The Post Office is Kitty-corner to the Court House

By Maeve Maddox

Cassandra Marx writes:

In the last few weeks, I have seen or heard numerous references to something being catty-cornered, katty-cornered, and kitty-cornered to something else. Would you please tell me what the correct usage/spelling is?

Although I have included this expression in a previous post on “cat words,” I think it deserves a post of its own.

Here’s what I had to say the first time around:

Catty-corner is a directional word, meaning that something is diagonally across from something else.

The word started out as cater-corner. Cater is an English dialect word meaning “to set or move diagonally.”

When the word cater with its meaning of “to set or move diagonally” dropped out of the language, folk etymology got busy and now we have all kinds of “cat” variants for this concept:

catty-cornered

kitty-corner

kitty-cornered

catty-corner

cat-a-corner
kitty-corner

kit-a-corner

This time I have my brand-new copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (17th edtion) to consult. This is what I find under the entry cater-cornered:

Cater-cornered. Placed diagonally, as of a badly parked car in a parking space. “Cater” is an old word for the four dots on dice, which form diagonals, from French quatre, four. Other spellings of the term are ‘catty-cornered’ and ‘kitty-cornered’, as if somehow to do with cats.

Apparently the dialect word with the meaning “to set or move diagonally,” derived from quatre.

As for the “correct usage/spelling,” the usage seems to be universal as to meaning. Something that is “catty-cornered” to something else is diagonally opposite.

Until some authority decrees otherwise, I suppose that spelling and pronunciation are a matter of local usage. I grew up with kitty-corner.

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13 Responses to “The Post Office is Kitty-corner to the Court House”

  • Brad K.

    Something contrary in me longs to just use cater-corner. That seems to have as much validity, and feline respect, as any. Since I never saw it written, I am not sure if my folks used cater-corner, catta-corner, or catti-corner. It sounded like catta-corner – possibly a remnant of cater-corner?

    I just googled “cater corner” and it doesn’t seem to be as out of use as all that.
    Suite 101 (http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/history_of_words/34258) has a nice article on cater-corner, too.

    Thanks!

  • Maeve Maddox

    Brad,
    Thanks for the link. Fascinating.

  • S. Santos

    I actually didn’t grow up with any variation and didn’t know such an expression (in any of its forms) existed at all until sometime during my junior year of high school. Since that was only five years ago, and I haven’t moved since, I was quite surprised there were other ways of saying it.

    Very cool.

  • Dee

    I grew up in Michigan, and I always heard “kitty-corner.”

  • Deborah H

    My family said “catty” cornered.

  • spike1

    Hmmm…
    This is the first time I’ve ever heard of this phrase…

    Is it an americo-centric one?

  • nutmeag

    Here in Texas I’m used to hearing catty-corner(ed).

  • Isherwood

    I love learning of the origins of obscure words. This article brought to mind “cattywompus”, or kittywompus, which undoubtedly has similar origins.

    http://www.definition-of.com/cattywompus

  • cmdweb

    It’s the first time I’ve heard it as well. It’s certainly not used in the UK very much. Possibly a North Americanism?

  • Daniel Quall King

    Regarding “cater-cornered”:

    Another interesting expression is “newt-shot”. It’s British engineering jargon for “cross-threaded”, or any three-dimensional, diagonally misfitting object like a cross-threaded bottle cap.

  • Alexa Steele

    Really? I always said “kitty-corner” and “catty-corner” sounded like a cat’s claws on a chalk board to me. Guess it’s time to give up that particular pet peeve.

  • Anita Methvin

    Today, someone phoned directions to her place of business, and said it was “catty-cornered” to Safeway. Even though I hadn’t heard it in many years, I knew immediately what was meant. Lots of comments with various spellings!

  • AG

    I’m originally from the West Coast and always say kitty-corner. Today at work in NYC, I got laughed at for saying that instead of catty-corner/caddy-corner. I started asking around the office and it seems to be a regional thing. Most East Coasters and Southerners seem to say catty/caddy-corner while the West Coasters and some Mid-Westerners say kitty-corner. Personally, I had never heard catty/caddy-corner before, but both seem to be correct usages.

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