Letting the Cat out of the Bag

Home cat in the gardenAfter I published my post on the etymological origins of dogs last week, some of you cat people wanted to know about the origins of the word cat. Because I love my readers so much—and I’m a sucker for peer pressure—today I give you the history of the word cat.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty of our feline friends’ nomenclature, I should remind both cat and dog people that I am currently running a Kickstarter project, and one of the rewards is to have your dog or your cat immortalized as a character in my novel.

Alright, so let’s look at cats.

Our modern English word, cat, comes from the Old English catt, which was in general use by the eighth century. Catt, in turn, came from the West Germanic/Proto-Germanic word kattuz, which was recorded in the 400s. Around the same time, many similar words appeared across Europe, such as katte (Old Frisian), köttr (Old Norse), kat (Dutch) kazza (Old High German), Katze (German), and katta (Byzantine Greek). All of these incarnations evolved from the Late Latin word cattus, which was first recorded as catta by Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis) in the year 75.

In addition, by the twelfth century, cattus also evolved into the Old Irish and Gaelic cat, Welsh kath, Breton kaz, Italian gatto, Spanish gato, and French chat. And it  was probably the source of words for cat in the Slavic language group, such as kotuka and kotel’a (Old Church Slavonic), kotka (Bulgarian), koška (Russian), kot (Polish), kate (Lithuanian), and even katti, from the non-Indo-European language, Finnish.

Although we can’t be certain, cattus probably came from the Afro-Asiatic languages. For example, the Nubian word for cat is kadis, and the Berber word is kadiska. And the Arabic word qitt refers to a tomcat. Cats were domesticated in Egypt by 2000 BC, but they were not a common household animal to Greeks and Romans at that time.

Cattus replaced the Latin word feles, which was used to refer to a domestic cat, a wild cat, or a marten.

The word cat was extended to include large wild cats, such as lions, tigers, ocelots, and more, around the 1600s. And the idea that cats have nine lives has been around since at least the mid-1500s.

So, not quite as mysterious as the origins of the word dog, but still pretty cool. I guess they liked the way the Egyptians treated them, so they launched a campaign that exploded across Europe. Master strategists, those cats.


Image credit: Kavita / PhotoXpress.com

Writer’s Block


Writer’s Block

There was a loud crash in the hallway. Carly’s fingers froze on the keyboard and she closed her eyes in frustration.

“Stupid cat,” she muttered as she got to her feet. She grabbed her mug of tea and headed for the door. Out in the hallway, a now-familiar scene greeted her. Dottie Allen’s hibiscus pot lay on its side, dirt scattered across the antique rug. Carly glared at the cat, who sat innocently by the door to the basement and meowed when it saw Carly.

When she’d taken Dottie’s nephew George up on his offer to house-sit while his aunt was in the hospital, it had seemed like the perfect opportunity. She would have a quiet country spot where she could write and make a few bucks on the side. All she had to do was keep the house tidy and feed Dottie’s cats. Unfortunately, this particular cat managed to knock the plant over every time Carly sat down to write. With a sigh, she set her tea down on the side table and went to get the dustpan and broom.

Dottie Allen was something of a town legend. She was the last of a dying breed—the spinster. Dottie had lived in this house her entire life and had never married, despite being one of the most sought-after women in town. The rumour was that when her childhood sweetheart, Andrew Gibson, had returned from the war, he was a changed man and he’d refused to marry her. In the end, Andrew had disappeared, leaving Dottie alone and broken-hearted. And though many suitors had come knocking over the years, Dottie turned them all down, vowing to stay loyal to Andrew until her dying day.

As Carly crouched down to straighten the plant and sweep up the dirt, the phone rang. It was George, calling with an update about his aunt. Once he’d filled Carly in, he asked her how things were going.

“Everything’s fine, George. Though I really wish your aunt’s annoying white cat would stop knocking her hibiscus plant over.” Carly’s eyes wandered over Dottie’s wall of photographs that lined the hallway.

“Wait. White cat?” George sounded surprised, “Aunt Dottie doesn’t have a white cat, Carly. She has three tabby cats.”

“Are you sure? This cat certainly acts like it’s at home here.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” said George. “One of the neighbours’ cats must have gotten into the house. Maybe that’s why it’s causing trouble.”

Carly laughed, “Yeah, I guess—” she stopped as her eyes landed on an old photograph.

“Okay, well I’ll keep you posted about Aunt Dottie. Take care, Carly.” As George hung up, the cat jumped up on the side table and knocked Carly’s mug of tea to the floor.

But Carly was still staring at the photograph. It was a picture of Andrew Gibson, looking very handsome in his uniform. He was standing on Dottie’s front porch, holding a white cat in his arms. Carly looked at the cat, who now sat at her feet, then back at the photo. Even the black spot on his forehead looked the same. Carly shook her head.

“No way,” she said, but she looked at the cat again. It meowed and trotted back over to the basement door. Carly felt a shiver run up her spine. She walked over and opened the basement door. The cat darted down the stairs and Carly followed. The cat led her over to a pile of dusty boxes. It meowed again and jumped onto an old wooden trunk. As Carly drew closer, she noticed that what was left of her tea was dripping onto the lid of the trunk. She reached a hand out and brushed some dust off one corner. She could make out the words “Corporal Andrew Gibson” along with part of an address from somewhere in town. The cat meowed again and jumped down.

Carly’s heart was pounding now, and she considered running back upstairs to call George and cancel their arrangement. Instead, she took a deep breath and flipped open the latch on the trunk, then slowly lifted the lid.

Inside lay two skeletons, neatly curled together—one human and one feline. It turned out that Andrew Gibson hadn’t left Dottie Allen after all.

Carly turned to look at the cat, but it had vanished, as all good apparitions do.


This is my submission for the Speakeasy #143. We had to write a piece of poetry or fiction under 750 words, starting with the following line:

There was a loud crash in the hallway.

Our submissions also had to make some reference to the media prompt, which, this week, is the following picture:

There’s still lots of time to participate in this week’s Speakeasy, so come check it out.


White cat image credit: Google Images

Speakeasy: Diesel

Black cat


The sun was setting when she finally arrived home. With a great sense of relief, Diesel climbed up into the old, rusted-out van and curled up in the front seat to lick her wounds. The fabric was old and frayed and smelled a little musty, but it was the most comfortable place she had ever slept. And today, she was so bone-tired she probably could have slept in a gutter quite happily. Trying to scrounge up food and evade the Servhounds was grueling work. As exhaustion took over, Diesel closed her eyes and went to sleep.

She was jarred awake by an unfamiliar sound. She opened her eyes and kept her body perfectly still. It came again, a deep, keening noise. Diesel cocked one ear in the direction of the sound. Maybe, she thought, maybe I know that sound. She held her breath and waited for it to come again. When it did, she was positive she recognized it. How long had it been since she’d heard another of her kind? She’d begun to believe the Servhounds had killed all but her.

Quietly, stealthily, Diesel stood up in the seat. She peeked out the window, green eyes searching the night. Finally she saw him, crouched in the bushes at the edge of the clearing. His eyes glinted in the darkness as he let out another deep yowl.

Decision made, Diesel leapt from the van and padded silently to where the other cat huddled in the dark. He didn’t hear her approach until the last minute. His ears perked up and he lifted his head, startled, as Diesel appeared before him.

“Lucky for you I’m not a Servhound,” she said as she looked him over. He was orange. What kind of cat was orange? And were those stripes? No wonder he’d been so easy to spot. She raised her gaze to his face. It was riddled with scars, but strength and determination shone in those eyes.

“Name’s Copper. I need shelter,” he said through gritted teeth, ignoring her dig and drawing her attention to his rear left leg. Diesel saw then that it was bleeding.

“Can you walk?” She asked and Copper nodded. “Follow me,” she said, then, as an afterthought, added, “I’m Diesel.”

Diesel led the strange orange cat back through the darkness and up into the abandoned van. Once Copper was settled and his wound was clean, Diesel sat back and stared at him through half-closed lids.

“Why are you here?” She finally asked.

Copper met her gaze steadily, “I saw you fight that Servhound,” he answered. “I was hoping you could teach me. Two of us could do a lot more damage.”

A distant howl broke the silence, reminding them both that their enemy was always on the hunt.

Diesel hopped into the front seat and curled up, then flicked her gaze back to Copper.

“We’ll get started at first light,” she said.


This is my submission for this week’s Speakeasy challenge #103.
This week, in honour of the Speakeasy’s continuing 100th Anniversary celebrations, submissions must be under 500 words and must begin with the following line:
The sun was setting when she finally arrived home.

In addition, submissions must reference the photo prompt, which is the following image:

And hey, what better time to join the Speakeasy than during the 100th Anniversary celebrations? Come on down and check us out — we’d love to have you!


Black cat image credit: Sylvie ThenardPhotoxpress.com

What’s In A Noun? Part 1

Egyptian catI would wager that most of you know a noun is a word used to name a person, place, thing, or abstract idea. But did you know there is a lot more to nouns than just that? In fact, there is so much going on with nouns that I’m going to have to write two posts about them.

Today, in What’s in a Noun — Part 1, we’re going to take a closer look at all the different types of nouns.

A proper noun refers to a specific person, place or thing and always starts with a capital letter regardless of its place in a sentence. For example:

  • The first woman in recorded history to declare herself pharaoh was Hatshepsut of Egypt.

A common noun refers to a generic person, place or thing. As such, it does not begin with a capital unless it is the first word in a sentence. For example:

  • In Ancient Egypt, a jackal was sometimes mistaken for a god.

A concrete noun refers to something or someone we can physically perceive through any of our five senses. So, for example:

  • The priest collapsed on the floor when the mummy got up and walked away.

An abstract noun refers to something we cannot physically perceive. Essentially, it is the opposite of a concrete noun. Here’s an example:

  • The bride’s joy was replaced by fear when the mummy crashed her wedding.

A count noun has both singular and plural forms and refers to something you can count. For example:

  • Finally, someone thought to inform the gods. One god, Seth, came to sort it out.

A mass noun does not have a plural form and refers to something that you cannot count, usually because it is abstract. Here is an example:

  • Ancient Egyptians had great love for their cats, which were seen as symbols of warmth and protection.

A collective noun refers to a group of people or things. The individual members could be counted, but the group is usually thought of as one unit. Collective nouns can be tricky because they can take a singular or plural verb, depending on whether you are emphasizing the group itself or the individual members. So, for example:

  • The priesthood is never going to agree to such a change.
  • The priesthood are all going to be there.


Image credit: Yuriy Nosenko Photoxpress.com