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Thursday, 19 June 2014

The caddy


I have been away (NOT playing golf, but messing with reptiles, swimming with hammerheads and stuff like that, as will be revealed in the weeks to come). Anyhow, service has been resumed with this piece from my bottom drawer.

The caddie or caddy, today, has one meaning only for most people, and that refers to the offsider of a golfer, the person who carries the clubs, and who, if the caddie is any good, provides local advice to the golfer.

It is a Scots word, brought into English when golf was given to the English, apparently as a revenge for Culloden. The English passed golf on to the Americans in revenge for certain events in the 1770s, and the Americans later used it as an object of retribution against the Japanese over certain events in December 1941 and thereafter, and the Japanese are still looking for somebody they can drop it on.

Along the way, even though a number of golfing terms travelled with the game, some of them lost their other contexts. The caddie was originally any kind of lowly servant, and the caddies of Scotland included errand-boys, odd-job men, and chairmen.

Of course, these chairmen were not the grand lords of the board, the rulers of the roost that chairmen are today: these were just the chaps who carried the sedan chairs when people wanted to get from one place to another without exertion, and without getting muddy or wet.

The caddie, in fact was just a Scots form of the English word that could be either a cadee or a cadet, and generally, this implied a young person, but became the name given to all sorts of servants. The original cadet was a younger son, and the word came through Proven├žal, where it was a capdet, with this in turn coming from capitello, a diminutive form of the Latin caput, a head. So a cadet was a minor head of the family, but then the term was corrupted and downgraded.

Further east, a cadi in Arabic-speaking countries was an important person, a civil judge, and further east still, the cadet turned up, either as a young trainee in the East India Company, or as a young man who enters the army without a commission to learn the arts of war.

Just a little bit further east, the speakers of English came upon an entirely different form of caddy, as is often indicated by the spelling. The Malays used the kati, usually described as a weight of one and a third English pounds, or as 625 grams, which does not sit well with the first definition, nor with the alternative translation of 1 lb, 5 oz, 2 dr. Still, whatever the equivalence may be, the kati was widely used in Asia, and commonly divided into 16 of a smaller unit, the tahil, and if opium was being sold, this unit was divided into 10 chi.

The English, of course, did not partake of opium themselves, or kept quiet about it if they did, but economics had forced them to deal in opium, to avoid a nasty balance of payments problem, because the English were absolutely besotted with tea.  They had it in the morning, they had it in the afternoon, they had it with meals, and it was costing England a small fortune, all of which was ending up in Chinese coffers, so the English started trading opium for tea.

In return, they courteously kept on buying tea by the boat load, rushing it back to England in clippers, the fastest and most beautiful sailing ships ever, where it would be sold in the little wooden boxes that it had been placed in, each holding a kati of tea.

And so we got the tea caddy, a small container which in Australia and England, usually was made of tinplate or thick crockery, held a bit more than a pound of tea, and usually featured some royal occasion or other that was deemed worth celebrating.

And as if to remind themselves of the origins of it all, in some unconscious way, the English lower classes still speak of "a cup of cha", where the Chinese name for tea is cha, and appropriately, we all call the crockery 'china'.

There is another sort of caddy that we hardly ever hear of any more: 'caddy' is also another name for a ghost or bugbear, but it would be hard to say quite why. It just is.

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