A cay is an undersized, low-lying island made up of primarily sand or coral. It can be pronounced kE or kA and is derived from the Spanish word cayo meaning shoal or reef. Taino cayokai or kay meaning sand bank. Sometime during the 18th century the spelling was changed to quai in the French form and then to the Spanish quay with the pronunciation lingering to this day.

A quay is a "shoreline artificially built up with stone (or later, cement) to facilitate loading and unloading of cargo from ships", was originally spelled more like it is pronounced. The modern words quay, cay and key like the Florida Keys all draw from the same root kagh which means "to catch, to seize" with the additional meaning of barrier which has since been passed on to the same "reef, shoal" idea as the Spanish cayo.

Sources:

Merriam_Webster Online:
http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=cay&x=0&y=0

Online Etymology:
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=cay

Take Our word For It
: http://www.takeourword.com/Issue084.html

Cay (?), n.

See Key, a ledge.

 

© Webster 1913.

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