To scratch the surface - Idiom of the Week

To scratch the surface - Idiom of the Week

Fred Rogers was many things: TV personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and minister.* None of these things come as a surprise to those that are familiar with his children’s television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. And if you’ve seen the recent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, you know that this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of Rogers’ impact on society.


As defined in Linda and Roger Flavell’s book Dictionary of Idioms and Their Origins, “to scratch the surface” is an idiom that means “to address a matter very superficially, or to barely begin” (page 261).


Charlie and I spent ten minutes catching up on his recent feat of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’m sure that with only ten minutes, we were hardly able to scratch the surface of all the crazy stories he has.


As I’m sure you know, a “scratch” is a very minor mark on any surface… nothing too deep and certainly nothing that requires much attention. With this in mind, since the 17th century, “to scratch” has been used to mean “to furrow the soil lightly,” also meaning that minimal preparation is required for cultivation. This is likely where the figurative use of this idiom came from (page 261).