>You know, that place kitty-corner from the bank!! Huh???


“Paper Clip, is it kitty-corner or catty-corner?”
We were out to dinner with some friends in St. Augustine Saturday night celebrating my birthday at LePavillon.  On the way home we started talking about our favorite spots around town.  I said “oh we like that spot that’s “kitty corner” from The Columbia Restaurant.” .  My friend seemed confused, and said, “you mean catty- corner.”    We had a a few laughs about whether it was “kitty” or “catty.”    
After thinking about it for a day or two, I thought, “hmmm, there’s a blog post in there somewhere!”  I consulted my cat, Paper Clip, but she couldn’t seem to tear herself away from her jigsaw puzzle – or was it her nap.   Anyway, some further research beckoned me.
My investigation revealed some interesting tid bits (we’ll save that one for a future post!)   It seems that the use of kitty-corner and catty-corner are actually regional.  For instance I found one string of comments that identifies the use of “kitty-corner” with the Midwest – Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, while the use of “catty” stems more from the East coast of the U.S.  The more sophisticated person would probably just say “diagonal” but how interesting is that ??!!

This regional identification clarifies the confusion between my friend and I.  I’m from Chicago – deeply embedded in the Midwest,  and she grew up along the East coast and has spent most of her adult life in Florida.

But more interestingly is that  both “kitty-corner” and “catty-corner” evolved out of “catercorner.”   Now, an old meaning of “cater” was diagonal and that meaning stemmed from an older meaning of  “four.”  If you’re not confused yet, just wait, there’s more.  That obsolete meaning goes back even further to the Latin “quattuor”  for “four.” 

I also discovered that “cater” (not to be confused with present day meaning of supplying food or service for an event or banquet), led to the use of yet another word not common in our language today – catawampus — meaning crooked.  If you think about it the evolution of “kitty-corner” or “catty-corner” all makes sense.

So what does all this mean?  Several things:

  •  That our language and “slanguage” is complex.  Can you imagine how terribly difficult it must   be for learners of English as a Second Language to grasp all of this.
  • That those four years of Latin I took at Queen of Peace high school in Burbank, Illinois, just outside of Chicago,  continue to inspire me to uncover the origins of language.  (See Sister Frances, I was paying attention to you!)
  • And finally, that it doesn’t really matter how we say it, as long as our listener grasps our meaning.

Anyway, for me, I am staying true to the cultural norm of language behaviors that I learned from family, friends and the place I grew up.  Just think about the kids of today and their use of language.   See my post of a few weeks ago that talks about present-day lingo of young people.

To my friend, if you’re listening, I have to say,  “That favorite spot in St. Augustine is ‘kitty-corner’ from  The Columbia Restaurant!!”

For the rest of you, if I can help you sort out your manuscripts or other writing projects, let me know, I would be happy to help!  Visit my website, find me on Facebook or just leave me a comment here.  That’s all!!



Filed under regional, slang, words

10 responses to “>You know, that place kitty-corner from the bank!! Huh???

  1. >Well, being from Wisconsin myself, I can assure you it is kitty-corner. Catty-corner sounds so…well, catty and not quite polite.I enjoyed this post.Diane

  2. >Hi DianeThat's a good point! It reminds me of "cat fight" right?I am glad you enjoyed the post. Please visit my blog again!

  3. >Something new I learned here, Brenda. I came from Texas, but moved all over the U.S. and lived in parts of Europe. It's amazing the different social idioms we find even from one city to another, let alone from one state to another. I never gave much thought to this one, in particular. Just never viewed it as a social idiom … but I do now, thanks to you!Sherry Zanderhttp://writing4effect.wordpress.com/

  4. >Thanks for your comments, Sherry. Yes, I was surprised by what my research uncovered. Who would have through there was so much to discover about such a silly phrase like Kitty-corner (or do you say catty-corner!)thanks for visiting.ChristineWords Etc Writing

  5. >Even though I was raised in Chicagoland and heard kitty-corner now and then, I never picked it up unless I was trying to be cute, which, as we all know, I simply am without trying :). I've always called it cata-corner, and even thought that was the way it was spelled until a spell-checker recently convinced me I was wrong.However, I will always refer to soft drinks (which for some reason are NOT soft) as pop. Even though I lived in Mississippi for a couple years, where they call it coke, and even though I'm now surrounded by transplanted New Yorkers, who think it's soda. Or Soder, if you're from Boston or Maine.

  6. >cata corner – there's another twist.Don't you just love words and language????As to the "pop" I also grew up in Chicago, and always called it soda. I remember when we moved to Lafayette Indiana and people called it "pop" and I thought it was weird. Now I say pop!Go figure…..Thanks for the comment, Jaycee!

  7. Kathleen Hopkins

    In reading the March 2012 Smithsonian Magazine yesterday, I found an article about “Speaking American” and the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) published by Harvard Press. The article noted the word Wampus as: 1. ferocious mythical cat-creature 2. Offensive person, and 3. Fried corn bread. Being from Ohio, I knew that I used the word catty-wampus. So I immediately ordered the DARE books and can’t wait to receive them. Now I know I am not crazy from your posting. There is such a word, as you spelled it, catawampus. Of course I say it catty-wampus. I use the word as meaning all mixed up, irregular, messed up. Now I know it really means crooked, which is really the same way I was using the word. I am anxious to see what DARE says about the words. Thank you so much for your posting.
    P.S. I call it soda and a paper bag at the market to me is a sack. Now living in NJ, the person at the market checkout counter said “You want what?” I laughed and pointed to a “paper bag” and she said “Oh”. We both laughed.

    Kathy in Red Bank, NJ

    • Kathy
      Glad you found my blog. the regional use of words is interesting. I’ve run into the whole “sack” and “bag” thing too when I first moved from Chicago to West Lafayette, Indiana, or from the “bag” language place to “sack” language place 🙂 the first time a checker asked me if I wanted a sack for my purchase, I looked at her like she was crazy. Turns out I was the crazy one from “out-of-town!” Hope you’ll visit again…

  8. Nice explanation about catty corner, kitty corner, and correlations to quarter. I myself use “diagonal”.