Alternative formsEdit


cater- +‎ cousin, where cater- is of disputed origin. Liberman argues that this is a prefix meaning “crooked, angled, clumsy” – here meaning “distant, doubtful, deficient”, of North Germanic origin; compare cater-corner.[1] The sense “distant relation, doubtful relation” appears to be older than “intimate friend”; in 19th century Lancashire dialect, the sense is specifically “very distant and doubtful relation”.[1]

An etymology (proposed by Stephen Skinner, 1671) derives cater from French quatre ‎(four) (hence “fourth cousin” – very distant cousin), from Latin. This is rejected as ridiculous by Samuel Johnson, as “absurdly impossible” by the OED, and “useless” by Liberman. Other etymologies derive from cater ‎(caterer, provider of food), and derive this as “one with whom one shares food, messfellow”; this is judged by Liberman to be a folk etymology, though this analysis may have influenced the meaning of the term, leading to the “intimate friend” sense.[1]


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.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Liberman, Anatoly. An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-81665272-3, “Kitty-corner”, pp. 133–135
  • Knapp LM. Smollett and Johnson, Never Cater-Cousins? Modern Philology, Vol. 66, No. 2 (Nov., 1968), pp. 152-154.