Scotch (the adjective) / Scotch tape

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Scotch (the adjective) / Scotch tape

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Mar 29, 2005 9:14 pm

Evan Morris, the Word Detective, has written a nifty little book entitled Altoids to Zima (2004) on the surprising stories behind famous brand names. His piece on ‘Scotch tape’ tells the interesting story of how that product got its name, and along the way we learn about the use of ‘Scotch’ as an adjective (for its use as a verb see the posting scotch (the verb)). In the introduction Morris explains how he carefully researched his derivations by often going to the company (in this case 3M) to get the story. And that is probably part of the reason he got the story of ‘Scotch tape' right and Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable got it ‘somewhat’ wrong.

Altoids to Zima by Evan Morris

SCOTCH TAPE: Scotch brand tape, notwithstanding the tartan featured on its packaging, has no connection to Scotland. In fact, the first use of ‘Scotch’ to refer to the tape manufactured by 3M was intended as an insult to the product.

The first Scotch tape was not, oddly enough, the transparent tape we usually think of today when we hear ‘Scotch tape.’ In 1925, a young engineer named Richard Drew working for the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company ( now 3M) invented the first masking tape to help auto body painters keep a straight edge between colors when painting two-tone cars. It was a great idea and instantly popular with painters, but unfortunately, when 3M first began to manufacture the tape, it decided to put adhesive only on the edges of the tape, not the whole surface. This made tape easier to remove but also gave it a distressing tendency to fall off before the painting job was done. According to 3M lore, one painter testing the tape became so frustrated with its unpredictable performance that he angrily thrust the tape back into Drew’s hands, saying “Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!”

The use of “Scotch” as a slang word meaning ‘stingy’ had a history at that time dating back to England in the seventeenth century, and was one of a number of national slurs, including many targeting the Dutch and the French, rooted in the national rivalries of the period. Reflecting England’s ambiguous attitude toward its northern neighbor, almost anything deemed nasty, stingy, or penny-pinching was dubbed “Scotch” in England, from Scotch blessing (a severe scolding) to Scotch marriage (a common-law marriage) to Scotch coffee (hot water flavored by burned biscuit). While many such “Scotch” terms had faded away over the centuries, “Scotch” as a general slang synonym for “stingy” was still alive and well in the United States in the 1920s.

Rather than taking offense at the labeling of its masking tape as “Scotch.” 3M embraced the name and applied it to its entire line of tapes, and when five years later Richard Drew invented the first cellulose tape, it was known from Day One as Scotch Transparent Tape.

In contrast, but with the same connotations, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable explained:

SCOTCH TAPE: In 1930 the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company of St. Paul Missouri, now known as 3M, introduced a specialized new product in the form of transparent, adhesive cellulose tape. As “a little went a long way” when it came to sealing packages, they gave it a name that complimented the reputed thriftiness of the Scots. By 1935, when a dispenser was added, the tape was already an institution and its name is as familiar as that of its British rival, Sellotape. [[close but no cigar!]]

SCOTCH [contraction of Scottish, usually capitalized] adjective:

1) [1591] of Scottish origin; resembling or regarded as characteristic of Scotland or Scottish people (used outside Scotland and sometimes offensive): ‘Scotch plaid, ale, ballad, reel, salmon, snuff, whisky,’ etc.).

2) Informal (usually lower case): frugal; provident; thrifty

USAGE: The natives of Scotland refer to themselves as SCOTS or, in the singular, SCOT, SCOTSMAN, or SCOTSWOMAN. The related adjectives are SCOTTISH or, less commonly, SCOTS. SCOTCH as a noun or adjective is objected to except when used of whisky and in established phrases like ‘Scotch egg’ (a hard-boiled egg encased in sausage meat, breaded, and deep-fried) ‘Scotch pine,’ Scotch broth, and Scotch terrier. In the United States, SCOTCH is often used where Scots themselves, or some Americans of Scottish decent, would prefer SCOTTISH or SCOTS, The term SCOTCH-IRISH is standard in the United States for the descendants of Scots of Ulster who immigrated to America beginning in the 18th century.

SCOTCH CASEMENT [late 18th century to mid-19th century]: the pillory (negative stereotyping, from window frame)

SCOTCH COUSIN: a distant relative (in allusion to the practice in Scotland of tracing kinship to remote degrees). Also, with similar connotation, SCOTCH SISTER.

SCOTCH EGGS [mid-19th century and still in use]: legs (rhyming slang)

SCOTCH GRAYS [late 18th to mid-19th century]: lice; thus ‘headquarters of the Scots greys,’ a lousy head (negative stereotyping)

SCOTCH LICK [20th century] (Irish): a poorly done cleaning job (negative stereotyping)

SCOTCH MIST: 1) [mid 1600s] a combination of mist or fog and drizzle, occurring frequently in Scotland and parts of England. 2) cocktail made by pouring Scotch whisky over finely crushed ice.
3) [1940s and still in use]: anything insubstantial, mythical, used sarcastically when one want to imply that the other speaker has failed to grasp the point or perceive something that is clear and obvious.

SCOTCH PEGS 1) [mid-19th century and still in use]: the legs (rhyming slang). 2) [20th century] eggs (rhyming slang)

SCOTCH SCREW [20th century]: a nocturnal emission (negative stereotyping)

SCOTCH WARMING-PAN: [mid-17th to late 18th century] a complaisant young women or [19th century] the breaking of wind. (negative stereotyping)

SCOTSMAN’S CINEMA [1930s-40s] Picadilly Circus or its neon lights, which can be viewed as a free spectacle (negative stereotyping)

SCOTSMAN’S GRANDSTAND/STAND [1970s and still in use]: 1) a grandstand erected on private property overlooking a sports arena in which seats are available cheaply. 2) a vantage point that allows people to watch an event, usually sporting, free of charge. (negative stereotyping)

SCOTSMAN’S SHOUT [1940s and still in use] (New Zealand) a round of drinks in which everyone pay’s for their own (negative stereotyping)

SCOTTISH [19th century]: irritable, easily annoyed (negative stereotyping)
<1591 “Vpon his head an old SCOTCH cap he wore.”— ‘Prosopopoia: or Mother Hubberds Tale’ by M. Spenser, page 209> [[A man's head-dress made of thick firm woollen cloth, without a brim, and decorated with two tails or streamers.]]

<1599 “The first suite is hot and hasty like a SCOTCH jigge (and full as fantastical).”—‘Much Ado About Nothing’ by Shakespeare, II. i.>

<1606 “Ferquard did with the fatall Chaire, earst spoke-of, send his Sonne. That thereupon of SCOTCH-Kings Here the Title first begunne, And all SCOTCH-Crownings earst as his, on it were Else-where done.”—‘Albions England’ (1612) by Warner, XIV. lxxxiv. page 350>
(Oxford English Dictionary, Random House and Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionaries, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang)

Ken G – March 29, 2005

Scotch (the adjective) / Scotch tape

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Mar 29, 2005 10:05 pm

You would use 'Scots' when referring to the Scottish variants of English: "He addressed me in broad Scots". Also, the tree is more correctly referred to as the 'Scots pine', not the 'Scotch pine'; I suspect 'Scotch pine' is chiefly US usage.
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Scotch (the adjective) / Scotch tape

Post by kagriffy » Tue Mar 29, 2005 10:56 pm

But, Erik, if the pine tree air freshener in my car loses its string, I'll have to affix it to the mirror with tape. Then it will truly be a "Scotch pine"! GROAN!
K. Allen Griffy
Springfield, Illinois (USA)

Scotch (the adjective) / Scotch tape

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Mar 30, 2005 8:26 am

If you were in the UK it would be a Sellotape pine, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

When I was a boy I was always told that apart from whisky, beef and eggs (a boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and breadcrumbs before deep frying) the word Scotch should never be used.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

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