Curiosity Killed the Cat(ta): Part Two

In Part One, I looked at the mainly visual evidence for cats and mustelids, but for Part Two, it is time to concentrate on the words themselves, both by diving into their etymologies, as well as by looking at some pertinent examples of ancient and medieval literary descriptions. So without further ado, let’s look at the etymologies of the modern words for the mustelids. What will be apparent very quickly, is just how much these animals overlap conceptually and semantically across cultures. Continue reading “Curiosity Killed the Cat(ta): Part Two”

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Curiosity Killed The Cat(ta): Part One

My own curiosity was piqued recently when I found out that the OED entry for the Modern English cat is listed as a common Indo-European word of unknown origin, with the oldest cited example being an uncommon Latin word – catta. So uncommon, that I had to go to my Lewis and Short to see what it said, since the only Latin word for cat with which I was familiar was feles. My suspicions were confirmed: this dictionary defined the word catta as “an unknown species of animal.” Moreover, the OED provides both catta and cattus as interchangeable nouns, which struck me as somewhat odd. Yet when we look to most modern European languages, some variant of ‘cat’ appears in very many of them – but not all. Continue reading “Curiosity Killed The Cat(ta): Part One”

Frosty Reflections

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Thus wrote Robert Frost in his beautifully succinct poem, Fire and Ice, first published in 1920 – his style so crisp, so measured, and elegant. And yet, even though not one syllable is either wasted or superfluous, it is equally true that not a single word is lacking. Frost is able to convey in a mere fifty-one words, something of the complexity of humanity and our impact upon the earth. When an origin story for this poem is offered, one of two is generally put forward. Continue reading “Frosty Reflections”

Why Word-Hoard?

As a lifelong student of history, folklore, myths and languages – and I do mean life-long! I spent as long as I possibly could as an undergraduate and I’m currently enjoying (some would say procrastinating) a long period of part-time postgraduate research. All through my studies, I’ve had a thing for collecting fascinatingly unique stories, phrases or words. Some of these have been spun out into research projects, individual conference presentations or essays; indeed my current masters thesis research is the fruit of many a year’s worth of tidbits. Yet other words or images have languished, alone and unread after the initial joy of their finding. Continue reading “Why Word-Hoard?”