Some people claim to be cat lovers and others dog lovers, but it’s possible to be lovers of both. Cats and dogs have very different natures but can both be very lovable. I’ve always had both cats and dogs in my life and they’ve always got on well with each other.
The word cat is similar in other European languages, such as French chat, Italian gatto, Welsh kath, Polish kot, Finnish katti, Spanish gato, and Bulgarian kotka. All from the Latin cattus, of course.
The cat has probably given us more expressions than any other creature. You may have come across some of these phrases in our crossword clues. Playing cat and mouse means employing a series of cunning manoeuvres designed to thwart an opponent. Setting the cat among the pigeons is doing something to cause trouble and All cats are grey in the dark means in some circumstances we are more alike than others.
The cat’s whiskers or the cat’s pyjamas means an excellent person or thing, although a cat’s whisker on its own is a fine adjustable wire in a crystal radio receiver.
Cat’s cradle is a child’s game with a loop of string around the fingers and a cat’s paw is a person used by another to carry out a dangerous task. A cat’s eye is a stone usually of chalcedony, but a catseye (all one word) is the reflective stud in the road. A cat’s ear, a cat’s foot and a cat’s tail are all plants resembling the shapes of a cat’s body. A cat has every sort of reputation. A mild-mannered, easy-going person is known as a pussycat and to act cautiously is to pussyfoot and yet a hot-tempered or ferocious person is called a wildcat.
My cat Alfie is neither of those, but then they say that every cat is different. He’s just very lovable. Hemingway wrote, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings but a cat does not”. And Robert Heinlein: “How you behave toward cats here below determines your status in Heaven.” In a future column, I will write about dogs, the supposed enemies of cats but in reality, best mates.