Friday, March 1, 2013

If You Don't Behave, You'll Get A Scutchin'

My younger readers might not ever have heard this, but the older ones probably did once or twice when they were young: "If you don't behave, you'll get a scutchin'."

I grew up in a day and age in which it was clearly demonstrated that children who were disciplined by physical means tended to behave themselves ~ as compared to the present time, in which the kids run wild while the parents cower in fear that their neighbors might see a cut on one of the child's arms, and turn them in to the police for abuse. And, amazingly enough, not all of us 'disciplined kids' grew up to be mass murderers or leaders of al qaeda sleeper cells. Parents, in days past, often used a wooden paddle of some sort to correct the children who misbehaved ~ a single swat against the gluteus maximus got the child's attention, and guess what? It sometimes induced them to listen to their parents and stop misbehaving. I remember hearing my mother say that the reason God made the butt so well cushioned with muscle (i.e. the gluteus maximus) and fat was so that a child could be paddled there and it would not disable the child for the rest of his or her life. Despite what behavioral psychologists might want you to believe, very few children ever died from being paddled on the tush.

Now why would the parent say that the child would get a scutchin' if they misbehaved, when what they meant to say was that the child would get a paddling? Maybe because scutchin' sounds better than paddling sounds.

Actually, the reason for the use of the word scutchin' comes from the name of the wooden paddle that most parents had in their houses ~ albeit a generation or two back. In the day and age in which each household had to produce the yarn they needed for weaving cloth, they had to remove the hulls from the flax stalks. They performed that job by first breaking the flax on a flax break, and then, holding a bunch of the broken flax stalks over a stump or chair seat, they would strike at the stalks with the scutching knives, causing most of the pieces of hull, or the straw, to be knocked off of the stalks, leaving only the useable fibers. Lastly, the fibers would be pulled through a hatchel, or flax comb, to remove any remaining pieces of hull.

The word scutching comes from the late 17th Century Old French word escoucher, which, derived from the Latin, excutere, meant "to shake." The wooden paddle used to 'scutch' the flax became known as a scutching knife. And, by extension, the action of using the scutching knife became known as giving the flax a scutchin'.

As the years went by, and the need for housewives to spin their own yarn went by the way, the use of a scutching knife to knock the hulls off the flax fibers was an activity that likewise fell by the wayside. But the parents of the family retained the scutching knife, and used it to paddle the children when they misbehaved. There was no need to make a wooden paddle, when one was readymade in the form of the scutching knife.


  1. I was glad to find this, as it was something I wanted to know. Aside from that fact, you made a factual error by explaining that physically violent discipline led to better childhood behavior. The available research factually reveals the opposite. Children who receive physically violent discipline perpetrate acts of violence on others at exponentially higher rates than those children disciplined by alternative methods.

    No need to argue with me, I'm just the messenger.

    And, again, thanks for the history lesson I was looking for regarding scutchin'.

    1. I rechecked my text and nowhere do I find the word 'violent' in regard to 'physical discipline'. Perhaps your super-liberal eyes are seeing the word where I don't because you use the word twice (and a variation once). I'm certainly not going to argue with you because, as you are quick to point out - you are only the messenger (of un-cited research, that is) - but the thesis of my 'argument' still stands on it own: not all of us 'disciplined kids' grew up to be mass murderers or leaders of al qaeda sleeper cells.