Culch – Flashback Friday- September 3

Culch, or sculch, is neither the name of a grunge rock band or a “Great Old One” from the Cthulu Mythos.
Culch has a variety of related definitions here in New England mostly related to waste or junk. Being from New York City, this word made zero sense to me. Told to move a barrel of odds and ends at a boatyard described as culch I looked about and wondered if this was like some of the new fish hazing rituals aboard ship. ” Go find me a left-handed skyhook, fast.” I smiled widely, to imply that I was not so easily lead astray, only to be told to “get the damned two-wheeler and move that barrel of culch.” OK, I rapidly figured out the relationship of the barrel, the contents, and the order to move it with the two-wheeler. I was still less sure about the true nature of culch.
Over time I learned that culch could apply to a wide variety of materials. In aquaculture, culch is the bed of crushed stone and shell prepared for oysters to adhere on. In a boatyard, it frequently is used to refer to scrap. Typically, culch is broken, defective or somehow just odd material, but often too good to throw away. So, it gets put aside in a barrel or box for later disposition. My friends who make mast hoops save the worthwhile culch to sell as seconds at boat shows; too good to throw out, but not good enough to put a company name on.
In general, marine professional, boatbuilders, marlinespike artists and carvers are masters of reuse and recycle. Good carving wood is precious; I can’t afford to throw out good leftovers. That’s why my shed looks like a lot of other woodworkers and boatbuilders with odd pieces of sassafras, teak, mahogany cherry, oak, and pine. Lots of the cut-offs wind up as small carvings, bowls, spoons, cutting boards and the like.
As in boatyards the final results of reuse and recycle winds up feeding the woodstove. The ash gets spread on the garden. Not a lot goes to waste. If only plastic were as easily recycled.
The story is that the term culch came to New England with the first English settlers. I do not think that it persisted in areas beyond the reach of the tide though. I’ve mostly heard it in Coastal New England. It’s dying out, and it’s not probable that most folks outside of aquaculturists, boatbuilders and the like will know what the hell you mean, but, hey – it’s a nice obscure word that you can use innovatively in a variety of self-determined situations if you want to insult someone, and not have them understand what you just called them.

Sammi Cox

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