cad / caddie / cadet

Believe it or not, these three words all come from a common root. One might suspect a relationship because of the root cad-, but the meanings are so very different that the relationship is not immediately apparent.

The oldest of the three is cadet. It is from the French cadet, which in turn comes from the Provencal capdet and ultimately from a diminutive for the Latin caput, or head. So a cadet is literally a little chief. The original English sense is that of a second son of nobility, one not in line for inheriting the title. From Philemon Holland’s 1610 translation of Camden’s Britain:

From a younger brother or cadet of this house.

The military sense dates to the middle of the 17th century, originally referring to a young man who entered the military without a commission in order to receive officer’s training and an eventual career. This was a common practice for the younger sons of nobility in France at the time and the meaning transferred to Britain as well. From James Howell’s 1651 A Survay of the Signorie of Venice:

This may be one reason why she connives at so many Courtisans for the use of the Cadett-gentlemen.

The modern sense of an officer trainee dates to the 18th century. From Henry Swinburne’s 1775 Travels Through Spain:

The royal apartments are now occupied by a college of young gentlemen cadets, educated at the king’s expence.

The word caddie, also spelled cadee in early writings, got its start in the early 17th century as a variant form of cadet that was particularly common in Scotland. By the early 18th century, however, the meaning of caddie had diverged from that of cadet, coming to mean an errand boy or man who did odd jobs. From Edward Burt’s c.1730 Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland:

The Cawdys, a very useful Black-Guard, who attend...publick Places to go of Errands; and though they are Wretches, that in Rags lye upon the Stairs, and in the Streets at Night, yet are they often considerably trusted...This Corps has a kind of Captain...presiding over them, whom they call the Constable of the Cawdys.

The specific golfing sense developed from this errand-boy sense in the mid-19th century.

Cad, meaning a disreputable person, a rogue, a scoundrel, comes from this errand-boy sense as well. In the 1830s, students at English schools, originally Eton and then Oxford, adopted the Scottish term for servants. From William Hone’s 1831 The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information:

Preceded by one or two bands of music in two boats, rowed by “cads.”

This sense quickly expanded to refer to any townsperson, anyone not of the university. From the 1844 edition of Samuel Pegge’s Anecdotes of the English Language:

The Oxford 1835 had been promoted to the title of cad.

This also quickly expanded to mean anyone of bad manners or social indiscretion. From the 1838 Hints on Etiquette for the University of Oxford:

He was mentally considered a great “cad” by the rest.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

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