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Etymology

In which we discover something wrong on the Internet


Last night, on TV, I was idly watching a documentary, Real Men, about the maintenance of the Forth Bridge. Rather interesting it was, even if the risks were a bit overstated sometimes.* One thing, though, puzzled me. It started off, as you might expect, with the history of the bridge: in the 1870s construction had begun on a Forth Bridge designed by Sir Thomas Bouch, previously responsible for designing the train ferries the bridge was to replace. In 1879, though, Bouch’s Tay Bridge collapsed catastrophically, so work on his Forth Bridge was stopped.

What puzzled me was: according to the narrator, the collapse of Bouch’s bridge is the origin of the phrase “a botched job”. Now, surely, that can’t be true. It has to be nonsense. According to my copy of the Concise Oxford, “botch” goes back to Middle English. It’s always meant roughly the same thing, I assume. There’s no way an event in 1879 can have created a phrase, when the word itself had been around for several hundred years beforehand. Can it? Wikipedia, and an awful lot of other websites, say that “bodge” and “botch” are both derived from Bouch’s name, even though “bodging”, as a type of carpentry, has been around for centuries. Does anyone have a copy of the full Oxford Dictionary to hand?

* “with High Speed Trains thundering past them” said the narrator. Well, yes, technically – but as far as I remember, from when I was a Fife commuter, they’re not going any faster than 50mph as they go across the bridge.

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6 comments on “Etymology”

  1. treefell says:

    Does this help?

    botch, n.2
    SECOND EDITION 1989

    (b{rfa}t{sh}) [f. BOTCH v.1 (Sometimes indistinguishable from fig. use of the prec.)]

    1. A botched place or part, a flaw or blemish resulting from unskilful workmanship.
    1605 SHAKES. Macb. III. i. 133 To leaue no Rubs nor Botches in the Worke. 1645 MILTON Tetrach. Wks. 1738 I. 244 Let it stick as a notorious botch of deformity.

    2. fig. a. A clumsy patch; a meaningless or unsuitable word added for the sake of rime or metre.
    1693 DENNIS Impart. Critick iii. 25 Every Epithet is to be look’d upon as a Botch, which does not add to the thought. 1707 SWIFT On Union Wks. 1755 IV. I. 283 By way of botch She piec’d it up again with scotch. 1780 WESLEY Wks. (1872) XIV. 341 In these Hymns there is no doggerel, no botches. 1861 A. BERESFORD-HOPE Eng. Cathedr. 19th C. 220 The difficulties of accommodation are honestly recognized and boldly grappled with, not by botches and makeshifts.

    {dag}b. A mark like a clumsy patch, a blotch. Obs.
    1715 Lond. Gaz. No. 5365/4 The other 4 [Sheep] cropt on the Right Ear, and a black Botch on the Left Hipp.

    3. a. A bungled piece of work. So botch-work.
    1648 HERRICK Hesper. I. 104 Learne of me what woman is, Something made of thred and thrumme; A mere botch of all and some. 1845 LD. CAMPBELL Chancellors (1857) III. lvi. 130 When the writer tries to be light and airy, we have such a botch as might have been expected. 1870 HAWTHORNE Eng. Note-bks. (1879) I. 187, I have made a miserable botch of this description. 1876 HAMERTON Intell. Life II. ii. 406 Vastness of the interval, that separates botch-work from handicraft.

    b. fig.
    1864 E. A. MURRAY E. Norman I. 159 The men were not to be trusted, most of them being convicts, or ‘botches’ of one kind or other.

    4. a. = BOTCHER n.1 dial.
    1855 Whitby Gloss., A Botch, a cobbler.

    b. = BOTCHER1 3. dial. and colloq.
    1829 J. KENNEY Illust. Stranger II. i. 24 Some botch of an embalmer, who had not done justice to Your princely remains. 1868 J. C. ATKINSON Gloss. Cleveland Dial. 59 He’s nobbut an aud botch. He’s mair lahk t’mar an t’mend.

    botch, v.1
    SECOND EDITION 1989

    (b{rfa}t{sh}) Also 4 bocchyn, 5-6 botche. [ME. bocche-n, of uncertain etymology: having apparently no original relation to BOTCH n.1, though the words may have subsequently influenced each other. Prof. Skeat suggests for the vb. a LG. origin, comparing MDu. butsen, (1) to strike, beat, (2) to repair (Oudemans), app. related to Du. botsen to knock, dash, Ger. dial. butschen, butzen to strike, knock; according to Franck an onomatop{oe}ic word of echoic origin. But the sense ‘repair’ in Du. butsen seems to be recent, while in English it appears in Wyclif: also there is no sense ‘knock’ in English, so that connexion with the continental words is very doubtful. Perhaps the Eng. word is an onomatop{oe}ia related in its genesis to ‘patch’; cf. Ger. batzen to patch. See BODGE.]

    1. trans. To make good or repair (a defect, damage, damaged article); to patch, mend. Now only: to repair clumsily or imperfectly. Often with up.
    1382 WYCLIF 2 Chron. xxxiv. 10 That thei enstoren the temple, and eche feble thingus thei bocchyn [1388 reparele alle feble thingis]. 1530 PALSGR. 461/1, I botche or patche an olde garment..I have botched my hosen at the heles. 1551 ROBINSON tr. More’s Utop. (Arb.) 69 Sicke bodies..to be kept and botched up. a1680 BUTLER Rem. (1759) II. 200 He does not mend his Manners, but botch them with Patches of another Stuff and Colour. 1863 FAWCETT Pol. Econ. IV. ii. 535 Botching and patching each single tax.

    b. absol. To do repairs; to patch clumsily.
    1580 TUSSER Husb. (1878) 166 Cobble and botch, ye that cannot buie new. 1730 SWIFT Dan Jackson’s Pict. Wks. 1755 IV. I. 249 At last I’m fairly forc’d to botch for’t. 1815 SCOTT Guy M. xxi, I labour and botch..and produce at last a base caricature. 1865 [see BOTCHING vbl. n.2]

    2. To spoil by unskilful work; to bungle.
    1530 PALSGR. 461/1 To botche or bungyll a garment as he dothe that is nat a perfyte workeman. 1663 PEPYS Diary 26 Apr., Tom coming, with whom I was angry for his botching my camlott coat. 1850 BLACKIE Æschylus I. 293 This chorus seems hopelessly botched..and all attempts to mend it are more or less unsatisfactory. 1858 HAWTHORNE Fr. & It. Jrnls. I. 292 The greatest bungler that ever botched a block of marble.

    3. fig. trans. To put or stitch together clumsily or unskilfully; to construct or compose in a bungling manner. Often with up, together.
    1561 T. NORTON Calvin’s Inst. III. v. (1634) 319 Augustines booke of repentance..botched of good and bad by some scraper together. 1678 CUDWORTH Intell. Syst. I. iv. 411 An ill-agreeing Drama, botch’d up of many impertinent Intersertions. 1768 TUCKER Lt. Nat. II. 124 One or two of Horace’s purple rags botched together with coarse seams of abuse.

    b. To add as a patch.
    1589 Pappe w. Hatchet (1844) 39 Botching in such frize iestes vppon fustion earnest. 1656 [see BOTCHING vbl. n.]

  2. Forest Pines says:

    Why, thank you! I think that proves my point.

  3. Jenny says:

    First rule of etymology: the more interesting a word-origin story is, the less likely it is to be true. Indeed, any word origin story deemed interesting enough to be mentioned on television, can safely be assumed to be rubbish (unless it comes from Susie Dent or Victoria Coren, and even then it should be treated with caution).

    Besides, why would Bouch be corrupted to Botch in the first place, unless the term ALREADY EXISTED? Hah!

  4. Forest Pines says:

    Victoria Coren does at least usually have an OED editor at her right hand to say “hmmm, that doesn’t seem very likely to me.” Susie Dent has to be taken on trust.

  5. inklings says:

    Ah, a thinker after me own heart. I was searching for the etymology of “cobble” after I read that it was english/german for a mountain summit! Now THAT’s rubbish!

  6. peter says:

    Bouch had used cast iron for tensile stress on the bridge, instead of using it for compression. It cracked and down went his bridge.

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