Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

THIS snotching business is getting out of hand. The word had turned up in an early 18th-century account by a Wiltshire rector of a man apparently struck dead by Providence for calling his mother a 'snotching bitch'. Jenny Macrory (Letters, 23 October) suggested that @notching might be something to do with the scoring system for the eastcounty game of 'camp ball', which survived until the 19th century. A snotch would apparently be lost whenever a player was arrested between goals by the opposing team.

It seems more likely to me that the camp-ball snotch is an example of the Suffolk word noted (by Thomas Wright in his Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English) as meaning 'a notch'. This citation was brought to my attention by the learned Spectator-reading Mr Paul Dinnage, who remarks that Thomas Wright was unrelated to Joseph Wright, the compiler of the monumental English Dialect Dictionary. So he was. In any case, the Suffolk 'notch' snotch may well be related to the scoring point in camp ball, for scores are often kept by notches or by moving pegs up and down in notches@. as in cribbage.

It is unlikely, though, that in Wiltshire, which is not an eastern county, a man would abuse even his own mother as 'a notch'. …

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