Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Word Nerds' (Catty-)Corner
In a comments thread on a previous post in which I had used the expression 'catty-corner' to mean 'diagonally across from', the lovely and talented Ms Zoe from Crazybrave queried this expression, saying it was unfamiliar to her, though 'kitty-corner' was not. So I have been doing some research.
I had always assumed in some dim way that 'catty-corner' to mean 'on the diagonally opposite corner' was related to the adorable word 'cattywumpus', which I learned from Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, who uses it somewhere to refer to a road that is neither parallel nor at right angles to (ie cattywumpus to) (or possibly from) the highway.
And so it has proved to be. If you check the Shorter OED, the two-volume one, you will see that the fourth definition of the word 'cater', derived from the French 'quatre' or 'four', is a transitive verb meaning 'to set rhomboidally; to cut, go, etc, diagonally. So Ca´ter adv. dial., diagonally. Ca´ter-cornered, a.'
Loftily, the Shorter OED fails to include 'catty-corner', but there is plenty of cyberspace attestation to the derivation of 'catty-corner' (and 'cattywumpus' as well) as an evolution of a corruption of 'cater-cornered'. That link indicates that the lovely and talented Ms Zoe and I were both correct, which is my very favourite mediation outcome.
'Cattywumpus' has been developed in my own personal idiolect to mean 'ickily askew' in either a literal or a metaphorical sense.
My researches accidentally uncovered another truly lovely word, 'catoptromancy', meaning 'divination by use of a mirror'. How lovely to find the name for something I do every day: I look in the mirror, see yet another line or spot, and divine that I had better get cracking sharpish on the ant/grasshopper thing.
I also found a 1673 usage of 'cat-witted' to mean 'small-minded, obstinate and spiteful'.