Printable Version
Pronunciation: kê-dæs-têr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A register of heads, yokes, or other units into which the Roman provinces were divided for the purposes of a head or land tax. 2. A public register showing details of ownership and land value, kept for purposes of taxation.

Notes: Some dictionaries carry a variant spelling, cadaster, which might be taken as the US spelling if we follow the centre - center model. However, neither Merriam-Webster nor the Oxford English Dictionary have entries with this spelling, so the original spelling must prevail around the English-speaking world. The adjective for either spelling is cadastral.

In Play: Cadastre is a lovelier if outdated word for "register". It is still used occasionally today: "In the course of time, notaries accumulated quite a cadastre of legal records, which they meticulously maintained." It was a means of keeping up with the taxable population: "Algernon couldn't find his name anywhere in the county cadastre, which explained why he wasn't expected to submit a county tax return."

Word History: Today's Good Word was swiped from French, which simply modified Italian catastro, the descendant of Old Italian catastico. Apparently, Old Italian obtained its word from Late Greek katastichon "notebook", comprising kata "down(ward)" (also found in catalogue) + stichos "row, line", >. Little is known about the origin of kata. The now extinct IE language Hittite had a preposition katta "down(ward), under", so it must have been a PIE word that didn't survive the scrape of the ages. Stichos is the noun from steikhein "to march in order", which was passed down to Greek from PIE steigh- "to go (up), rise, step", source also of Sanskrit stignoti "mounts, rises", Lithuanian staiga "suddenly", Russian -stignut' "reach", and Welsh taith "journey". (Let's now thank Lynn Morris, who has been with us for a decade, for seeing all the possibilities of today's nifty Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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