Our Cats and All About Them


Cat.—Irish, Cat; French, Chat; Dutch, Kat; Danish, Kat; Swedish, Katt; German, Katti or Katze; Latin, Catus; Italian, Gatto; Portuguese and Spanish, Gato; Polish, Kot; Russian, Kots; Turkish, Keti; Welsh, Cath; Cornish, Kath; Basque, Catua; Armenian, Gaz or Katz. In Armenic, Kitta, or Kaita, is a male cat.

Abram cat.—This I first thought simply meant a male cat; but I find in Nares, "Abram" is the corruption of "auburn," so, no doubt, a red or sandy tabby cat is intended.

A Wheen cat, a Queen cat (Catus femina).—"Queen" was used by the Saxons to signify the female sex, in that "queen fugol" was used for "hen fowl." Farmers in Kent and Sussex used also to call heifers "little queens."

Carl cat.—A boar or he-cat, from the old Saxon carle or karle, a male, and cat.

Cat.—It was used to denote "Liberty." No animal is more impatient of restriction or confinement, nor yet seeming to bear it with more resignation. The Romans made their goddess of Liberty holding a cup in one hand and a broken sceptre in the other, with a cat lying at her feet. Among the goddesses, Diana is said to have assumed the form of a cat. The Egyptians worshipped the cat as an emblem of the moon, not only because it was more active after sunset, but from the dilation and contraction of its orb, symbolical of the waxing and waning of the night goddess. But Bailey, in his dictionary, says cats see best as the sun approaches, and that their eyesight decays as it goes down in the evening. Yet, "on this account," says Mr. Thiselton Dyer, in his "English Folk-lore," "it was so highly esteemed as to receive sacrifices, and even to have stately temples erected to its honour. Whenever a cat died, Brand tells us, all the family shaved their eyebrows; and Diodorus Siculus relates that a Roman happening accidentally to kill a cat, the mob immediately gathered round the house where he was, and neither the entreaties of some principal men by the king, nor the fear of the Romans, with whom the Egyptians were then negotiating a peace, could save the man's life. In so much esteem also was it held, that on the death of its owner the favourite cat, or even kitten, was sacrificed, embalmed, and placed in the same sarcophagus."

Some few years ago, Mr. E. Long, R.A., exhibited at the Royal Academy a very fine picture of Egyptians idol-making, idol worshippers and sellers; the lines from Juvenal being descriptive:

"All know what monsters Egypt venerates;
It worships crocodiles, or it adores
The snake-gorged ibis; and sacred ape
Graven in gold is seen ...Whole cities pray
To cats and fishes, or the dog invoke."

Cat.—A metal tripod for holding a plate or Dutch oven before the fire. So called because, in whatever position it is placed, it is supported by the spokes; as it is said a cat will always light on its feet, so the plate-holder will stand firmly in any position. These old brass appliances have now gone out of use and are seldom seen, the new mode of "handing round" not requiring them. Another reason, doubtless, is the lowness of the fire compared with the stove of former years, which was high up in the bygone "parlour grate."

Cat.—A cross old woman was called "a cat"; or to a shrewish, the epithet was applied tauntingly.

"But will you woo this wild cat?"

Taming of the Shrew, Act I., Scene 2.

Cat.—A ship formed on the Norwegian model, having a narrow stern, projecting quarters, and a deep waist. It is strongly built, from four to six hundred tons' burden, and employed in the coal trade.

Cat.—A strong tackle, or combination of pulleys, to hook and draw in the anchor perpendicularly up to the cat-head of the ship.

Cat.—A small kind of anchor is sometimes called a cat or ketch; by the Dutch, "Kat."

Cat.—"At the edge of the moat, opposite the wooden tower, a strong penthouse, which they called a 'cat,' might be seen stealing towards the curtain, and gradually filling up the moat with facines and rubbish."—Read Cloister and Hearth, chap, xliii. (Davis' "Glossary.")

Catacide.—A cat-killer (Bailey, 1726).

Catamount.—Cat of the mountain, the ordinary wild cat, when found on the mountains, among the rocks or woods.

Cat and trap.—A game or play (Ainsworth). This is probably that known as "trap, bat, and ball," as on striking the trap, after the ball is placed on the lever, it is propelled upwards, and then struck by the batsman.

Catapult.—A military engine for battering or attacking purposes. A modern toy, by which much mischief and evil is done by unthinking boys.

Cat-bird.—An American bird, whose cry resembles that of a cat, the Turdus felivox.

Cat-block.—A two or threefold block with an iron strap and large hook, used to draw up an anchor to the cat-head.

Cat-call.—"A tin whistle. The ancients divided their dramas into four parts: pro'tasis (introduction), epit'asis (continuation), catas'tasis (climax), and catas'troph� (conclusion or d�nouement). The cat-call is the call for the cat or catastrophe."—Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

"Sound, sound, ye viols; be the cat-call dumb."

Dunciade, I. 303.

The modern imitation of "cat-calls" is caused by whistling with two fingers in the mouth, and so making an intensely shrill noise, with waulings imitating "catterwaulings." Also a shrill tin whistle, round and flat, set against the teeth.

Cat-eaten Street.—In London; properly "Catte Street" (Stow).

Caterpillar.—"Catyrpelwyrm among fruit" is corrupted from old French Chatte peleuse (Palsgrave, 1530). "Hairy cat;" the last part of the word was probably assimilated to piller, a robber or despoiler (Palmer's Folk Etymology).

Caterwauling.—The wrawl of cats in rutting times; any hideous noise. Topsel gives catwralling, to "wrall;" "wrawl," to rail or quarrel with a loud voice; hence the Yorkshire expression, "raising a wrow," meaning a row or quarrel. There is also the archaic adjective wraw (angry). Caterwaul, therefore, is the wawl or wrawl of cats; the er being either a plural, similar to "childer" (children), or a corrupted genitive.—Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

"What a caterwawling do you keep here!"

Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act II., Scene 3.

"To yawl.—To squall or scream harshly like an enraged cat."—Holloway (Norfolk).

"Thou must be patient; we came crying hither;
Thou knowest the first time that we smell air,
We waul and cry."

King John, Act IV.

Cat-eyed.—Sly, gray eyes, or with large pupils, watchful.

Cat-fall.—A rope used in ships for hoisting the anchor to the cat-head.

Catfish.—A species of the squalus, or shark (Felis marinus). The catfish of North America is a species of cottus, or bull-head.

Catgut.—A corruption of "gut-cord." The intestines of a sheep, twisted and dried; not that of a cat, as generally supposed. Also, it is stated by some, the finer strings for viols were made from the cat. Mr. Timbs says the original reading in Shakespeare was "calves'-gut." "A sort of linen or canvas with wide interstices."—Webster.

Cat-hamed., or hammed.—Awkward; sometimes applied to a horse with weak hind-legs, and which drops suddenly behind on its haunches, as a cat is said to do.

Cat-handed.—A Devonshire term for awkward.

Cat-harpings.—"Rope sewing to brace in the shrouds of the lower masts behind their respective yards, to tighten the shrouds and give more room to draw in the yards when the ship is close hauled."—Marine Dictionary.

Cat-harping fashion.—Drinking crossways, and not as usual, over the left thumb. Sea term.—Grose.

Cat-head.—"A strong beam, projecting horizontally over the ship's bows, carrying two or three sheaves, above which a rope, called the cat-fall, passes, and communicates with the cat-block."—Marine Dictionary.

Cathood.—The time when a kitten is full grown, it is then a cat and has attained maturity, that is, cathood.

Cat-hook.—A strong hook fitted to the cat-block.

Cat-lap.—Weak tea, only fit for the cat to lap, or thin milk and water. In Kent and Sussex it is also often applied to small, very small beer; even thin gruel is called "cat-lap." Weak tea is also called "scandal-broth."

Cat-like.—Stealthy, slow, yet appertaining more to appearance.

Catlings.—Down, or moss, growing about walnut-trees, resembling the hair of a cat.

Cat o' Nine Tails.—So called from being nine pieces of cord put together, in each cord nine knots; and this, when used vigorously, makes several long marks not unlike the clawing or scratching of a cat, producing crossing and re-crossing wounds; a fearful and severe punishment, formerly too often exercised for trivial offences.

Cat or dog wool.—"Of which cotte or coarse blankets were formerly made" (Bailey). "Cot gase" (refuse wool). "Cat" no doubt was a corruption of "cot."

Cat-pear.—A pear, shaped like a hen's egg, that ripens in October.

Cat pellet.—The pop-gun of boys, one pellet of paper driving out the other. Davis in his "Glossary" thinks it means "tip-cat." Probably it may be the sharpened piece of wood, not the game, that is different altogether, he quotes.

"Who beats the boys from cat pellet, and stool ball."

British Bellman, 1648.

Cat-salt.—A salt obtained from butter.

Cat-salt.—"A sort of salt beautifully granulated, formed out of the bittern or leach brine, used for making hard soap."—Encyclop�dia.

Cat's-eye.—A precious stone, resembling, when polished, the eye of a cat. It has lately become fashionable.

A large collection of Burmese, Indian, and Japanese curiosities was lately sold by auction. The great attraction of the sale was "The Hindoo Lingam God," consisting of a chrysoberyl cat's-eye fixed in a topaz, and mounted in a pyramidal base studded with diamonds and precious stones. This curious relic stood 2� inches in height. It was preserved for more than a thousand years in an ancient temple at Delhi, where acts of devotion were paid before it by women anxious to have children. The base is of solid gold, and around it are set nine gems or charms, a diamond, ruby, sapphire, chrysoberyl cat's-eye, coral, pearl, hyacinthine garnet, yellow sapphire, and emerald. Round the apex of this gold pyramid is a plinth set with diamonds. On the apex is a topaz 1 10-16ths inch in length, and 9-16ths of an inch in depth, shaped like a horseshoe; in the centre of the horseshoe the great chrysoberyl cat's-eye stands upright. This is 15-16ths of an inch in height, and dark brown in colour, and shaped like a pear. An extremely mobile opalescent light crosses the length of the stone in an oblique direction. When Bad Shah Bahadoor Shah, the last King of Delhi, was captured and exiled to the Andaman Isles, his Queen secreted this gem, and it was never seen again until, being distressed during the Mutiny, she sold it to the present owner. The gem was finally knocked down at �2,450 to Mr. S. J. Phillips, jeweller, New Bond Street.

Cat's-foot.—To live under the cat's foot, to be under the dominion of a wife, hen-pecked.

Cat's-foot.—A plant of the genus Glechoma pes felinus, ground ivy or gill.

Cat's-head apple.—A large culinary apple, considered by some in form to bear a resemblance to a cat's head. Philips in his poem "Cyder" thus describes it:

" ...The cat's head's weighty orb,
Enormous in growth, for various use."

Cat-silver.—An old popular name for mica or talc.

Cat-sleep.—A light doze, a watchful sleep, like that of a hare or of a cat who sits in front of a mouse-hole, a dozy or a sleeping wakefulness.

Cat's-paw.—Any one used by another for getting them out of a difficulty, and for no other reason, is made a cat's-paw of. The simile is from the fable of the monkey using the cat's paw to take his chestnuts out of the fire. A light breeze just ruffling the water in a calm is called a cat's-paw. Also a particular kind of turn in the bight of a rope made to hook tackle on.

Cat's-tail. (Typha latifolia).—A kind of reed which bears a spike like the tail of a cat, which some call reed mace; its long, flat leaves are much used for the bottoms of chairs.

Cats'-tails.—Mares' tails (equisetum).

Cat-stane.—"Battle-stone. A monolith in Scotland (sometimes falsely called a Druidical stone). The Norwegian term, banta stein, means the same thing. Celtic—cath (battle)."—Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

Cat-sticks.—Thin legs; compared to the thin sticks with which boys play at cat (Grose).

Catsup or ketchup.—A corruption of the Eastern name of "Kitjap." Is then the syllable "cat" a pun on "kit" or "kitten" (a young cat)? Surely not.

Cattaria.Nepeta Cattaria. Mentha felina, the herb cat-mint.

Cattery.—A place where cats are kept, the ordinary name when a person keeps a collection of cats.

Cattish.—Having stealthy ways, slow and cautious in movements, watchful.

Catwater. (Plymouth).—"This is a remarkable instance of mistranslation. The castle at the mouth of the Plym used to be called the Ch�teau; but some one, thinking it would be better to Anglicise the French, divided the word into two parts: chat (cat), eau (water)."—Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

Catwhin.Rosa spinosissima. Burnet Rose is the name of the plant.

Cat with two tails.—The earwig. Northumberland; Holloway.

Gil cat.—A male cat; some say an old male. Nares says, an expression exactly analogous to "Jack ass;" the one being formerly called "Gil" or "Gilbert," as commonly as the other "Jack." "Tom cat" is now the usual term, and for a similar reason. "Tibert" is said to be the old French for "Gilbert." From "Tibert," "Tib," "Tibby," also was a common name for a cat. Wilkins, in his "Index to Philosophical Language," has "Gil" (male) cat in the same way as a male cat is called a "Tom" cat. In some counties the cock fowl is called a "Tom." It is unknown whence the origin of the latter term.

Grimalkin.—Poetical name for a cat (Bailey). "Mawkin" signifies a hare in Scotland (Grose). In Sussex a hare is often called "puss" or "pussy." "Puss" is also a common name for a cat.

Grinagog, the cat's uncle.—A foolish, grinning fellow. One who grins without reason (Grose). In Norfolk, if one say "she," the reply is, "Who's 'she'? The cat's aunt?"

Hang me in a bottle like a cat.—"Benedict. If I do, hang me in a bottle like a cat, and shoot at me, and he that hits me, let him be clapt on the shoulder and called Adam" (meaning Adam Bell, the famous archer).—Much Ado About Nothing, Act I.

A note in the "Percy Reliques," vol. i., 1812, states: "Bottles were formerly of leather, though perhaps a wooden bottle might be here meant. It is still a diversion in Scotland (1812) to hang up a cat in a small cask or firkin, half filled with soot, and then a parcel of clowns on horseback try to beat out the ends of it, in order to show their dexterity in escaping before the contents fall on them."

From "Demandes Joyeuses" (amusing questions), 1511:

"Q. What is that that never was and never will be?

"A. A mouse nest in a cat's ear.

"Q. Why does a cat cross the road?

"A. Because it wants to get to the other side."

Mrs. Evans.—"A local name for a she-cat, owing, it is said, to a witch of the name of Evans, who assumed the appearance of a cat."—Grose.

Nine lives like a cat.—"Cats, from their great suppleness and aptitude to fall on their feet, are commonly said to have nine lives; hence Ben Jonson, in 'Every Man in His Humour,' says: ''Tis a pity you had not ten lives—a cat's and your own.'"—Thiselton Dyer's English Folk-lore.

"Tyb. What wouldst thou have with me? Mer. Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives." Romeo and Juliet, III. I.

Middleton says in "Blurt Master Constable," 1602:

"They have nine lives apiece, like a woman."

Pussy cats.—Male blossom of the willow.

Salt-cat, or salt-cate.—A mixture of salt, gravel, clay, old mortar, cumin seed, ginger, and other ingredients, in a pan, which is placed in pigeon lofts.

Sick as a Cat.—Cats are subject to sickness or vomiting for the purpose of throwing up indigestible matter, such as the fur of mice, feathers of birds, which would otherwise collect and form balls internally. For this reason they eat grass, which produces the desired effect; hence arises the phrase "as sick as a cat."

Tabby.—"An old maid; either from Tabitha, a formal antiquated name, or else from a tabby cat; old maids, by the rude, weak-minded, and vulgar, being often compared to cats. 'To drive tab,' to go out on a party of pleasure with wife and family."—Grose's Glossary.

"The neighbour's old cat often
Came to pay us a visit;
We made her a bow and courtesy,
Each with a compliment in it.
After her health we asked,
Our care and regard to evince;
(We have made the very same speeches
To many an old cat since)."

Mrs. B. Browning (translation of "Heine").

Tip-cat.—A pleasant game for those engaged in it; not so, too often, for others, medical reports of late tending to show that many cases of the loss of sight have occurred.

To turn Cat in Pan.—This phrase has been a source of much contention, and many different derivations have been given; but all tend to show that it means a complete turn over, that is, to quit one side and go to the other, to turn traitor, to turncoat. "To turn cat in pan: Pr�varicor" (Ainsworth). Bacon, in his Essays "On Cunning," p. 81, says: "There is a cunning which we in England call 'the turning of the cat in the pan,' which is when that a man says to another, 'he lays it as if another had said it to him.'" This is somewhat obscure in definition. Toone says: "The proverbial expression, 'to turn a cat in a pan,' denotes a sudden change in one's party, or politics, or religion, for the sake of being in the ascendant, as a cat always comes down on its legs, however thrown." The Vicar of Bray is quoted as simply a "turncoat," but this does not affect the argument. I quite think, and in this others agree with me, that it has nothing to do with the cat, but was originally cate. In olden times, and until lately, it was the custom to toss pancakes (to turn them over). It was no easy matter; frequently the cake or cate went in the fire or lodged in the chimney. To turn the cat or cate in the pan was to toss and turn it completely over, that is, from one side to the other. The meaning given to the phrase helps to prove this view. I merely introduce this because so many have asked for an explanation as regards "the cat in pan." I consider the "far-fetched" origins of the term are complete errors. It was a custom to toss pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, and it required great skill to do it well, cleanly, and completely. Some cooks were noted for it, and thought clever if it was done without injury to themselves or clothes.

It appears from "The Westmoreland Dialect," by A. Walker (1790), that cock-fighting and "casting" of pancakes were then common in that county, thus: "Whaar ther wor tae be cock-feightin', for it war pankeak Tuesday," and "we met sum lads an' lasses gangin' to kest (cast) their pankeaks."

To whip the cat.—"To practise the most pinching parsimony, grudging even the scraps and orts, or remnants of food given to the cat."—Holloway (Norfolk).

A phrase applied to the village tailor going round from house to house for work.

"To be drunk."—Heywood's Philoconothista, 1635, p. 60.

An itinerant parson is said to "whip the cat."

"A trick practised on ignorant country fellows, vain of their strength, by laying a wager with them that they may be pulled through a pond by a cat. The bet being made, a rope is fixed round the waist of the party to be catted, and the end thrown across the pond, to which the cat is also fastened by a pack-thread, and three or four sturdy fellows are appointed to lead and 'whip the cat.' These, on a signal being given, seize the end of the cord, and, pretending to whip the cat, haul the astonished booby through the water."—Grose, 1785.

The following are culled from the well-known and useful book, Jamieson's "Scottish Dictionary":

Cat.—A small bit of rag, rolled up and put between the handle of a pot and the hook which suspends it over the fire, to raise it a little.—Roxb.

Cat.—A handful of straw, with or without corn upon it, or of reaped grain, laid on the ground by the reaper without being put into a sheaf (Roxb., Dumfr.). Perhaps from the Belg. word katt-en, to throw, the handful of corn being cast on the ground; whence kat, a small anchor.

Cat.—The name given to a bit of wood, a horn, or anything which is struck in place of a ball in certain games.

To Cat a Chimney.—To enclose a vent by the process called Cat and Clay (Teviotd.).

Cat and Clay.—The materials of which a mud wall is constructed in many parts of S. Straw and clay are well wrought together, and being formed into pretty large rolls, are laid between the different wooden posts by means of which the wall is formed, and carefully pressed down so as to incorporate with each other, or with the twigs that are sometimes plaited from one post to another (S.).

Cat and Dog.—The name of an ancient sport (S.). It seems to be an early form of Cricket. (Query, is this the same as Cat and Trap?)

Catband.—1. The name given to the strong hook used on the inside of a door or gate, which, being fixed to the wall, keeps it shut. 2. A chain drawn across a street for defence in time of war. Germ., kette, a chain, and band.

Cat-fish, Sea-cat.—The sea-wolf (S.). Anarhicas lupus (Linn.) Sw., haf-cati.e. sea-cat.—Sibbald.

Cat-gut.—Thread fucus, or sea laces. Fucus filum (Linn.), Orkney, "Neill's Tour."

Cat-Harrow.—"They draw the Cat-Harrow"—that is, they thwart one another.—Loth. Ang., Lyndsey.

Cat-heather.—A finer species of heath, low and slender, growing more in separate, upright stalks than the common heath, and flowering only at the top (Aberd.).

Cat-hole.—1. The name given to the loop-holes or narrow openings in the wall of a barn (S.). 2. A sort of niche in the wall of a barn, in which keys and other necessaries are deposited in the inside, where it is not perforated.

Cat-hud.—The name given to a large stone, which serves as a back to a fire on the hearth in the house of a cottager (Dumfr.). Sw. G., kaette, denotes a small cell or apartment, which corresponds to the form of the country fireside; also a bed; a pen. Hud might seem allied to Teut. huyd-en, conservare, as the stone is meant to guard this enclosure from the effects of the fire.

Catling.—Small catgut strings for musical instruments, also a kind of knife used in surgery.

Cat-loup.—1. A very short distance as to space (S.); q. as far as a cat may leap (Hogg). 2. A moment; as, "I'se be wi' ye in a catloup"—i.e., instantly. "I will be with you as quickly as a cat can leap."

Catmaw.—"To tumble the catmaw," to go topsy-turvy, to tumble (S. B.).

Catmint.—An herbaceous plant (Mentha felina), that cats delight to roll on.

Cat's Carriage.—The same play that is otherwise called the "King's Cushion," q.v. (Loth.).

Cat's Cradle.—A plaything for children, made of pack-thread on the fingers of one person, and transferred from them to those of another (S.).

Cat's Crammocks.—Clouds like hairs streaming from an animal's tail (Shetland).

Cat's Hair.—1. The down that covers unfledged birds (Fife); synon. Paddockhair. 2. The down on the face of boys before the beard grows (S.). 3. Applied also to the thin hair that often grows on the bodies of persons in bad health (S.).

Cat-siller..—The mica of mineralogists (S.); the katzen silber of the vulgar in Germany. Teut., katten silver, amiantus, mica, vulgo argentum felium; Kilian.

Cat's Lug.—The name given to the Auricula ursi.Linn. (Roxburgh.).

Cat's Stairs.—A plaything for children, made of thread, small cord, or tape, which is so disposed by the hands as to fall down like steps of a stair (Dumfr., Gall.).

Catstone.—One of the upright stones which support a grate, there being one on each side (Roxb.). Since the introduction of Carron grates these stones are found in kitchens only. The term is said to originate from this being the favourite seat of the cat. See Catstone (English).

Catstone-head.—The flat top of the Catstone (ibid.).

Catsteps.—The projections of the stones in the slanting part of a gable (Roxb.). Corbie-steps, synon.

Cat's-Tails.—Hare's Tail Rush (Eriophorum vaginatum). Linn. Mearns; also called Canna-down, Cat Tails (Galloway).

Catten-Clover., Cat-in-Clover.—The Lotus (South of S.). Sw., Katt-klor (Cat's Claws).

Catter.—1. Catarrh (Bellenden). 2. A supposed disease of the fingers from handling cats.

Catterbatch.—A broil, a quarrel (Fife). Teut., kater, a he-cat, and boetse, rendered cavillatio, q., "a cat's quarrel."

Catwittit.—Harebrained, unsettled; q., having the wits of a cat (S.).

Kittie.—A North-country name for a cat, male or female.

Kitling.—Sharp; kitten-like.

"His kitling eyes begin to run
Quite through the table where he spies
The horns of paperie butterflys."

Herrick, Hesperides.

Kittenhood.—State of being a kitten.

"For thou art as beautiful as ever a cat
That wantoned in the joy of kittenhood."


Kittenish, kitten-like.

"Such a kittenish disposition in her, I called it; ...the love of playfulness."—Richardson.

Kit, or kitten.—A young cat. A young cat is a kitten until it is full-grown, then kittenhood ceases.

A school-boy being asked to describe a kitten, replied: "A kitten is chiefly remarkable for rushing like mad at nothing whatever, and generally stopping before it gets there."

Puss gentleman.—An effeminate man.—Davis, Glossary.

"I cannot talk with civet in th' room,
A fine puss gentleman that's all perfume."

Cowper's Conversations.

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