Inquisitive reader Janet asked us: “Kitty Corner, Katty Corner or Kattywumpus? Everyone here has a different way to say this. Where did they come from and which one is correct?”
To answer the last part of your question first, none of the above are correct. (Although my late great mother-in-law would beg to differ on the “kattywumpus” issue.) Strictly speaking, the correct term to describe something diagonally across from another object is “catercorner.” Folks began using “cater” as a word to describe a diagonal back in the late 16th century, and that word, in fact, was an Anglicization of “quatre”—the French word for “four,” as in four-cornered.
When the term first made its way across the Atlantic, Americans conformed to the British way of speaking and said “catercorner.” But around 1883, the phrase had been corrupted to “catty-corner” in the South, and once catty-corner caught on, folks in the North and Midwest somehow managed to focus on the feline part of the word and turned it into “kitty-corner.”
The jury is still out on the history of “kattywumpus” (including the official spelling), other than the fact that it originally meant “askew” and not necessarily diagonal.
The use of all four terms seems to be regional these days—which one is used in your part of the world?