English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Can itch be used as a transitive verb? In other words, can you itch an itch as you would scratch an itch? Dictionaries differ, with the bigger hitters saying no. Are they bearing the proper standard or just playing it conservative?

share|improve this question
As in, "Mummy (or Mommy if you like), my nose is itching me!" – Jimi Oke Mar 27 '11 at 22:14
Ogden Nash, Taboo to Boot - One bliss for which / There is no match / Is when you itch / To up and scratch. – MT_Head Jun 20 '11 at 8:37
up vote 2 down vote accepted

You'll have to explain what you mean by "proper standard" — but, no, what the "bigger hitters" (again, what are these?) are doing is waiting until a usage is far-reaching enough for them to bother to document it. I guess that's what you'd call playing it conservative.

That said, what one does to an itch is scratch it. Something can itch (intransitive) all by itself, or be itchy, but itching an itch feels like a bizarre usage to me. I'd be curious to know what dictionaries endorse that use.

NOAD, for example, lists only an intransitive form:

itch verb [intrans.] be the site of or cause an itch : the bite itched like crazy.

share|improve this answer
see my (previous) answer, for both your questions :) – F'x Mar 27 '11 at 21:37
Here's three online dictionaries that allow itch as a synonym for scratch: yourdictionary.com, thefreedictionary.com, and dictionary.com. (And by "bigger hitters" I meant NOAD and Merriam-Webster.) – Callithumpian Mar 27 '11 at 22:28

Well, even if you use itch as a transitive verb, as the Merriam-Webster allows, it means “to cause to itch” or “to vex, to irritate”. So, you don't itch an itch as you would scratch it: itch, in that sense, is not synonymous with scratch.

share|improve this answer
So would you say the sources I listed in my comment under Robusto's answer are incorrect to allow itch as an informal synonym for scratch? – Callithumpian Mar 28 '11 at 0:07
I would say they are being descriptivist, reflecting the changing usage, rather than being prescriptivist, and describing the "correct" way to use the word(s). (Personally I find "itch" as a synonym for "scratch" to be pointless and irritating, and I happily correct people when I hear them using "itch" 'incorrectly'.) – Hellion Mar 28 '11 at 2:12

protected by tchrist Jul 21 '14 at 23:31

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.