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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?

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    As in, "Mummy (or Mommy if you like), my nose is itching me!"
    – Jimi Oke
    Mar 27, 2011 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, 2011 at 8:37

2 Answers 2

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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.

Addendum I answered this nine years ago, but since then I've recognized that this usage does in fact exist, though still without apparent documentation in the usual sources. See this new question on EL&U.

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  • see my (previous) answer, for both your questions :)
    – F'x
    Mar 27, 2011 at 21:37
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    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.) Mar 27, 2011 at 22:28
  • @Callithumpian AHD, a big hitter, licenses the usage. Collins, a big hitter, lists it but with the caveat 'non-standard'. Random House Kernerman Webster's, a big hitter, lists it, with the caveat 'informal'. 'dictionary.com' is a disingenuous umbrella label here. And I'll wager OED includes it. Apr 9, 2020 at 14:28
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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.

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  • 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? Mar 28, 2011 at 0:07
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    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, 2011 at 2:12

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