by Piet Coetzer

Oscar uses his kitty to stay out of the kitty

When setting aside can help getting out of being locked up

Final word

As we reported in a previous articleParalympian and Olympian Oscar Pistorius earned big money from sponsorships and should have built up a substantial personal kitty. He now has had to put up R1 million in bail money from that kitty to get out of another kind of a ‘kitty’.

Today the word ‘kitty’ almost exclusively refers to money set aside, often pooled from various people or sources, for a specific reason or as a contingency. In this sense of the word, it was first recorded in the 1880s. The first known example of the use of the word ‘kitty’ is from a little book on the rules of draw poker, written by John Keller and published in New York in 1887.

We could not find a definitive answer as to the root of this word. The most plausible explanation is that it stems indirectly from the Middle English word ‘kitte’, which was the name for a wooden tub or barrel used for storage.

In the earliest recorded examples of the use of the word as meaning ‘pooled’ or ‘set aside’, it had a close association with the game of poker and indicated a sum or percentage of money taken out of the betting pot to pay for the expenses associated with the game. This could include the expenses of the host of the occasion or to buy refreshments.

Over time it found wider applications such as building up a kitty during the course of the year to be able to afford an annual holiday, or over the years to pay for the children’s studies, or pooling money by friends to pay the bill at the end of an evening out.

But this financial or poker-related ‘kitty’ was not the first ‘kitty’ to be used in the English language. For some time prior to the money connection, ‘kitty’ was used in some parts of northern England as a term describing a prison or, more often, a holding cell. In that sense, the police cell in which Pistorius awaited the outcome of his bail application would have been a ‘kitty’.

The word derived from ‘kidcote’ in some old northern English dialects.

According to the English Dialect Dictionary, ‘kidcote’ was recorded from the 16th century as a term describing a temporary lock-up or holding cell in which prisoners were put overnight to await their appearance before a magistrate.

In its most original meaning, the word referred to a pen in which a young goat was kept, and was formed from ‘kid’ plus ‘goat’.

While a long, and probably expensive haul lies ahead of Pistorius, for his sake it can only be hoped that it will cost him only his ‘kitty’ and not the whole ‘caboodle’ he owns.

‘Caboodle’ itself is an especially interesting example of the sadly neglected influence of Dutch on American English, keeping in mind the role of the Dutch settler communities during the pioneering days in areas such as New York.

There are various explanations as to how the word ‘caboodle’ originated. But about one thing there is no argument: it originated in America.

The most plausible explanation for its origin is that it developed as a variant of ‘boodle’ from the Dutch word ‘boedel’, meaning ‘estate or the entirety of one's possessions’.

 This explains the sense of ‘a part, or the whole lot’. The pseudo-prefix ca was probably added from an earlier phrase, ‘kit and boodle’, to alliterate with ‘kit’.

The word ‘boodle’ (without the ca-) – usually meaning money illegally obtained, particularly linked to bribery and corruption – is also an ‘Americanism’ and is derived from the Dutch ‘boedel’.

Interestingly enough, the word ‘kit’, which first made its appearance as an 18th century English slang term for ‘outfit’ or ‘collection’, according to some sources, may come from the word ‘kith’, also meaning ‘estate’ – as does ‘boedel’.


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