Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Language of Cats: An Illustrated Glossary

The language of cats … and language about cats. My family has an entire glossary of cat terms. Below are some illustrations. The pictures may illustrate things cats say with their voices or things that they say through their posture, attitude, or actions.

My husband’s family has severe allergies, so he did not have any pets when he was growing up. My family did have pets, but we unfortunately took very few pictures of them. I am therefore posting pictures of the pets my husband and I have had together through the years. Since we have known one another for 34 years and have been married for 27, I guess some of these count as “old” pictures.


Longcat – Maximum extension

Exposed – Like “longcat,” only with tummy on top for maximum tummy-scratching opportunity

Don Martin feet – a phenomenon associated with “exposed.” If you spent a wasted youth reading Mad Magazine, you’ll know what this is.

Flop-n-squirm – Cat approaches person, flops down on floor, stretches and rolls around on floor in various longcat and exposed postures, inviting admiration and affection


Cat yin-yang, cat spoons, catlick, etc. – Various expressions of cat coziness and affection

Bookends – What it sounds like

Line-o-cats – What it sounds like; the more cats are involved, the rarer it is

Heap-o-cats – What it sounds like

(Below are four kittens that were abandoned at our church; we rescued them and found homes for them over the course of the next several weeks during a very fondly remembered November. For those weeks, we had eight cats in our household ... ah, the good old days.)


Cat-in-a-box (Cat-in-a-basket, Cat-in-a-bag) – Self-explanatory. Cats particularly fond of tight locations.

Catacombs – Cat buried or hidden, or in plain sight but disguised by surroundings


Outitude – Cat gives self bath. Cat forgets to reel in tongue. Used in a sentence: “Oh, look, Pipsqueak has an outitude.”

“Meep-meep!” = “I’m cute. Give me some love.” Second “meep” is more high-pitched and more emphatic. Only one of our cats, Fred, ever uttered this or The Silent Meow, and he is shown below – I can’t remember which one he is doing in this picture.

The Silent Meow – This term may have been coined by Paul Gallico. Cat opens mouth to meow, but nothing comes out except a faint exhalation of air, the equivalent of a cat whisper or sigh.


Beans – Cat’s eyes get square, cat starts to wiggle rear end, then runs around insanely with much spazzing. Unless you are a super-skilled action photographer, you can really only capture “incipient beans” (first two pictures below – notice the eyes and the ears). The third picture is "in medias beans,” a Latin expression which, as Lemony Snicket would say, in this case means “in between beans.” May lead to next item.

“I meant to do that.” – Attempt by cat to look nonchalant after doing something really stupid. Example: Cat runs around insanely (see “Beans”), crashes into wall. Cat then licks shoulder as though nothing happened. Or: Cat launches self off of back of recliner, propels self onto window screen, then hangs there with an indifferent look on its face as though all is cool.

Acting ugly – (Southernism) Cat assumes threatening posture toward another cat, hisses, swats at, chases, scratches, bites another cat. Or cat lies in wait and pounces on another cat. Cat fights in general. Used in a sentence: “R.B., stop acting ugly.” (Sometimes accompanied by “I’m gonna mess U up” = meant to be a threatening sound or utterance, but the voice is so high-pitched, the effect is ridiculous.)

Oogie – Brazenly naughty. Related: To oog = to act in a brazenly naughty manner. Ooginess = brazen naughtiness. Oh, no, I have not been able to find a picture which illustrates this. Those sneaky little stinkers.

Bonk – Head-tap of affection


Two-headed cat – Self-explanatory

Cat Lovey - Same as a baby lovey; cat's special "security friend"

Cataholics - What we are. We may have more pictures of our cats than we do of our kids. We are close to becoming crazy little old cat people. Dangerously close.

Submitted for the 13th edition of Smile for the Camera: All Creatures Great and Small.


  1. Greta,

    We didn't have names for them, but I have to say that I recognized each and every one of these terms! Man, I thought only our cats were crazy but I've come to learn that they all are. Cute, though, aren't they? Thanks for sharing! (This could have been my next "Humor Of It" article for Shades of the Departed, but none of the non-cat people would "get" it!)


  2. Greta, I laughed and laughed at this! My favorite was the Don Martin feet - I totally got that one since I grew up with my dad's old Mad magazines!!
    Great post!

  3. Greta, I think you are a "chip off my block"!!! We would call those first photos....rubba tummy. I'll have to post some of my "babies photos" ;-) I have three now, Christie, Jevert, Pseudolus and visiting for the past five years, Walter. LOVE, LOVE LOVE, cats.

  4. Donna, You're right - cat people immediately get it, but non-cat people just think "huh?" Our cats have provided so much material for our amusement over the years, it was really difficult to pick just a few pictures.

    Leah - I just knew there would be one or two people who would get the Don Martin reference! Glad you enjoyed this.

    Harriet - Yay, another cat person!

    Linda, I can't wait to see your cat photos. I have so many funny cat pictures left over, I'm thinking of occasionally using Wednesday to post a cat picture with another cat term.

    I'm happy to see my family and I aren't the only ones who are cat-possessed and cat-obsessed.

  5. Greta, your post and the photos of your cats are priceless! I enjoyed them so much.

  6. I smiled from ear to ear! Thank you very much!
    From one cat lover to another,

  7. Greta,

    These are hilarious. Our own family's "catspeak" has evolved into such a complex and family-specific language that it never even occurred to me that another family would also have terms for our favorite cattitudes!

    I could go on and on about our beasties here, but I fear it might make me look like even more of a crazy cat lady than I already am (I often tease my husband that he is a crazy cat lady too). But I will share one observation: in our household, "Don Martin feet" is accompanied by "Rod Stewart knees," in which the fuzz on the upturned kitty's knees resembles the hairstyle of a certain 1970s star.

    So much fun to read!!!


  8. Thank you - I'm so glad you enjoyed it and I love to hear about other "crazy cat families." There are more terms that I'll try to illustrate in future posts, maybe for future (Almost) Wordless Wednesdays. I'd love to hear about your family's cat language and see pictures of your guys. I love the visual I get for "Rod Stewart knees."

  9. Just found your hilarious cat pages - I've been owned by several cats over the years and recognise all the poses! Current cat does the "cat dance" (kneading with front paws before settling down) and enjoys asking for a door to be opened only to sit half in-half out. I suspect out of spite :-)

  10. S. G. - So glad you enjoyed this! I think that you are correct, and that cats often have ulterior motives for their behavior. I'm sure they try to use psychology on us just as we try to use it on them!

  11. So adorable...clever....and funny! Great post!