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I disliked Anne Enright almost as much as the McCanns after reading her article (LRB, 4 October), almost as much as I dislike myself for disliking the McCanns, for disliking Anne Enright, you for publishing Anne Enright’s article, and me for reading it (I didn’t have to do that). Where will it all end?
I was surprised to see Anne Enright quoting Macbeth, Act III, Scene ii, as ‘We have scorched the snake, not killed it’ (LRB, 4 October). The line I learned at school, in Scotland long ago, was ‘We have scotched the snake, not killed it,’ and this version appears in all the editions I can find to hand. The Chambers Dictionary informs me that the ‘scotched’ reading originates in a ‘conjecture’ in the 1734 edition by Lewis Theobald, who decided that ‘scorched’ in earlier editions had been a misreading of a manuscript. But it strikes me as an astute conjecture, and it is supported by the line in Coriolanus, Act IV, Scene v, that describes a combatant as ‘scotch’d and notch’d like a carbonado’. This meaning of ‘scotch’ seems to come from the Norman French éscocher, ‘to cut notches’ (as snake-meat, for example, would be slashed cross-wise, for broiling on coals); whereas ‘scorch’ probably derives from écorcher, ‘to strip or flay’. I feel sure that the ‘snake’ was meant to be slashed or gashed, not skinned alive or burned.