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This is a term used to mean various things, but is now considered mildly offensive when referring to people - generally use "Scots" for people and "Scottish" for everything else. Whisky is usually not referred to as "Scotch" - see note on whisky [13.4]
Historically, the word was widely used in Scotland as a adjective meaning the same as "scottish". In fact, it was not until circa 1925 that the Scotch Education Department became the Scottish Education Department.
Burns used the word Scotch
"The sma', droop-rumpled, hunter cattle,
Might aiblins waur'd thee for a brattle;
But sax Scotch miles, thou tried their mettle,
An' gart them whaizle:
Nae whip nor spur, but just a wattle
O' saugh or hazel."
("The Auld Farmer's New Year Morning Salutation To His Auld
In The Oxford Companion To The English Language, OUP 1992, there
is an entry on "Scotch", written by Professor A. J. Aitken, Honorary
Professor, University of Edinburgh, formerly editor of "A Dictionary
of the Older Scottish Tongue."
"SCOTCH: A late 16th century contraction of "Scottish", first
in Early Modern English then in Older Scots. It ousted
"Scottish" as the prevailing form in England. In Scotland, the
native form "Scots" predominated until in the 18c Anglicizing
vogue "Scotch" became fashionable in both countries.
In the early 19th c., however, some Scottish writers were
expressing doubts about it as a supposed innovation and
returning to the more traditional "Scottish" and "Scots", while
others, such as J. A. H. Murray, editor of the OED, continued to
By the early 20th c., disapproval of "Scotch" by educated Scots was so great that its use was regularly discountenanced by teachers, except for such entrenched phrases as Scotch broth, Scotch mist, Scotch terrier, Scotch tweed, Scotch whisky.
In England and North America, "Scotch" has remained the dominant
form into the late 20c, although awareness of middle-class
Scottish distaste for it has been spreading. The OED
Supplement, (1982) reported that in deference to Scottish sensibilities the English have been abandoning "Scotch" for "Scottish" and less frequently "Scots", and prefer "the Scots" to "the Scotch" as the name of the people.
Paradoxically, for working-class Scots the common form has long been "Scotch" (sometimes written "Scoatch") and the native form Scots is sometimes regarded as an Anglicized affectation."
The concise OED (publ 1999) states that the use "Scotch" for
the people of Scotland is "dated".
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