I was reading Justin’s piece from earlier today on building an electric guitar from scratch, and the title got my wheels spinning. What does “made from scratch” actually mean? Is it slang for some cheap material like sticks or straw? Is it related to using “scratch” as colloquialism for money?
“From scratch” is a value we promote on ManMade, and I’m sure I say it often. So, I did a little research into where it comes from. Answer: competitive sports.
Specifically cricket, where players would scratch in the ground or dirt to create a boundary line for the batter. Similarly, “starting from scratch” comes from boxing, where
The scratched line…specified the positions of boxers who faced each other at the beginning of a bout. This is also the source of ‘up to scratch’, i.e. meet the required standard, as pugilists would have had to do when offering themselves for a match.
Scratch later came to be used as the name of any starting point for a race. The term came to be used in ‘handicap’ races where weaker entrants were given a head start. For example, in cycling those who were given no advantage had the handicap of ‘starting from scratch’, while others started ahead of the line. Other sports, notably golf, have taken up the figurative use of scratch as the term for ‘with no advantage – starting from nothing’. – From: English.StackExchange.com
“Made from scratch” comes in later, where it was “applied figuratively with the meaning ‘from nothing’, and it was used thus by James Joyce in Ulysses (1922): ‘A poor foreign immigrant who started scratch as a stowaway and is now trying to turn an honest penny.’ Thereafter it was taken up in cooking once boxed mixes and prepared foods became widely available.” – Take Our Word for It, Issue 58