This question has perplexed me for decades. Once a food writer for several newspapers, I should have investigated before now. Better late than never I always say.
According to the “Uncyclopedia,” my new favorite book, the controversy over this condiment actually began nearly 500 years ago when the tasty paste was developed as a by-product of the Spanish-American War. This is heady stuff…read on.
It reports on good authority that the product was invented when Marshan aliens were looking for a combination scurvy preventative and gun carriage axle grease.
It was later discovered by Teddy Roosevelt that a paste made of crushed tomatoes and onions, flavored with sugar prevented scurvy, and had the right consistency to grease axles. The Army began the widespread use of Roosevelt’s invention. The onions worked so well on the axles of the artillery that they moved faster than the infantry. Indeed, the caisson drivers would shout to their infantry colleagues “Catch up, catch up!”.
Once in place, the guns would be unlimbered, and the caissons parked. While parked, many artillery officers noticed that the local feline population found the onion-based grease irresistible. An unidentified artillery soldier wrote home:
“You should see the local cats sup on our caisson grease!” These two incidents gave rise to the popular names of the grease.
Because both phenomena were noticed at the same time, both names were used for the product. The late 70s saw the arrival of hairbands and Reaganomics; and a mix of tomatoes, vinegar and spices was about to the declared a vegetable by the US Government. Whoopy, I say. Finally, a vegetable I can love!!
Now you know the answer – ketchup and catsup are equally correct. So take your pick.
Feel free to use this for small talk at your next cocktail party. No credit necessary.