After a career chasing a major, Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia swung his way back to clinch the Masters Tournament on Sunday. When he sank his winning putt, Garcia warmly acknowledged his final contender, Justin Rose, and his caddie, before embracing his own, Glen Murray. For as they say, behind every great golfer is a caddie. But what’s behind the word caddie?
Attested by the 1630s, caddie (or caddy) begins as the Scottish form of the word cadet. In 18th-century Edinburgh, caddie specifically referred to errand-boys or messengers for hire around town. A letter, dated to 1754 by the Oxford English Dictionary, from one, Edward Burt, to a friend in London observes:
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.
By the 1850s, golfers were employing caddies to help carry their clubs. Since their “blackguard “days, caddies have been conferred much greater status—and pay—with the professionalization of golf.
Cadet, meanwhile, comes from the French cadet, whose pronunciation caddy better attempts than the modern way we say cadet. Recorded by 1610, a cadet first referred to the younger son of a family. In the Gascon dialect, a capdet was the younger son—ever overshadowed by the older brother—of a noble family who made their careers in the military, hence military cadets in English—and caddie’s association with young men doing odd jobs, working their way up, as it were. By the 1650s, a cadet was likewise naming in English a young gentleman who entered the military without commission, working his way up the ranks. The term had generalized to any “military student” come the 1770s.
The French dialectical capdet ultimately comes from the Latin capitellum, “little chief,” diminutive of caput, “head.” The second son, as it goes, was considered the “lesser head” of the family, as the eldest son would inherit the family estate in feudal Europe. I don’t suggest sharing this etymology to your caddie, though, if you’re aiming for the Masters’s green jacket.