Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I grew up believing that the word “crotch” originated in the Civil War Era.  Childhood credulity is forgivable, I suppose, but I concede that I placed merit in the account until only a year ago.  In my defense, the account is plausible, provided that you don't actually research the topic.

According to the story, a British-born physician named Daniel Harold Crotchfield served as a field surgeon for the Union Army.  His close friends called him Harry, but everyone simply referred to him as “Crotch.”  Crotchfield performed countless amputations, most notably at the Battle of Antietam, saving hundreds of lives throughout the four years of conflict.  The state of medical science in the 1860s had not progressed much since the Middle Ages.  Whenever he dressed wounds, he would apply either iodine or mercury to prevent infection, thus leaving a pungent odor lingering in the air.  No less a personage than General George B. McClellan, recognizing the surgeon’s devoted service and consummate skill, once remarked upon his visit to a field hospital: “It smells like Crotch has been here.”

Allegedly, this comment not only brought lasting honor to the Crotchfield family after the war (for such a comment from a famous general goes a long way on one’s resume); it also serves as the basis for the saying, “It smells like crotch in here,” though the adage has specific reference to the area around and including the genitals.  I later discovered that this story is in fact spurious, just another tall tale from my dad’s brother, Richard Viator.  He used to take me to the park and tell me all kinds of weird things.  I now know that Uncle Dick’s “crotch story” is complete bollocks!