CLICK HERE FOR KEY TO SOURCES
ETYMOLOGY & EXAMPLE
"cater- + cousin, where cater- is of disputed origin. Liberman argues that this is a prefix meaning “crooked, angled, clumsy” – here meaning “distant, doubtful, deficient”, of North Germanic origin; compare cater-corner. The sense “distant relation, doubtful relation” appears to be older than “intimate friend”; in 19th century Lancashire dialect, the sense is specifically “very distant and doubtful relation”.
An etymology (proposed by Stephen Skinner, 1671) derives cater from French quatre (“four”) (hence “fourth cousin” – very distant cousin), from Latin. This is rejected as ridiculous by Samuel Johnson, as “absurdly impossible” by the OED, and “useless” by Liberman. Other etymologies derive from cater (“caterer, provider of food”), and derive this as “one with whom one shares food, messfellow”; this is judged by Liberman to be a folk etymology, though this analysis may have influenced the meaning of the term, leading to the “intimate friend” sense"
From: Notes and Queries
A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc.
Fourth Series - Volume Eleventh, January-June, 1873