Week of December 12, 2021

Yes, More Cats on the Internet


There is more than one possible origin of the term “cat got your tongue,” but none are pleasant. A likely origin involves troublesome English Royal Navy sailors being whipped into silence and submission by the infamous “cat o’ nine tails.” Another comes from the idea that medieval cats, allegedly doing the work of witches, would steal their victims’ tongues to prevent them from warning others, and another comes from the ancient Egyptian practice of cutting out the tongues of liars and blasphemers and feeding them to cats.


Although cats aren’t known for mimicry, the term “copycat” first appeared in a handful of books by female authors in late 19th century Maine, then, in the 1960s, began to appear in the crime context to describe criminals replicating the acts of others.


The legend says that Atum-Ra, ancient Egyptian sun god, sometimes took the shape of a cat, and is said to have himself produced eight gods, a possible origin of the idea that cats have nine lives. The number nine also has significance in ancient Chinese culture, as well as in the Bible, and Shakespeare mentions nine-lived felines in Romeo and Juliet. In other cultures, cats are still said to be many-lived, but the number varies, such as six or seven lives.


Do cats say “meow” in every language? Not exactly. A sampling of how other languages interpret that cat sound:

meong (Indonesian, Sudanese, Javanese) mijav (Slovene), niaou (Greek), nyav (Ukrainian) yaong (Korean), meo (Vietnamese)


Think your cat only has meows for you? You might be right. After kittenhood, cats don’t meow to other animals, including other cats, but communicate with them in other ways. Thus, that classic cat sound is largely saved for humans.


Though often relaxed when not stealthy hunters, cats nonetheless scatter and hide quickly when faced with unfamiliar situations or even voices, the origin of the taunt “fraidie cat,” which first appeared in 1897, and “scardy cat” which appeared about 9 years later.


Cats’ amazing ability to land on their feet from almost any fall is called a “righting reflex.” Other animals have it, but cats’ combination of a particularly flexible spine and no functional collarbone make their righting reflex particularly effective.