Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

#AtoZ: K is for Knights-Errant, Kit and Caboodle, and Kitty-cornered

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

Oh Heck! Another Writing Quirk: odd and amusing words that start with the letter K.

You find the most interesting things while browsing through grammar and usage guides. (Okay, stop laughing. It’s what I do when I’m stuck for ideas.)

Now that you’re hysterical laughing spell is over (that was a bit rude, you know), I’ll get on with my meanderings through K words.

First of all, ever since my last post in which I mentioned that a knight-errant had bashed in my door to save me from further wordmongering about plural nouns, I’ve been wondering what a knight-errant actually does or did.

photo credit: gathering.wizards.com

photo credit: gathering.wizards.com

Turns out a knight-errant (or knights-errant when he is with his buddies) wanders around in search of adventures and challenges to prove his chivalry (bravery, courtesy, honesty, and gallantry towards women). He is given to adventurous or quixotic conduct, that is, he pursues unreachable, impractical goals. He is idealistic rather than practical. Most often, a knight-errant saves a damsel in distress from dragons or other evil beings.



Hmmm. I guess saving writers from wordmongering is challenge that would definitely be rewarding.

Here are a few interesting tidbits in my quixotic journey through K.

kit and caboodle

A kit, I know, is a small fox or a kitten. Ah, but that is definition #3, in my American Heritage Dictionary.

The first definition of kit is: a container, such as a bag, valise, or knapsack for holding a collection of items. Examples: shaving kit, survival kit, travel kit, or some other collection of items or people, a crowd.

English soldiers in the late 1700s, so the story goes, carried their possessions in a kit as they moved about the country for military activities.

But caboodle? That’s not so clear. Turns out that the original word might have been boodle (English for a collection of people), or maybe bottel (Old English for bunch or bundle), or even boedel (Dutch, meaning property).

Kit and caboodle now means the whole thing, the whole ball of wax, the whole shebang…maybe like carrying all your things in a back-pack around Europe like you did when you were in college. (Those were the days!)

kitty-cornered,  catty-cornered, cater-cornered, catawampus, cattywampus

I used to walk kitty-cornered across my college campus many years ago so I wouldn’t be late for my first class. I think it was Ancient History, but that’s really ancient history now. Who wanted to walk the long way around on the college-defined path? And Kitties are not dumb either. They know that the shortest walk through a mouse-laden field is to go kitty-cornered, or on a diagonal path from corner to corner.

The original word was possibly the French word for quarter, meaning four, or four-cornered. It could also have been from old Middle English when the phrase was catre-cornered, adapted from the Latin quattuor.

As words do, cater evolved into catty (catty-cornered), then to kitty (kitty-cornered).

Then bring the term to the good ole South in the U.S of A, and you get these variations: catawampus and cattywampus.

William Morris jokes, “Down in Tennesee a college professor of mathematics was once heard to say: ‘You might call a rhombus a catawampus square.'” Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins.

Supposedly, according to Morris, plantation owners in the South warned their slaves that bloodthirsty catawampus cats lurked out in the woods at night ready to pounce on anything that moved and hungry enough to eat a human. Instead of running away, the slaves shivered in fear in their dark cabins listening to the catawampus howl out in the woods.

Old words have interesting stories!

The correct spelling, by the way, is cater-corner or cater-cornered, but no one will have a hissy fit if you spell it kitty-cornered. They will know what you mean.

Personally, my kitty friends and I prefer kitty-cornered: meaning one kitty on each corner of the bed.

photo credit: olbroad.com

photo credit: olbroad.com

So, The Knight of La Mancha, our favorite knight-errant, took his kit and caboodle and left on a quixotic journey, riding cater-cornered off into the sunset across the vast countryside looking for dragons to slay and distressed maidens to rescue. Oh, how noble.

photo credit: writerscafe.org

photo credit: writerscafe.org

Your turn: What quirky errors or interesting words do you find in writing?

Janice Hall Heck, retired educator and now nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ, is quite possibly a grammar geek.

Oh Heck! Another Quirky Writing Error, theme for the 2014 A to Z Challenge, suggests ways to improve our writing by avoiding and/or eliminating troublesome bug-a-boos that stifle our writing.


Oh, just one last piece of advice from my kitty friends:


PS. Here’s a post to check: The Childlike Author Feels Quixotic



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4 thoughts on “#AtoZ: K is for Knights-Errant, Kit and Caboodle, and Kitty-cornered

  1. But if you’re kitty-cornered, there’s no room for any people!

  2. Hi Janice. I think you’ve got your ‘kit and caboodle’ pretty damn close. Why should I be so sure? I’m an ex-Serviceman (British Army), and one of the first pieces of ‘kit’ issued to me away back in 1969 was my ‘kit’ bag; a metre-long green canvas bag with shoulder strap.
    Your hit with the ‘caboodle’ part is pretty much on the money too. Our son lives and works in Amsterdam and has for several years. Having lived in Germany during my service life I got into comparing words, and many are hybrids.
    My current thriller (Amsterdam Calling), has had me checking out all sorts of things, and word choice has been interesting.
    It’s that very same thing – word choice and similarity between languages, that always piques my interest.
    Another good post.

  3. Thanks, Tom. I find word choice and word history to be quite interesting. We writers do have to check a lot of details in our writing, but I find that to be fun. Thanks for visiting again. Your comments are encouraging.

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