Sometime last year, The Five-Year-Old discovered the highly informative children’s book series “The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That.” The books relay all kinds of fun facts about the natural world in a Seussian rhyme scheme. The lively presentation has convinced The Five-Year-Old that words that rhyme have some special connection, if only she can find it.
This hypothesis has made for a fun project. The past few weeks have been filled with all sorts of marvelously poetic discoveries, such as the fact that “worms squirm”, “mice get lice,” and my personal favorite, “old cats sleep on furry mats!”
Recently, The Five-Year-Old realized that kitten rhymes with Britain. So it was only natural for her to wonder, “Mommyo, did kittens get their name in Britain?”
After consulting our copy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, I told The Five-Year-Old that the word kitten comes from the Latin cattus.
The Five-Year-Old, laughing: “Cattus? That’s silly.”
Anyway, a very long time ago, the French…
The Five-Year-Old: “How long ago, Mommyo?”
The Five-Year-Old: “What’s that?”
At least 600 years ago, the French took the Latin word for cat (cattus) and turned it into the French word for cat (chat).
The Five-Year-Old, patiently: “I’m talking about kittens, Mommyo.”
The Five-Year-Old, dubiously: “That word’s bigger.”
So I explained that when I said small word, I meant a nickname.
The Five-Year-Old, reasonably: “Can you just say nickname all the time?”
The Five-Year-Old, giggly: “Why?”
I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t hear it right the first time. Or maybe, like me, their French accent is terrible. Regardless, by the 14th century the Middle English word kitoun became our word kitten.
The Five-Year-Old, suspiciously: “Does Daddyo know this?”
- “What’s the word that means careful that starts with reck?” (Caterpickles)
- Why is it called that? Caterpickles consults the OED (Caterpickles)
- “Daddyo, have you ever made people eat food and then listened to their tummies?” (Caterpickles)