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Grin like a wampus cat

Posted by ESC on September 09, 2011 at 14:35

In Reply to: Grin like a wampus cat posted by David Grinstead on September 08, 2011 at 08:12:

: 'To grin like a wampus cat'
: since the 1800's in the Ohio valley my family has preserved this phase, I believe it is synonymous with Cheshire Cat and once saw a citation in print that it was and came from West England but south of Cheshire. Has anyone any information?
: Also I believe that the Wampus Cat references you may find on the web are American inventions much like brain eating zombies which are American perversions of Voodoo.

Wampus, wampus cat – Variation: whompus. A large imaginary creature that is the subject of folk tales and which is used to scare children into obedience and to tease greenhorns. There is a large entry in “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English” by Michael B. Montgomery and Joseph S. Hall (University of Tennessee Press, 2004). Page 635-636. Locations mentioned are Tennessee and the Ozarks. The reference includes a description from “Sevier Settler.” The cat is “a black shaggy-haired thing about the size of a dog with a long, pointed nose that glowed like a cigar.” It can leap out of a tree onto the back of a horse. And its fur repels bullets.

See also the last part of this definition:

CATER-CORNERED – diagonal; placed diagonally. A cater-corned walk crosses the park. (“The World Book Dictionary,” World Book Inc., Chicago, 1991.) “cater-corner/cater-cornered/catawampus/cattywampus – The correct spelling of this term is either ‘cater-corner’ or ‘cater-cornered,’ though two variant forms, kitty-corner and katty-corner, are often heard in our various regional dialects. Actually the word ‘cater’ comes from the French ‘quatre’ and thus the term originally meant ‘four-cornered.’ But by a process known to language students as ‘folk etymology,’ the ordinary users of the term thought they detected an analogy to the ordinary domestic feline. Hence cater soon became ‘catty’ and eventually ‘kitty.’ The variations on this phrase are too many to list, but our favorite has long been ‘catawampus’ or ‘cattywampus,’ a dialect term heard throughout the South, from the Carolinas to Texas. You’ll often hear the expression: ‘He walked cattywampus across the street,’ and down in Tennessee a college president of mathematics was once heard to say: ‘You might call a rhombus a catawampus square.’ Still another sense of ‘catawampus’ and ‘catty wampus’ was common in some sections of the antebellum South. It meant goblin, sprite or, sometimes, fearsome beast. Slaveowners were known to warn slaves they thought might be planning to run away that ‘catawampus cats’ were lurking in wait for them. They sometimes also made fearsome noises in the night, which they claimed were the bloodthirsty roars of the catawampus cats.’” (The “Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins” by William and Mary Morris, HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988.)