Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

The Kitten Caboodle

Kitten caboodleSeveral readers have written in response to our discussion of caboodle reminding us of the reanalysis of the phrase “kit and caboodle” as “kitten caboodle”.  ‘Reanalysis’ means that the words in a phrase are incorrectly separated (misanalyzed) and reanalyzed as a different phrase.  This results from mishearing or unfamiliarity with the spelling of the phrase.

Children are very likely to reanalyze phrases they have never heard before.  It was a child who reported learning a song about some cross-eyed bear named “Gladly” in Sunday School when the teacher thought she was teaching the hymn, “Gladly, the Cross I’d Bear”.  We have immortialized some of the best in our “In Church” section of the Out of the Mouths of Babes pages (click here).

Lew Jury reported “kitten caboodle” and Alan Janesh reminded me of “for all intensive purposes” instead of “all intents and purposes”.  Superman, of course, despised being “taken for granite”.  Better learn how to spell these phrases properly: it isn’t just a “doggy-dog world” out there (dog-eat-dog world) and spelling is mission critical if you wish to be taken seriously.

My favorite reanalysis of all time, however, turned up in a freshman composition collected by a colleague in the English Department at Bucknell, Mardy Mumford, when I was teaching there.  The author of this piece accused someone of having a “devil-make-hair” (devil-may-care) attitude.

6 Responses to “The Kitten Caboodle”

  1. Irim Says:

    Blimmin’ brilliant! I really need to get back to library work, as I’m getting strange looks from people passing through b/c I keep giggling.
    Another one that’s interesting, though not as funny, is “could care less” vs “couldn’t care less”. My understanding is that the correct phrase is the first (though when you say it, you think, “Huh?”), since the original phrase was “I could care less than nothing”. Once the last two words were lost, it didn’t make sense, so we all started saying, “Couldn’t care less.”
    Meanwhile, I’ve decided that if I ever have children, I shall name the first teddy bear “Gladly” and that on my next shopping trip, I’ll buy the devil a bottle of Nair…


  2. rbeard Says:

    “I couldn’t care less” and “I could care less” are an interesting pair in
    that they both make sense and it is almost the same sense. “I couldn’t care
    less” is clear without extension or interpretation. However, “I could care less” implying “without trying” or “if it were worth the bother” can be interpreted as an even more intensive indifference (if ‘intensive’ is the right word here).

    I think this is why both float around. I don’t think this is a case of misunderstanding.

    –Dr. Goodword

  3. Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog » Blog Archive » Reanalyzing Words Says:

    […] OK, now that is out of my system (sort of), let’s take a look at word reanalysis. I mentioned phrase reanalysis in an earlier blog. Some call reanalyses mondegreens, after perhaps the most famous instance, which you may read about here. Just remember that mondegreens are not limited to song lyrics. […]

  4. Jim Says:

    OK. Let’s get this “Could” and “Couldn’t” thing settled. It seems to me that if “I could care less”, then, I must care if it is possible for me to care less. Conversly,if “I couldn’t care less”, then, I must not care, because I am stating that I can’t care any less than I do right now.

  5. rbeard Says:

    Michael Quinion, as he often does, offers an excellent history and explanation of this phrase. Read his article at and if that doesn’t work for you let me know.

  6. Robert Beard Says:

    I’ve come across a couple of other examples that have been around for some time: up in Adam (up and at ’em) and youth in Asia (euthenasia).

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