Will's word

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Scotch (noun) "whisky from Scotland"

Although the adjective Scotch is used by Shakespeare - a "Scotch jig" is referred to in Much Ado About Nothing (II.i.65) - the use of the word on its own to refer to a drink of whisky is much later, whisky itself being an 18th-century innovation. So when Scarus boasts to Antony that he has "Room for six scotches more" (Antony and Cleopatra, IV.vii.10) we must try not to let the modern sense interfere. Scarus is showing bravery: the word means "cut" or "gash". We hear it used as a verb in Coriolanus, when one servant tells another of how Coriolanus fought Aufidius: "Before Corioles he scotched him and notched him" (IV.v.193). The word is very close in meaning to scorch "cut with a knife", used when Macbeth tells his wife "We have scorched the snake, not killed it" (Macbeth, III.ii.13), and some editors have (unnecessarily) replaced the word by scotched.

David Crystal is author, with Ben Crystal, of Shakespeare's Words, published by Penguin

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today