Jewish World Review May 1, 2003 / 29 Nissan, 5763
Find the hidden cats
In two recent columns, I've let the cat out of the bag and made a feline for cat words. Now here are some statements about the felines hiding in our language.
In some cases the cat in a word or expression meows clearly. In other cases a cat jumps out from a phrase and catches us by surprise. In a caterpillar, for example, hides "a hairy cat," from the Norman French word catepelose.
What did one cat say to the other while watching a tennis match? "My mother's in that racket." Har, har -- but before aelurophiles experience a high-strung gut reaction, they should know that catgut is a misnomer. Cats aren't killed to manufacture the tough cords for violins and tennis strings; catgut is actually made from the intestines of sheep, and sometimes horses and mules.
Various theories explain the name of the child's game cat's cradle. It may be a reworking of cratch-cradle, the manger cradle in which Christ was born. or a corruption of cratch, a medieval word for hayrack, dating back to 1300. Cratch was, even before this, a verb meaning "to seize, snatch, grab," so maybe the cratching or grabbing of the string became the cat in the name. Then again, kittens playing with a ball of yarn may have suggested the play of children.
Other questions that follow refer to a word or phrase bears no relationship to the word cat beyond a mere coincidence of spelling. But each word or word grouping in the game you are about to play does begin with the letters c-a-t, and these letters are pronounced exactly like the name of the animal, as in "This cat
throws rocks at castles: catapult":
- This cat is a disaster. _______
- This cat is a descriptive booklet. _______
- This cat is a huge waterfall. _______
- This cat tastes good on a hamburger. _______
- This cat is classified. _______
- This cat is cryptically buried underground. _______
- This cat speeds a chemical reaction. _______
- This cat chirps. _______
- This cat swims. _______
- This cat hopes one day to flutter by. _______
- This cat is in a lot of rackets. _______
- This cat is a narrow bridge. _______
- This cat is a set of religious questions and answers._______
- This cat is a whip. _______
- This cat is a few winks out of forty. _______
- This cat is a bunch of bull (and cow). _______
- This cat is a marsh plant. _______
- This cat is a game with string. _______
- This cat walks on a diagonal line. _______
- This cat is a sailboat. _______
- This cat is a harsh cry. _______
- This cat is a gem. _______
- This cat is a dupe, a tool of others. _______
- This cat is a type of mental illness. _______
- This cat is a place where one is "sitting pretty." _______
- This cat shouts its disapproval. _______
- This cat is x-ray-ted. _______
- This cat is slang for "It's the greatest!" _______
1. catastrophe or cataclysm 2. catalog 3. cataract 4. catsup 5. category
6. catacomb 7. catalyst 8. catbird 9. catfish 10. caterpillar
11. catgut 12. catwalk 13. catechism 14. cat-o'-nine-tails
15. catnap 16. cattle 17. cattail 18. cat's cradle 19. catty corner
20. catamaran 21. caterwaul 22. cat's-eye 23. cat's-paw 24. catalepsy or
catatonia 25. catbird seat 26. catcall 27. CAT scan 28. cat's meow,cat's pajamas or cat's whiskers
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JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.
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05/16/02: A bilingual pun is twice the fun!
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04/19/02: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect
© 2003, Richard Lederer