What does catercornered mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: catercornered

I love regional variations in language. In the US (and Canada), for example, some places call the sugary drink “pop,” others refer to it as “soda” and still others use the trademark term “Coke.”

As a Canadian I also find that when I travel in certain parts of the US, it’s imperative for me to specify “hot tea” when I’m ordering my favourite beverage in a restaurant. In some states, if you ask for “tea,” you’ll promptly receive a tall glass of the iced variety.

A similar variation exists for another word: what I call kitty-cornered. But as I learned when reading Eduora Welty’s 1972 Pulitzer winning novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, there are many similar words meaning exactly the same thing:  catercorner, cater-corner, catty-cornered.

Here’s how Welty used it:

She saw at once that nothing had happened to the book, Flush Times in Alabama and Mississippi, the title running catercornered in gold across its narrow green spine, was in exactly the same place as ever.

The word is an adverb, meaning placed diagonally. All varieties derive from the Middle English catre-corner, meaning four-cornered. All three forms are used throughout the English-speaking world. While most dictionaries recommend cater-cornered the terms kitty-corner and catty-corner are more commonly used.