My wife uses her nails to “gently scratch” our 3-year-old son’s back for ~15 mins right before falling sleep. He likes it a lot. There’s a word škrabkať in my native language (Slovak), and I was wondering if there is a similar one in English. Do we scratch our children? Doesn’t it sound weird?
It isn’t official, but the verb scritch is sometimes used to mean a light, perhaps even a friendly, scratching, as if responding to an itch. Think of it as a combination of scratch + itch = scritch.
Considering that the old meaning of scritch as a synonym for screech or shriek is now considered archaic, this neologism seems to fill an ecological niche in the language. This use is reasonably well known, enough so as to find its way into the crowd-sourced Urban Dictionary.
The prior use of scritch as shriek goes back all the way to the 12th century, extending through the 20th. Here are the OED’s first and last two citations:
I think using scritch for the sort of thing you asked about is pretty normal today. As mentioned below in comments, Wiktionary mentions that scritch can mean “to scratch an itch”. There also appear to be counter-cultural usages with which I was not previously familiar (and am still largely unclear on). This online source, the “Cat Dictionary”, offers as an example:
Miriam Moss has an amusing children’s book named Scritch Scratch, which is about head lice, of all scritchy-scratchy things! The Amazon description is:
The use of Scritch Scratch, or of scritchy-scratch(y), seems to follow the rule for reduplicative freezes that John Lawler mentions in his answer to this question. Whether this is the ultimate source of the contemporary slang use of scritch as related to scratch is hard to pin down for certain, though. It might also be one of those portmanteaux that show up so often, so scratch + itch = scritch. Or as often happens in these cases, it could simply be several things working together to converge on a reinforced sense.
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