Elizabeth Doherty is a first year student in English Language and Linguistics with an interest in language use in music and the media. Beth carried out her research using the Oxford English Dictionary (online) and the Early English Books Online Corpus.
The history of ‘cotch’: from Victorians to Grime artists
As a young person, it’s my experience that Grime music and associated youth culture has had significant impact on my language use and that of my social group. In my life, the rise of Grime appears to be linked with an increase in use of certain ‘slang’ terms. Linguistically, the Grime genre is full of language with interesting histories, and just one of these words is ‘cotch’. People my age have the metalinguistic belief that this is a new word with a recent etymology, but this isn’t true.
‘Cotch’ apparently derives from Jamaican English. It said that it is derived from the verb ‘scotch’ with deletion of the ‘s’, leaving ‘cotch’. In the Oxford English Dictionary (OED, online), it says that ‘scotch’ is from Barbadian English, and means ‘to find or be given temporary make-do accommodation’. This can be seen to link to the noun sense of ‘cotch’. In the OED, ‘cotch’ is said to mean (in Jamaican English) ‘a place to sleep, rest or sit temporarily’.
According to the OED, the first instance of ‘cotch’ means something like ‘to rest oneself; to lean on something for support’, with usage in the late 1800s, e.g., ‘they are not supposed to cotch even for ten minutes…’. This shows that ‘cotch’ as lexeme was present in the Victorian era.
As part of my research into ‘cotch’, I looked into the Early English Books Online corpus where I found an instance of ‘cotch’ dating back to the 1600s:
(1) ‘Let the Cotch stay at Showlane end.’
It was not clear from the information in the corpus what this noun phrase meant – it could have been a misspelling of something else (a coach?). Still, it is possible that the word was in use quite early on. In any case, most of the usages I found related to some sense of relaxation, as in the Victorian instance above.
Today, ‘cotch’ has a very colloquial meaning. It is often described by young people as the act of ‘chilling out’. This definition of ‘cotch’, meaning to chill out or relax, is not surprising given the definition of ‘cotch’ during the Victorian era. The word appears to be popular with Grime artists, an underground genre of music often associated with youth culture.
Dizzee Rascal is a famous Grime artist. His debut album is called ‘Boy in Da Corner’. The first track of this record features ‘cotch’ as a verb:
(2) ‘I’m just sitting here, I ain’t saying much, I just watch I really don’t feel like moving, so I cotch’.
We have seen above that ‘cotch’ can be both a verb and a noun, and so belongs to different parts of speech. On today’s Grime scene, I have noticed that the noun sense is often marked by a possessive. These instances appear to me to be linked with the competitive nature of Grime music, which is often a convention of the genre, e.g:
(3) ‘I’m back in the white man’s cotch’ (Graftin’, Dizzee Rascal).
Here, a ‘white man’s cotch’ can be interpreted as referring to a home or a place which one perhaps owns, almost as a metaphor for territory. It’s my perception that more artists and fans/young people are adopting ‘cotch’ in either part of speech to identify strongly with a particular subculture.
As you can see, ‘cotch’ has a very interesting history from Victorian society to its inclusion in Grime and youth culture. It seems to be that it’s meaning is reasonably fixed – I perceive ‘cotch’ to be common as a verb, but corpus work would be needed to confirm this. The core meaning is definitely to do with resting or chilling out. In any case, after such a long history, the lexeme really should take five minutes to cotch.
Beth Doherty – English Language and Linguistics Student, University of Sussex