April 13th, 2010

cats, shakespeare

[CAT] "Of moggies and pussies"

Over at Purse Lip Square Jaw, Anne Galloway provides more evidence of the ways in which cats--regardless of gender--have been described as and associated with the feminine.

In New Zealand and the UK, domestic cats - and especially outdoor cats - are called "moggies." I was curious about the etymology of the word, and a quick look-up turned into an hour reading about the historical associations amongst cats, women and (by extension) effeminate men in colloquial English.

In terms of my current research, I'm fascinated by how "moggie" has been applied to both stray cats and stray women. For example, "moggie" as slattern or slut points at a socially inappropriate woman, a woman out-of-line, a behaviour out-of-place. "Moggie" as unkempt streetwalker further conjures women out-of-bounds, lacking in both physical and social pedigree. To later apply this term to an animal isn't surprising if we believe that the earlier sense stripped a woman of her humanity. The use of "moggie" to refer to creatures not receiving care (they live on the streets) nor being worthy of care (they are sub-human) also fits with the word's earlier use. Similarly, the early historical use of "puss" and "pussy" to describe fickle, spiteful or sly women created cultural associations between women, animals and the unpleasant qualities of each. Although "puss" and "pussy" moved away from such negative connotations and became terms of endearment for gentle, pretty and playful women, they also became derogatory terms for men whose behaviour was deemed to be overly feminine.

She provides OED citation to prove this. Go, read (and enjoy the Flickr photos of her cat)!