As writers our tools are words so their meanings and origins are important and interesting to us. That is the case with the word botch. It means to bungle something or patch something up in a sloppy way. It’s origin can be traced to the Victorian era.
The word botch comes from the name Thomas Bouch, a Victorian architect and railway engineer. At 26 years of age, he became Engineer and Manager for the Edinburgh and Northern Railway where he designed and introduced the first roll-on-roll-off rail ferry. He also helped develop the caisson, a watertight retaining structure where water can be pumped out, keeping the work environment dry. In addition, Bouch popularized the use of lattice girders in railway bridges
He reached his height of fame when he built the Tay Bridge to carry the Edinburgh to Aberdeen railway two miles high above the Firth of Tay. At the time it was open, it was the longest bridge in the world.. After Queen Victoria rode across the Tay Bridge she rewarded Bouch with knighthood for his great accomplishment.
Unrecognized by Bouch, there were some design flaws in the bridge. The iron piers supporting the lattice girders were narrower and the cross-bracing less extensive than then should have been. Also, since he’d gotten expert advice on “wind loading” when designing a proposed rail bridge over the Firth of Forth, he didn’t make any additional allowances for wind loading in the Tay Bridge. There were other flaws in detailed design, maintenance, and in quality control of castings.
The Tay Bridge disaster occurred during a violent storm with a wind force of 10 to 11 on the beaufort scale with gusts even higher. The Tay bridge collapsed into the Firth of Tay and a train with all of it’s passengers and crew plunged to their deaths. There were no survivors. Bouch was hard hit by the disaster, became ill and died less than a year later.
William McGonagall, acclaimed’ as the worst poet in history, wrote the poem, The Tay Bridge Disaster in 1880. It begins:
“Beautiful railway bridge of the silvery Tay. Alas! I am very sorry to say that ninety lives have been taken away on the last Sabbath day of 1879. Which will be remembered for a very long time.”
So now you know how the word botch came to be. And when you botch up something at least you have the comfort of knowing you didn’t botch it up as bad as Bouch.
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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 26 books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, fantasy and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.