May 182012
 

What’s right? Cattycorner? Kitty-corner? or Cater-corner?Diagonal

Cater-corner has the pedigree. All are American regional variants of the French quatre (“four”). Cater-corner was first recorded in 1519; its meaning, “the point diagonally across a square or intersection,” is exactly the same today as it was then.

Cater-corner has nothing whatsoever to do with cats, kitties, or any other felines, and the two alternatives represent only a few of the many regional variants (my favorite of which is the South’s “catawampus”).

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Why is trying to find the right words
called to “hem and haw”?

Look up the word hem in your dictionary. The first definition will be something like “the border of a garment” or “a margin”. A subsequent definition will be something like, “noun, the sound of clearing the throat.”

Haw has several different meanings. (Did you know that a haw is a berry — the berry of a hawthorn tree?) One meaning, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary is, “a conventionalized expression of the sound often made by a speaker when hesitating briefly.”

Hem and HawSo evidently to hem and haw is a combining of the actual sounds we do when we stall; when we don’t know what to say or are nervous about saying it. Both are examples of onomatopoeia, words formed by imitating the sound associated with the action or object being named. Buzz, for example, is simply the attempt to combine letters to echo the sound of a bee. Tinkle, with a Middle English lineage, was an attempt to sound like a small bell.

Onomatopoeia, a popular word in spelling bees, has Greek origins and clearly doesn’t sound like any thing or person. The Greek onomatopoiia meant “to make words or names.”

 Posted by on 05/18/2012 Just for Fun   Add comments