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Why should her father cater to her every whim?

He has always indulged her every whim.

They seem to be synonymous and interchangeable. But can we say that in everyday English one is more common than the other?

  • I see the following difference between "indulging [someone else's] whim" and "catering to [someone else's] whim": the indulger is satisfying an unreasonable demand (often by someone who is objectively in no position to force the issue) through excessive generosity or weakness, with no resulting benefit to himself or herself; the caterer often is dealing with an equal or superior and may have a transactional motive—a payment, a favor owed, some type of credit redeemable in future—for meeting the demand. There is even some implication that the caterer may be encouraging the whimsical desire. – Sven Yargs Jun 15 '18 at 7:21
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'Cater to' may often be neutral and means "supply a desire, need or requirement", e.g. the Acme Screw and Bolt Company caters to the needs of industrial clients for threaded fasteners, but 'indulge' can have the pejorative implication that the receiver is greedy or demanding and the supplier is weak or easily persuaded. However, indulgence can be acceptable or even praiseworthy - my four year old niece is fond of ice cream and when I took her to the zoo last week I was happy to indulge that. She also claims that her teddy bear can speak, and has decided opinions about chocolate, and I was happy to indulge her in that belief.

  • Please take a look at the following definition and examples from the reputable Cambridge Dictionary: Cater to sb/sth: (often disapproving) to satisfy a need or desire that is unusual or unacceptable: Why should you cater to his every whim? This legislation simply caters to racism. – BeatsMe Jun 15 '18 at 20:22
  • Often disapproving; not always disapproving. – Michael Harvey Jun 15 '18 at 20:52
  • Yes, it says "often disapproving"! But you said it is "neutral", not even "sometimes neutral"! – BeatsMe Jun 15 '18 at 21:06
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Cater to is neutral: it expresses no judgement about the appropriateness of the behaviour.

Indulge is not neutral: it implies that the demands are unreasonable, or that the person satisfying the demands is behaving unwisely.

  • I think of cater to as doing something on purpose because I know it’s what they want- more pro than neutral. While indulge is allowing something to happen against your better judgement because you know it’s what they want and it “probanly won’t really hurt them”, although it can also be “doing something” as opposed to just allowing it to happen. – Jim Jun 14 '18 at 22:48
  • Colin Fine@ If "cater to" is neutral, why does Cambridge Dictionary defines the word as follows? Cater to: "often disapproving: to satisfy a need or desire that is unusual or unacceptable." – BeatsMe Jun 15 '18 at 5:05
  • @BeatsMe. I don't know why they say that. It does not particularly carry that connotation for me. I have just looked at the first 20 instances of "CATER to" in the GloWBe corpus, and I would say that 3 of them appear to have that sense, and another 7 might have (it's hard to tell without more context). 10 of them - 50% of that tiny sample - clearly have no context of disapproval. – Colin Fine Jun 15 '18 at 8:49
  • @Colin Fine. I don't think a reputable Cambridge Dictionary may have made a mistake. Please have a look at the following link: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/… – BeatsMe Jun 15 '18 at 20:30
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    OK. The Cambridge Dictionary is separating out two meanings that it never occurred to me to distinguish, and saying that the second (supplying a need or desire that is unusual or unacceptable) is often disapproving. In my view they are the same meaning, and when the need or desire is unacceptable, there will often be a connatation of disapproval, but that is not a property of the specific phrase "cater to"> – Colin Fine Jun 15 '18 at 22:19

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