18 April 2010

Cat language, pt. 2

This one's for Mrs. Chris, per request. As seen earlier, cats pervade the English language.

Have you ever thought about putting something cat-a-corner to something else? Or is it catty-corner? Or wait, kitty-corner? Why are all these cats in the corner here?!?!

This phrase actually has nothing to do with cats. It's derived from cater-corner which comes from the french quatre which means four--derived from the Latin, quattuor--meaning cornered. The expression first appeared in English as the name for the four in dice, soon Anglicised to cater. The standard placement of the four dots at the corners of a square almost certainly introduced the idea of diagonals.

From this came a verb cater, to place something diagonally opposite another or to move diagonally, which can be found in the sixteenth century. Some English dialects had it as an adverb in compounds such as caterways or caterwise. By the early years of the nineteenth century it was beginning to be recorded in the USA in the compound form of cater-cornered. It had by then lost any link with the French word; people invented spellings in attempts to make sense of it, often thinking it had something to do with cats, which is why we have forms like kitty-corner.

But they were wrong.

No comments: