Friday, January 05, 2007

I Cannot Speak Cat

In case I’ve never mentioned it, at one time or another I have studied various languages other then my native English: Latin, German, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Arabic. I am fluent in none of them. However, I do possess and am able to navigate various dictionaries, grammars, and lexicons related to those languages. Those are basically worthless skills if I can’t communicate with a person who speaks one of those languages.

Recently I have decided there is another language I need to learn: Cat. I know that we humans acknowledge Cat as a language made up of meows and purrs. However, the longer I live with Alex the more I realize that those meows and purrs, not to mention the occasional screech—especially when one unintentionally steps on Alex’s tail—have unique meanings in Cat language.

For example, there is a “meow” that I believe means “no.” This meow is somewhat drawn out and sounds a bit like a human whine. Alex usually speaks this word when he jumps up on his eating table and I pour dry cat food into his feeding dish rather than the Friskies Fine Cuts that he prefers. He gazes up at me with a pitiful look on his face (whoever suggested that cat faces aren’t expressive?) and says, “meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeooooooooooooow” in a tone reminiscent of a dirge. I respond by looking down at him and saying, “That’s all I have for you. Eat it.” He then repeats the word in the same tone, but a bit shorter, as in “meeeeeooooow” and may demonstrate his displeasure by using his paw to push his feeding dish off his table and onto the floor.

In my quest to learn Cat language I realize that Alex has already taught me quite a bit, especially during those times when he reinforces his verbal messages with non-verbal actions. I must add that most of those non-verbal messages relate to power—the power Alex has over me. For example, this evening I walked out to my garage to look for something I thought I had left in my car. Alex followed me into the garage and, when I was ready to leave, I opened the door and said, “Come on, Alex.” Like the exceptional housemate that he is, he began walking toward me. But before he reached me and the door, he sat down, lifted his leg, and began licking the spot where his scrotum would have been had I not had him “fixed” when he was a kitten. Not wanting to lock him in the garage, I repeated, “Come on, Alex! Now!” To which Alex replied, “Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeooooooooooooow” as he continued licking.

I walked toward my defiant feline friend and, before I could reach down and grab and lift him up by the nap of his neck (as his mommy used to do), Alex scampered under my car. Eventually he did agree to leave the garage, but only after he let me know with his body language and a couple of unintelligible (at least to me) words that he was doing so of his own free will and not because I had called him.

I truly believe that Alex can understand every word that I say; I only wish I could understand the words he speaks. So, if you know of a dictionary, grammar, or lexicon related to the language Cat, please let me know.


  1. Funny. One of your most humorous. I can't talk cat either, but then I don't live with one.

  2. Do you know how rich you would be if you could translate cat?!

  3. No dictionary of Cat that I know about. Sounds like you get plenty from his body language, though.

  4. Perfect solution: Get the pet psychic! Have you ever seen her on TV and how she talks to the animals? She's always accurate too! Try her! She'll probably run ya around $700 per hour...but at least you'll know what your cat's saying to you!

  5. I'm still trying to master "dog".

  6. Heh, my cat understands every word i say, but like you, i have no clue what she's saying back!

  7. I think even if people get the sounds down, we would then have a lot of cat 'looks' to decipher as well before we could completely understand.

  8. I speak broken cat. I know limited phrases. When there's something that I don't understand, Issy puts his claws into my lip. Usually, I get it then.

  9. I think you're doing purrrfectly well as you are.

    ('least there's no claws in your lips)

  10. I wish! My six are constantly telling me things I don't understand. The one thing I do understand is dinner, but that isn't a word, it's a claw in my thigh.

  11. My daughter's cats both talk to her. I don't think she can translate. She says they use the same meow for the same things each day.

  12. This is so funny! Most of us understand Mimi. We were just saying last night that we need to now translate Leo speak. Each has their own language.

    We understand Mimi because she makes us. We didnt have a choice. We were all in class 12 hours a day, she with her whip if we translated wrongly.

    We have alot to learn still be we do know:

    pet me NOW
    leave me alone NOW
    I want water NOW
    I want food NOW
    No, not that food, the FANCY FEAST FOOD NOW (she never liked any wet food, until she had fancy feast- oh boy!)

    The meows are sometimes short and rude, long and loving, long and rude, or many in a row when one of us did something wrong.

    Its funny, because if Phil says something when he's trying to be funny, and he's not really funny, i'll give him a 'look', and Mimi will give him a 'look' and a short mean meow- like- yeah, mom's right!