cater-cousin

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English[edit]

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Etymology[edit]

From cater +‎ cousin. Stephen Skinner proposed a derivation of this use of cater from French quatre (four), used in place of quatrième (fourth) and Samuel Johnson considered its broadness implicit in the "ridiculousness" of a term for a relation as remote as a fourth cousin. The OED demurs, finding quatre-cousin to be an "absurdly impossible" construction in French and other senses of cater unrelated except for those involving the provision of food. It supports the idea that cater cousins were originally those considered related only or especially through being boarded together, after the manner of companion (bread-sharer) and foster father (food-father) &c. Anatoly Liberman, discussing the term kitty-corner, considered derivation from "fourth cousin" as implausible, given the English tendency to employ calques of French terms as in "four corners of the world" from les quatre coins du monde. He similarly regards the OED's derivation as a folk etymology, although allowing such a (mis)understanding may have influenced the word's use in relation to mess-hall fellows. He instead argues in favor of a lost North Germanic prefix with the sense "crooked, angled, clumsy".

Noun[edit]

cater-cousin (plural cater-cousins)

  1. Distant relative, especially a very distant relative, of doubtful relation.
  2. A close or good friend. An intimate. A bosom friend. An intimate friend who is not a blood relation. A person treated as a cousin (relative) who is not a blood relation
    • Sheila B. Blume. 2006. Cater-cousin, The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form [1]
      I am head over heels over Fred—
      My most intimate friend, so I've said;
      I have overheard buzzin's
      That we're cater-cousins.
      No matter—we're soon to be wed.
    • Thomas Ingoldsby (a.k.a. Richard Barnham). 1840. Mrs. Botherby's Story: The Leech of Folkestone. The Ingoldsby Legends, or Mirth and Madness, First Volume. London, Richard Bentley and Son, 1894. [2]
      The world talks loudly of your learning, your skill, and cunning in arts the most abstruse; nay, sooth to say, some look coldly on you therefore, and stickle not to aver that you are cater-cousin with Beelzebub himself.

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