Scratch that

As I’ve suggested a time or two, our oldest boy-wonder is the king of malapropisms. Either due to an impatient ear that thinks it heard something it didn’t really, or because he has a literal bent – leaning towards precision rather than context.

Shortly after we moved to Canadaland, and the boy started wearing snowpants 7 months of the year, he began calling snowpants ‘trophers’ which I never understood but went along with, calling them trophers too, so he’d be able to understand me.

He also pronounces words exactly as they are spelled which results in some interesting vocabulary chez nous: Veye-et-na-mese instead of the commonly known Vietnamese. Mary-land instead of Marilynd. And then there’s his habit of calling things exactly as they’re described. Hence we endured an entire Christmas season talking about ‘festivecrackers’ instead of the commonly known Christmas crackers, or what have you. Because the box I’d picked up at Costco referred to them as festive crackers and the Gort, unfamiliar with the adjectives and hyperbole commonly used in advertising, assumed that was how they were to be called.

As in, ‘when are we going to use the festivecrackers?’

He was so persistent, his brothers also started referring to the paper cylinders containing dubious treats as ‘festivecrackers’. Even I joined in, which was ridiculous, but I feared if I simply called them crackers they wouldn’t understand me.

Fast forward to Sunday night when we were all sitting together at the dinner table. After what felt like a long, irritable day. The Gort stared at the roast chicken and potatoes, angling for a second helping, and asked his father ‘can I have some scratch?’

The professor looked at me with wide perplexed eyes that whispered ‘see, that’s what I’m talking about,’ and I remembered a conversation we’d had a few months earlier, in which the professor told me our oldest son had the peculiar habit of referring to gravy as ‘scratch’.

I hadn’t heard this particular Gort-ism, but was unaware of any reason why the boy would call gravy ‘scratch’. I shrugged my shoulders and we continued on with life. Until Sunday, when I was witness to the ‘scratch’ and decided I had nothing better to do than to address it.

‘What’s scratch,’ I investigated. He sighed the annoyed-sigh of the put-upon. ‘The juice from the chicken.’ Obviously, mother. Everyone knows it’s scratch. ‘It’s called gravy,’ the professor sighed the sigh of the dumbfounded. Perhaps not surprisingly, I couldn’t drop the matter. ‘Why do you call it scratch,’ I asked point-blank. ‘I don’t know, because that’s what it is,’ our oldest replied, bewildered by the inquisition.

I thought of the conversation we’d had minutes earlier, when the Hen asked why don’t we have cartoons anymore ‘like we did in the red house.’

Translation: we had cable television two years ago, for a very brief period and this was his way of saying ‘so, what happened to that?’

The professor seized the opportunity to stump for cable television and why we needed to have it in our home (supposedly so the ‘boys’ can watch ‘sports’) and I was about to rebut his argument with the slightly more powerful conclusion that no cable television meant no commercials.

Because I still remember taking the boys to the store when they had access to commercials and endured my precise, literal boy-children asking me to buy all manner of odd things ‘because they’d seen them [advertised] on television.’ From Batman mouthwash to laundry detergent to packaged cookies.


But before I could remind the professor about the commercials and their effect on my grocery experience, we got sidetracked by some familial crisis and the next thing I knew we were dealing with scratch.

Literalism. Commercials. The Gort. Scratch.

‘Did you hear something on tv about making gravy from scratch or how something tastes like it was made from scratch?’


‘It’s just a saying,’ I tried to explain the bizzarreness of the English language. Which reminded me of being in Berlin and trying to teach a room full of German foreign ministry students the meaning of ‘as good as gold’.

But that is a story for another day.

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