Long, long ago, well before the internet, LOLcats and LOLspeak hit the air, my mother wrote a letter for my cat, from my cat, to me. I was living 600 kms away at the time, letters and phone calls were the old-fashioned way of getting in touch and for emergencies, work fax.
Fax machines, for those young enough never to have seen one, were kind of the first electronic communications. They were clunky, a bit of a pain in the ass to use (half the time your page went through but didn’t transmit, so you would fax then call to see if your fax had come through, negating the reason for sending a fax in the first place, most of the time) and often people would get fax lines and phone lines mixed up, leading to switchboard operators often getting repeat calls that just went BEEP, BEEEEP, BEEEEEEP loudly in their ears. Repeatedly.)
So there I was, all this way away from home and missing my cat dreadfully. She was a brilliant cat, a little human in tabby fur, and my Mum decided that we really needed to talk via the mail. Dad had the brilliant idea of faxing it to my work. So there I was, first thing on a Monday morning, with a fax from my beloved cat. Embarrassing enough that I had to explain my cat had written to me, but worse was the huge wave of homesickness that hit through me as I read it.
It was homelife, entirely from the cat’s point of view. What she had eaten, the bird she had caught, the outfit my sister wore (mine) and the fact she (the cat) missed me and was spending time cuddled up in my duvet which my Mum had thoughtfully not washed.
All written in a kind of cat pidgin-english but with great insight. Cat’s can’t pronounce “s” so every “s” sound was a “th”. They also don’t do well with “l”s but the “rrrrr” on the end of “purr” works well.
I treasured that fax, especially when Suzy died whilst I was still away. One day I realised it was fading (fax paper at the time being made of glossy, heat-sensitive paper) and put it in my bag to take to work to photocopy, so I would have it forever. My bag was stolen that weekend. I still curse the people who dumped a piece of my heart somewhere in a waste bin.
However, a family tradition had been born and when I moved overseas, I would get kitty missives, in the same language. I learned about Norton the kitten’s first encounter with the “roaring sheen” – washing machine (he gave himself neckache by trying to keep his eyes on a piece of washing going around and around); the fact that Lela spent much of the summer, still in the “nake tree” (she gave up on “s” entirely after a while), the tree under which it was hazardous to sit if she was in it, unless you liked a snake in your lap, along with your book; and the time spent by Tabitha and a (now grown up) Norton, who only ever wanted to get “a big” for Christmas (as everyone told him he could do this and that when he got big) watching the zillards (lizards) run across the glass in the back door.
So when LOLcats first kicked off, along with LOLspeak, it seemed to me that the world had caught onto something that had been going on for at least 20 years, in small patches across the world.
I so wished my parents were around to see it.
What is less documented however, is the effect that pets have on language used in other contexts. I have words to describe different types of cat behaviour. For instance – the level of annoyance a cat can engender in a human, when he/she wants something:
(i) A cat wants fresh, warm (yes, it has to be warm as in “test with your elbow, baby bottle warm”) water in the bowl. She won’t drink it if it is cold. She employs “stand next to the bowl (which is full of water, just not at the right temperature), stare and miaow” technique. She will do this until you fill the bowl up with warm water. This is a Persisticat (n). She is Persisticatting (v).
(ii) At this point, you are doing something vitally important. She will remain a persisticat until you do something.
However, some cats up the ante and become Pesticats. Examples include:
(i) Arthur has just had his dinner. He is the smallest, skinniest cat and he can eat for England. He prefers wet food to bikkits*. He will sit next to my PC and whinge for ages. This is Persisticatting in a pure form.
(ii) If I ignore him (because, incidentally he has already had two dinners in the space of 40 minutes, plus some of his brother’s), he turns into a Pesticat. This involves any or all of the following:
– clawing my arm
– jumping on the laptop
– jumping on my head
– sitting on the back of the chair and biting my head
– pretending my fingers are food and nomming them (his favourite)
He is Pesticatting. Eventually I get to the point where I can’t do much of anything at all, so pick him up and place him on the ground. It takes an average of 3 seconds for him to jump up and start all over again, rendering any form of activity inoperable until I have attended to his wants.
Similarly, we have Batty Katty (cat who for no apparent reason decides to fight with the chair you are sitting on) and Twatty Katty (cat who for no … etc who fights with chair but also involves your arm, head and anything else joined onto you within a paw’s reach).
Shitty Kitty is reserved for Kitty herself when she misbehaves (Grumpy has now resorted to taking a dump under my feet the moment I get home and sit at the laptop, just in case Kitty is haunting the space behind the door and the litter tray, prior to pouncing on him the moment he starts to get a turd out – standard Shitty Kitty behaviour).
And so it goes on … we also talk about “maddeecats” – similar to Batty Katty, but behaviour normally exhibited in more than one cat at the same time; fuzzy bums (refers to any and all cats in the house), also fuzzybumchile/ bumpties.
Additional to this, each cat has more than one particular name, some of which are longer than their given names). Arthur/Arfiefur/Arfnoodle; Merlin/Merliefigglefie**/Merlsberls; Guinevere/Guinebear/Bearbear/SkinnyGuinie; Felix (whose full name Felicia was only given to her when I realised I’d made a fundamental mistake with sexing)/ Feefiehoneybun; Jaggie/Jaguar (emphasis on the last syllable)/Jaggieboo; and so it goes on. The only cat with only one regular name is Grumpy. To my small shame, he responds to it. I really should have called him something a little more positive.
Their food and accessories also seem to have, over the years, ended up referred to in fairly simple terms. Food is obviously noms which lead to noms o’clock/nomstime; Bikkits are self-explanatory*. Cat litter is poosand/ fish is bish (ever heard of a cat saying “f” – no, me neither). Toy mice are “mousies” (I don’t think cats grasp English plurals that well). Balls are balls.
Whilst all of this is, I suppose (hope) a fairly healthy use of language, and whilst I have friends who have named their pets creatively (my friend Rina’s kitty named Dinner Dinner still makes me laugh); I don’t have any whose language is quite as bound up in cathood as mine is.I have to watch my behaviour too. I tend to go Fullcat at inappropriate times.
I tend to greet my cats by going “brrrruuurrr” and then chirp, as this is what they say to me. Several times I’ve done it to people too, normally the ones with whom I am most comfortable, instead of saying hello.
I rather suspect the cats have taken over my psyche in some weird way.
Tonight, I miaowed at T when I was so hungry my stomach hurt. I didn’t even think about it for the first couple of miaows …
* bikkits are a quick way of saying biscuits. If you struggle with the “s” sound, the word becomes bithskits which just sounds like you have a lisp, rather than you are a cat who can’t say “s”.
** Many, many years ago when I was very young, for apparent reason whatsoever, I added the appellation “fie” onto every cat’s name I heard. Suzy became Suzyfie, etc. I can’t understand where it came from and can only assume it is something from babyhood. I made up a whole language as a young child – “carty” was a bead; “abeedah” was a sort of triumphant call that I made when I achieved something (that one stuck and when my Dad won his court case, both Mum and Dad came to pick me up from school, stood across the road from me, their hands punching the air, yelling “abeedah”) and many others which I used (it appeared) talk to my imaginary friends.