Monday, January 08, 2007

Breaking Silence

I've been busy reading Anatoly Liberman's new book on etymology. I bought it back at the U of M bookstore--it was selling so well that they had to get my copy out of the back. I haven't finished it yet, so I can't give a full review, but I think a lot of the people who bought it based on the subtitle "Etymology for Everyone" will be disappointed. It's not the easiest read.

Of course, maybe I'm just bitter because Liberman disagrees with part of my etymology of kitty-corner below. He thinks the origin of "cater" with the French "quatre" is unlikely. He suggests instead a Dutch word that means "left" as in "left-handed." I don't remember the spelling at the moment, something like ketje. Right is normal or straight, while left is abnormal, not straight but diagonal. I don't know if this is a better semantic explanation than the French derivation. If I remember the OED entry correctly, there is documentary evidence of the four dots on a die being called a "quatre" or "cater"; in that case cater-corner would be transparently related to the French word for four.


Anonymous said...

yea - that's right, i changed the title. i also sent yoU some hate mail... so look for it coming soon.

Tim said...

you forgot "willkommen"