Up to scratch

Up to scratch is an idiom that has been in use since the 1800s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom up to scratch, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Up to scratch describes someone who is fit or healthy, someone or something that can meet certain requirements, someone or something that is satisfactory. The negative form, not up to scratch, means that someone or something is not fit. The phrase up to scratch appeared sometime in the mid-1800s, and originated in the sport of boxing. When boxing was bare-knuckled, the opponents were required to stand with their toes against a scratch in the ground at the start of every round. If a fighter was fit enough to stand at his assigned place at the beginning of a round, then he was up to scratch. If not, he was not up to scratch.


World Rugby issued a statement on Tuesday conceding that the officiating over the first weekend of the World Cup was not up to scratch and promising it would improve. (Reuters)

The MLA has stressed the importance of homeowners making sure their security is up to scratch. (The Sun)

Villeroy, who heads the French central bank, questioned last week whether professional standards were up to scratch, which is we think a legitimate gripe for such a new market. (The Financial Times)

A draft improvement plan designed to help bring West Sussex County Council’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services up to scratch has been given the nod by a scrutiny committee. (The Chichester Observer)

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