Scotch" is only applied to specific products, usually food or drink, such as scotch whisky, scotch pie, scotch broth or scotch eggs, and "Scotch" if applied to people is widely considered mildly pejorative. However, 'Scotch' is still in occasional use in England and Ireland, and common use in North America.

The verb scotch is unrelated to the noun, and is not related to "Scotland". It derives from Anglo-French escocher meaning "to notch, nick", from coche, "a notch, groove", extended in English to mean "to put an abrupt end to", with the forms "scotched", "scotching", "scotches". For example: "The prime minister scotched the rumours of her illness with a public appearance."

Decline in usage

The adjective or noun Scotch is an early modern English (16th century) contraction of the English word Scottish which was later adopted into the Scots language.[1] It more or less replaced Scottish as the prevailing term in England. Scots (the modern Scots language form of early Scots Scottis[2]) predominated in Scotland until the 18th century when anglicisation became fashionable and Scotch came to be used in both England and Scotland. A 1788 letter by Robert Burns says in part: "Apropos, is not the Scotch phrase Auld lang syne exceedingly expressive? There is an old song and tune which has often thrilled through my soul. You know I am an enthusiast in old Scotch songs." ("Auld Lang Syne" in The Burns Encyclopedia, at robertburns.org). Burns wrote of himself in 1787, "The appellation of a Scotch Bard, is by far my highest pride; to continue to deserve it is my most exalted ambition." ("National Bard, Scotland's", op. cit.). Thus also Byron: English Bards and Scotch Reviewers ref., 1809).

From the early 19th century, however, Scots or Scottish increasingly became the preferred usages among educated Scottish people, Scotch being regarded as an anglicised affectation. By 1908, this was described by the New York Times as a "long-established… preference" (see article) In modern usage in Scotland, "Scotch" is never used, other than as described in the following paragraph for a short list of articles; it has gathered patronising and faintly offensive connotations ("frugal with one's money"),[3] and a non-Scot who uses the word in conversation with Scots as a description of them may find this a good test of their courtesy. The use of "Scots" and "Scottish" is not altogether consistent; but in many words and phrases one or the other is normally used: there is a certain tendency for "Scottish" to be used in more formal contexts.

In modern current British usage, in England as in Scotland, the general term for things from or pertaining to Scotland is Scottish. Scots is used for the Scots language and Scots law, although one increasingly hears it used of people and organisations, especially in newspaper articles. Scotch remains in use only for products such as Scotch broth, Scotch beef, Scotch egg. One cynical joke is that Scotch can be used only for things which can be bought, such as whisky, eggs and politicians. 'Scotch terrier' was once one of these legacy uses, but has increasingly been replaced with Scottish terrier.

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