A Scuffle over "Scuffle"
I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent researches.
This is a little different and may not really be possible to trace but…
For whatever reason, I am very irritated by the constant use of the world ‘scuffling’ to mean ‘struggling’ — as in having a hard time — by sportswriters and TV sportscasters and analysts (i.e., ‘Ever since his concussion, Justin Morneau has been really scuffling at the plate’). I was heartened to see that this New York Times article was reprinted with ‘struggling’ in place of ‘scuffling’ (see note at the bottom of the page).Photo: aturkus
I think of ‘scuffling’ in the context of fighting or struggling physically, not struggling in terms of performance in a sport or in a job, what have you. Do you agree that ‘scuffling’ in this context is misused? And, can you trace the beginnings of this mis-usage? I realize this is slightly different than what’s usually asked here but thank you.
Jim, you clearly have a keen sense of word-usage. You are right that the original meaning of ‘scuffle’ (documented by the Oxford English Dictionary back to 1590) was “To struggle confusedly together or with another or others; to fight at close quarters in a disorderly manner, with pulling, pushing, and random delivery of blows; to tussle.” But the English language is continually changing, and other meanings of the word have evolved over time. The OED records seven later shades of meaning of “scuffle.” One of these, dating back to 1939, is “To survive with difficulty, to make a bare living by uncongenial or degrading means. slang (chiefly U.S.).” This meaning, like many common slang words in twentieth-century English, comes from a jazz musician context. A 1956 book about jazz included the sentence “Scuffle is to get by.” It seems very likely that the baseball usage you have noticed is a development of the jazz usage. Recent research has suggested that the word “jazz” itself originated in the baseball world, and “scuffle” may be an example of jazz returning the favor.
Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?