Cats have a language of their own. They try to communicate with us, but humans have not enough intelligence to understand the nuances of the immense wisdom they store in their furry minds. The Dutch understand cats to say MIAUW, whereas the English write it down as ‘miaow’, the Germans ‘miaou’ and the French ‘miau’. What do cats say in your language? Please let us know.
The only writer I know who seriously attempted to render a cat’s message into writing is the Irish novelist James Joyce. In his novel ‘Ulysses’ (1922) the main character Leopold Bloom has an interesting dialogue with the cat of the house while he is making breakfast.
‘The cat walked stiffly round a leg of the table with tail on high.
–O, there you are, Mr Bloom said, turning from the fire. The cat mewed in answer and stalked again stiffly round a leg of the table, mewing. Just how she stalks over my writingtable. Prr. Scratch my head. Prr. Mr Bloom watched curiously, kindly the lithe black form. Clean to see: the gloss of her sleek hide, the white button under the butt of her tail, the green flashing eyes. He bent down to her, his hands on his knees.
–Milk for the pussens, he said.
–Mrkgnao! the cat cried.
They call them stupid. They understand what we say better than we understand them. She understands all she wants to.’
Mr Bloom calls their cat ‘pussens’. In Dutch the word POES refers to a female feline animal. KAT or KATER is the male version. Cats with a red fur are usually not a POES but a KATER.
The word POES was first recorded in writing in the sixteenth century. Etymologist Nicoline van der Sijs assumes that the word derived from the way people lure their cats: ‘pssspsss’ which is an echo of the hissing sound a cat makes when it is angry. In her interesting book ‘Klein uitleenwoordenboek’ (small lending dictionary) from 2006 she describes how the Dutch word POES was exported to many languages all over the world in those bygone years of exploration. The English picked the POES up in the sixteenth century.
POES is especially well known in English because of the ‘Mother Goose Tale’ ‘Puss in Boots’ or ‘The Booted Cat’ originally written in French by Charles Perrault (1628-1703). In Dutch we call this devious character ‘De gelaarsde kat’. So in the Dutch language it is a ‘he’.
In Dutch POES is a very feminine word that can have more than fifty shades of soft and tender meanings. Both POESJE and ‘pussy’ can refer to the hidden treasurechest that most masculine men are obsessed with for large periods in their lives. These manly men sometimes call their loved one lovingly POES or POESJE, meaning ‘you soft and warm creature’ and they usually prefer their feminine counterpart to be POEZELIG. This word, however, is not directly derived from the furry purring feline but from the sixteenth century ‘poesele’ which means ‘plump girl’. A woman who is POESLIEF, is sweet and suave in a cunning kind of way. She is usually NIET VOOR DE POES, an expression meaning that she is no child’s play….
Photo: Yolande (thanks!)