The Sassy Sandpiper: Cat-Speak
The Sassy Sandpiper learns another language.
By M.R. Wilson, Columnist, TB Reporter
Boston doesn’t meow. He trills. Often this pretty sound registers from low to high, suggesting an interrogative. “Where’s the really good food?” Just as often, Boston seemingly trills to himself, especially during play. He’s chasing his tail at the moment — and he caught it this time. Before each pounce, a trill.
Don’t even say it. You’re thinking, “The trill of victory; the agony of defeat.”
As many of you Esteemed Readers know, I was not always a crazy cat lady. I considered myself a dog person and still love dogs dearly and miss my greyhound Lady Jane fiercely. Synchronicity brought Boa to my door five years ago, and the rest is not cat-astrophe, but a brand-new level of curiosity, eccentricity, and love.
I am learning Cat-speak, a complex language involving not only sound but gesture and less subtle behaviors such as purring, yowling, hissing, snarling and spitting. I can imitate their vocalizations fairly well, but my efforts almost always garner a disdainful look somewhere between “Seriously? Why would you disgrace yourself like that?” and “Give it up, Human. There are lumps in my litter box.” My hiss does get their attention, but I draw the line at spitting. Once they realize it’s only me, I get a look that warns: “If I were human, I’d be calling 911.”
All kidding aside, I truly am amazed by the range and variety of cat voices. I can recognize most of their individual meows, probably by associating a human word or a humanlike sound with each one. Pixel often calls “RRA-UULLL!” It sounds to me like the Spanish masculine name Raúl. Alpha doesn’t meow; she lets go a long and loud squeal. If she’s annoyed by another cat’s invasion of her personal space, it’s more like hearing a retreating siren. You know, the Doppler Effect. Ginger cat Killian talks to herself in a series of soft mews; if I sneeze or cough and she’s nearby, she answers with that same interrogative lilt as Boston’s trill, as if asking “Are you okay?” Bruiser says “wow.” When Panther wants brushing, petting, or to use the indoor litterbox, she wails a distinct, two-syllable cry “murrrrr-oWWW?”
I’d bore you to tears describing all the cat sounds. There are silent types in the house, too. Oh, just one more: Elder cat Evi says “reh-reh” in greeting.
Cat people are familiar with feline body language, everything from flashing eyes that convey “I will flail you,” to the tail-up saunter that announces, “I am in charge here.”
I can’t do Cat Communication 101 justice in a short column. For expert instruction, try this.
A colleague once suggested it would be fun to write a column titled “If Cats Used Emoticons.” Just envision simple ones like flattened ears (everyone knows what that means); bared teeth, flexed claws, arched backs, bristled tails. These symbols actually exist and are called kaomojis. Cick to take a look at some truly brilliant “cat-icons.”
May you have a tails-up day!
Main photo shows Ohm and Pixel. In-story photo shows Marigold. Photos by M.R. Wilson, TB Reporter Columnist
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