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Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Cater means four

Joey Mac was giving me directions to a Pool Hall in Halifax. "You go down Spring Garden Road to the Royal Bank, and Planet Pool is right there, kitty corner to the Royal Bank". I had no idead what he was talking about. I knew where Spring Garden Road was, also the location of the Royal Bank, as they serviced our increasing debts. Then I imagined the polydactyl toed cat Minch exiting the Royal Bank, (having satisfactorily resolved her temporary financial glitch with the bank manager). Where would she go? My experience of cats is if it was quiet on the street, she's probably stand still, twitch her tail, lick her bum, then stalk off in search of food. But which direction?

The problem is, Canadians use "kitty corner" as if it is as self explanatory as "up" or "down". Later, I found out that "kitty corner" means "diagonally opposite". I tried observing many cats, both in motion, and in stasis, and also tried measuring them to ascertain where the phrase came from, but observation failed as no cat walks in a straight line anywhere, and as for cats having corners, I tried, but could not find one.

I suppose the obvious solution would have been to Google the phrase, but I've studiously avoided doing that, as I think every language should have its mysteries. My mother's own wierd mix of English, Scouse and Irish includes the healthy use of phrases, usually directed at me, such as "You spend money like a man with no arms", or "You look like the Wreck of the Hesperus", or the classic "You can't go out looking like that - tu'penny head and farthing tail, people will think you were dragged up on the Dock Road". Strangely, I usually understood what she was talking about, but kitty corner has eluded me until now. At last, reading a book(a very silly crap book about the SAS or murders or something), the origin of the phrase was explained. Kitty corner is simply a derivative of the phrase cater corner. Cater was Old English for "four", or "quarter", and cater corner was used to describe diagonally opposite points of squares.

Solving this problem though, and admitting that there is a logical explanation for kitty corner though, is one thing. It does not however, excuse the phrase "in behind".

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