or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


We're planning a trip to Qu├ębec City in the next few months--mid-May, probably--and so we're reading travel guides and such. Jim discovered in one of these guides that the French word "restauration" means "catering".

"If we took 'restaurant' and all those related words from French, then where did 'cater' come from?" asked Jim. Well, look it up, I said, and he did: "From obsolete 'cater', a buyer of provisions," says Answers.com, and I instantly realized, to my considerable delight, that obviously the word was related to "cate", which is an unfortunately obsolete word meaning "a delicacy; a dainty morsel of food". A caterer was once a cate-er (and has been a caterer, not a "cater", for over three hundred years). Jim had never heard of the word "cate", but I said, "If you're an English major, you're going to run across it." In Samuel Johnson, for one, and Shakespeare, for another: "My super-dainty Kate/For dainties are all cates...."

But it gets more interesting than that, even. "Cate" and "cater" both are originally from the old French verb "acater", "to buy", which is the source of the modern French "acheter", with the same meaning. (Upon learning all this, I immediately guessed that in English, the foods you bought, prepared, were the dainties and the foods you grew and prepared yourself were just everyday food; the OED, thank goodness, backs me up on this.)


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