Joe White's Blog Life, .NET, and cats

Catymology #Cats

In case anyone ever wants to make sense of us talking to (or about) our cats, here's a guided tour of our household's catspeak and the origins thereof. For your reading amusement. Don't expect any coherency to this post; it's just random rambling. (Once, I had an idea of how I was going to structure this post, but I've forgotten. Pretty normal.)

So our oldest cat is named Stefan, after a character I created for an Ars Magica game and then never got to play. We got him from the Humane Society when he was still fairly young and kittenish. He quickly earned himself the nickname "Stepped-On", so named for his undeniable talent at placing himself directly in front of our feet whenever we were walking around the apartment. (It probably didn't help that we were in a very small apartment at the time.)

A while later, Jennie spontaneously started calling him "Beanbowl".

We still don't know where the name came from. My best guess is that she was trying to call him "Bean Boy" and I misheard. But wherever it came from, it stuck.

We didn't pick Stefan; he picked us. He jumped into Jennie's arms as soon as he saw her, and when she called me over, he perched on my outstretched arm. He once climbed into a pouch in the repair guy's toolbelt. So (yet another nickname) we call him our pet-me-love-me boy.

Stefan hates going to the vet (what cat doesn't?), but he is still Stefan. When the vet comes into the exam room, he will purr, rub up against her legs, and hiss, all at the same time. The vet calls him a twit.

Then, a year or so after we got Stefan, we moved into a rental house (which is in itself a tale for another day), and Jennie got a full-time job. And Stefan got lonely being alone all day. The thing that finally got our attention was when a neighborhood stray wandered onto our screened-in porch, and Stefan came over to sniff and say hello. The stray hissed and growled, and despite this, Stefan was still anxious to sniff and be friends. Hmm, thought I. He needs a little brother.

Off to the Humane Society, where we got a little orange kitten like Jennie had always wanted. We named him Tycho (lifted from a city name in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), although he quickly earned the nickname Psycho, from his habit of tearing madly around at top speed and crashing into things (like walls), his ADHD, and (when he actually manages to focus on anything) his sheer intensity.

At some point, I made reference to him being the Lesser Beanbowl. Seeking to shorten that title, I wondered: What's the diminutive form of "Beanbowl"? Well, obviously, it must be "Beanlet".

That one really stuck. I don't think he even knows his name is Tycho. But when we say Beanlet, he knows exactly who we're talking to.

We'll sometimes refer to something moving "at the speed of Beanlet". If you've met him, you understand.

When I was growing up, a phrase that my dad used on occasion, like when we were getting ready to go to the store (and especially when things kept coming up to delay us, but we finally headed out), was, "And we're off... like a thundering herd of turtles."

When Beanlet goes charging madly around, we can hear him throughout the entire house. I've commented that he sounds like a thundering herd of Beanlet. (Yes, the singular is deliberate.)

There's an old Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin decides to get even with Hobbes for all the times he (Hobbes) has snuck up and pounced on him (Calvin). So there Hobbes is, lying on his back, taking a nap. And Calvin takes a flying leap directly at Hobbes' belly, letting out a holler as he goes. Hobbes wakes up, takes the situation in at a glance, and bares teeth and claws. Calvin, still in midair, tries frantically to change course, to no avail. In the last frame, he limps away, saying "I keep forgetting five of his six ends are pointy when he lies like that."

This is particularly applicable to Beanlet, because his claws are very sharp, and he likes to say hello with his teeth. He's front-claw declawed (as are Stefan and Noel), so he has three pointy ends (one head, two back paws) and three non-pointy ends (two front paws, tail). So we like to say that fifty percent of his ends are pointy. Especially when we play extreme sports (meaning that Beanlet is lounging on the floor, and one of us comes over and tickles his belly with our feet).

We also call him Squeaky. It's hard to imagine a cat squeaking, but if you've heard Beanlet, especially when he's sleepy or hungry, you would have to agree that "squeak" is the only word to describe it. Imagine the sound Chrono's cat makes in Chrono Trigger, and you'll be close. Beanlet is a champion squeaker.

Beanlet does not rub up against the vet and purr. He just hisses, and yowls, and bites — even when they're just trying to get him on the scale to weigh him. He even has a sticker. The vet calls him crabby. (The vet calls all three of our senior cats crabby. On the plus side, I'm assured that they get a lot crabbier than even Beanlet. They've never had to get the pole out for Beanlet.)

Then one day, after we had moved to Omaha, Jennie noticed both Stefan and Tycho making lots of noise at the apartment door. She opened the door, and there was a little white fuzzball.

She went to the apartment office, and together she and the landlady went around to all three apartment buildings, asking if anyone belonged to this kitten. Nobody did. It's not even clear how she got into the building. The running theory is that somebody had moved out and left her behind, and had been let out when the crew came to clean out the vacated apartment. But the last move-out had been two weeks prior, and she was too healthy (and too well-groomed) to have been left locked in an apartment for two weeks. So, in the end, she's a mystery. Women often are.

We already had two cats, and technically the apartment complex only allows two cats to an apartment. We made sure to get the exception in writing.

This was shortly before Christmastime, so we decided to name her Noel. She didn't get her first nickname for a couple of weeks, because we couldn't find her for a couple of weeks. It turned out she was crawling under our bed, and from there was climbing over the top of one of our drawers, and hiding inside the drawer. That particular drawer had a huge pile of stuff outside it, and we hadn't actually opened the drawer for probably a couple of months beforehand. It took a while before it even occurred to us that she might be in a drawer that we never opened. She's always been our skittish child.

Those first couple of weeks, she didn't make a sound. We were starting to wonder if she was mute. But once she got settled in, we couldn't shut her up. Meow. Meow. Meow.

Hence her first nickname: Noisy. (It didn't stick as well as Stepped-On and Psycho, though. Probably because it's not as alliterative.)

I'm not sure whether she even knows her name is Noel, because we usually just call her "baby girl".

She's our high-maintenance child (she's earned the nickname "diva" to add to her repertoire). She's the one who hid behind the toilet and didn't want to come out when we first moved into our house. She's the one who currently isn't eating, apparently on hunger strike in hopes of getting us to send the new kitten back. She's also the one who is always trying to drink our milk; she hasn't quite caught on yet that she's very lactose-intolerant, and will just go throw it up.

She also happens to be our local bully. She didn't let being smaller than Stefan and Tycho intimidate her. No sir. She beat them up early and often. She liked to sit on a high piece of furniture and swoop on them when they went by, thus earning her the further nicknames "thug" (from a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin threatens his mom with a water balloon) and "vulture" (a Peanuts reference this time).

And then we got Sox. No story behind his name; he came with one. His nicknames aren't alliterative, either, but I think they will stick. His first nickname is Monkey. (I wish I had a picture of him climbing up our vacuum cleaner earlier tonight.)

He's also quickly earning himself a place among my ranks of marsupials. When I hide my hands under a blanket and scratch the sheet to get his attention, he doesn't pounce like a cat. Instead, he does a high, slow arc, often with back feet down — very reminiscent of a kangaroo. Go figure.

Although I have to admit, I've never seen a kangaroo shake its butt like that.

Sox still has 87% pointy ends, and one thing I had forgotten about having a kitten is that smaller paws mean smaller claws, which mean smaller tips of the claws, which translates to... very sharp. Jennie and I are both constantly bleeding from dozens of puncture wounds. It doesn't help that he's not just sharp, he's a sharp monkey. I'm getting new freckles on my shoulders, except that these aren't really freckles, they're scars from where he tried to walk behind my head from one shoulder to the other, and then lost his balance... or tried to attach himself to my back from midair. He also likes to climb up our legs, regardless of whether we're wearing long pants at the time, which is always an adventure.

I had to come out into the kitchen last weekend to rescue Jennie. She had bent over to get something out of the oven, and Sox had leapt onto her back. She couldn't stand up for fear of blood loss.

Sox is absolutely fearless. He chases his brothers and sister around the house, even the ones (Stefan and Noel) that hiss at him. He'll walk right into the middle of your dinner plate if you don't stop him quick enough. He wants to explore everything, and we have to keep explaining to him, "No kittens allowed in the dryer. No kittens in the dishwasher. No kittens in the refrigerator." Once he was about to leap up onto the open oven door, just as we were taking the pizza out. I still worry about that one. 450 degrees. Ouch. That one would have resulted in multiple emergency-room visits... one for him and one for me.

Despite all that, he fits into my hand, and is very cuddly when he's not tearing the place up or trying to eat my clothing. (Both he and Stefan like to eat my watch band and my sandals. Must be a gray-cat thing.)

All of our cats are very cuddly when they want to be. Stefan loves to curl up in my lap while I'm on the toilet; it's his favorite spot. They'll all occasionally curl up with us in bed, or more often, on us. You've heard the old "I ran out of sick days, so I called in dead"? We talk about having to call in cat. After all, when an adorable ball of cuteness is curled up on you, who wants to disturb it?

Our most notable vocabulary word that doesn't directly refer to a cat is the "bumblestick". This is one of those plastic sticks with feathers and a bell on the end, like you can buy at any pet store. The word came from the way I wave it madly through the air, humming "Flight of the Bumblebee" as I go.

Oh, and then there's my assertion that cats are full of fuzz. (They must be — look how much keeps leaking out. Part of our move-out bill at our last apartment was for cleanup of "excessive cat hair". The stairway in our new house is slowly turning orange.) I once commented that our kids are probably going to end up getting into arguments with their science teachers. "Wait a minute, cats are full of fuzz! What's all this bones and shit?"

Sigh... cats. Very cool. Very entertaining. Very hungry (Stefan has been sitting in front of the monitor for a good half hour now, trying to get my attention, so I suppose I'd better go feed him now).