Monday, March 22, 2010

Cat Talking

When I was a kid, our family included both cats and dogs, sometimes simultaneously.  My favorite pet was Coco, a mongrel rat terrier who slept under the covers of anyone's bed (a whore, really) and whose incorrigible gluttony led to fatal kidney disease (she was especially fond of vanilla ice cream topped with peanut butter).

Sometime prior to Coco's demise, we nearly froze/asphyxiated Pizza, a male tabby who somehow found his way into a deep freeze in our basement.  We don't know how long he spent in the cooler, but when Grandma Kirkeby opened the freezer door in search of a frozen pie shell, Pizza burst out, shaking his paws and miauling in absolute fury at our unforgivable lèse majesté.

So, I've had experience as both a dog person and a cat person.

These days, though, I'm mostly hanging out with a feline--Sasha, the catatonic cat.  I've mentioned her several times before in this blog--a sign, perhaps, of my increasing fascination with creatures who seem, at least, to be able to perceive things existing only in the fourth dimension.  

Of course, such creatures--given their special insights--have no need for our hopelessly deficient human language.  They just "know" things by virtue of "being."  And, on the rare occasion that they have any need to communicate with three-dimensional types (for instance, when they want us to move our limbs into a position they find more comfortable), they have only to bite the offending arm or leg.  This almost always works quite nicely.

We humans, alas, must generally rely on language to communicate.  It follows, therefore, that both my sister and I spend a good deal of our time cat talking --i.e., talking either TO the cat or THROUGH the cat.

Let me explain these two important types of speech.

A.  Talking TO the cat.  Since we, unlike Kitty herself, cannot convey our wishes or feelings in non-verbal ways, we are sometimes obliged to speak directly to the Cat.  Two functions, in particular, are involved:  1) commands and 2) endearments.

Examples of commands:

  • Here, Kitty.  Come and snuggle with Kenny!
  • Kitty!  Get down from the counter! Now!
  • Get back in here, Sasha!  Move it!  Bad Kitty!
Examples of endearments:

  • Such a good Kitty!  Licky, licky.  Daddy loves the kitty, too.
  • OK, you can lie on Kenny's belly, but let me move the clicker first. There.
  • You're a pretty kitty.  Oh, look; here's your mousie. Listen to the mousie squeak.
B.  Talking THROUGH the cat.  This form of language is considerably more frequent than direct  communication WITH the creature.  When we (my sister and I) talk "through" the cat, we are actually hoping that the Cat (our ostensible interlocutor) will use her fourth-dimensional powers to either 1) transfer the message to another usually unresponsive human, or 2) help the speaker clarify his/her own thoughts and arrive at a possible course of action. 

Examples of "hoped-for transfer."

  • Sasha, you lazy cat! Why don't you make yourself useful and unload the dishwasher?
  • Well, Kitty, I bet you want to watch the Gophers game, don't you?
  • Oh, Kitty.  Look at that pile of laundry that needs to be folded.  If it was all folded up, you could nap on it, couldn't you?  I bet you'd like that.
Examples of "hoped-for clarification."

  • Well, we haven't done very much today, have we, Kitty?  You sleep all the time.  I'll bet you're clinically depressed.  You are a truly useless Cat.
  • What do you think about health care, Kitty?  You don't really know, do you?  You're such a dork.  I suppose we have to start somewhere.  You'd like some health care, wouldn't you, Kitty?  I bet the Republicans would rather give health care to dorky cats than to poor people.  Well, duh.
A word should be said in conclusion about Kitty's reaction to our various linguistic acts.  She usually responds to commands, especially if they are shouted or screamed, by running under the wingback chair. She then sulks briefly and stares out the window (seeking fourth-dimensional support for her humiliating ordeal?).  She may show some slight interest in endearments, but she is easily overstimulated and, when thus agitated, she runs back under the wingback chair. "Transfer" and "Clarification" messages, on the other hand, do not seem to affect her in any significant way.  But perhaps her blank look is merely the result of intense concentration and effort to help us poor humans "get it."  

Good Kitty.

1 comment:

  1. It's good to know Beca, Claire (our cat) and I aren't the only ones.