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Cats and Dogs

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It’s cats and dogs, and a few other critters, too. Animals prowl around inside several English words, including sleuth, which was originally sleuth-hound, a synonym for bloodhound. Plus, the language we use with our pets and the ways they communicate with us. Boop a snoot, anyone? And NPR Puzzlemaster Will Shortz stops by to add to the menagerie with a punny quiz about some animals you’re not likely to see. Plus, it’s raining cats and dogs, cat beer, my dogs are barking, gee and haw, lloviendo hasta maridos, chatoyant, and splooting. Don’t step in any barker’s eggs!

This episode was released April 5, 2023.

Footprints on Language

 Animals leave their footprints in several English words, including chatoyant, or “shimmering like a cat’s eyes” and sleuth, which is short for sleuth-hound, a kind of bloodhound used for sniffing out prey. Pets have also inspired lots of playful terms. For example, when a cat leaves its tongue out, that’s a blep. A blop is a “little blep.” A boop is “a gentle tap on a critter’s nose,” or snoot, so if a friendly pup is nearby, you can reach out and boop a snoot. Mlem is a cats’ gentle licking of its whiskers. Other such terms include doggos and puppers and pupperinos. A sploot is when a dog or cat or squirrel lies on its tummy with limbs outstretched.

Cat Beer, Cat Hair, and Cat’s Face

 In parts of the United States, the dialectal terms cat beer, cat hair, and cat face mean “milk,” “money,” and “the mark left on a tomato when it’s pulled off the vine.”

Barker’s Eggs

 In Australia, if you’re taking the dog for a walk, be sure to talk along a plastic bag to pick up any barker’s eggs.

Raining Cats and Dogs Origin

 The idiom It’s raining cats and dogs alludes to the cacophonous nature of a heavy downpour. Around the world, expressions about torrential rain also connote the idea of a noisy affair. In Greece, the equivalent phrase for such a deluge translates as “It’s raining chair legs.” In South Africa, it’s “raining grandmothers with clubs.” In Poland, it’s “raining frogs,” and in Colombia, the phrase is Están lloviendo hasta maridos, or “It’s even raining husbands.”

My Dogs are Barking

 My dogs are barking means “My feet hurt” or “My feet are tired.” As early as 1913, cartoonist Tad Dorgan was using the term dogs to mean “feet.” If your dogs in this sense are “barking,” it’s as if they’re seeking your attention. The makers of Hush Puppies shoes capitalized on this idea when selling their soft, comfortable shoes.

Will Shortz and His Fantastical, Quizzical Creatures

 Will Shortz, crossword editor of the New York Times and puzzlemaster on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday,” shares a quiz about a whole menagerie of animals with names that are portmanteaus. For example, if you could cross a chipmunk and a monkey, you might get a chipmunky and a cockatoo crossed with a toucan would be a cockatoocan. What overlapping animal name might you get if you crossed an Australian hopping animal and a male barnyard bird?

As Dark as the Inside of A…

 Pam in Eureka, California, says that when her mother and grandmother would enter a particularly dark room, they’d remark that it was dark as the inside of a goat. Mark Twain used the phrase dark as the inside of a cowin his book Roughing It (Bookshop|Amazon) as well as The Innocents Abroad (Bookshop|Amazon). Other versions include dark as the inside of a whale, cat, black cat, a sack, a horse, a magician’s hat, a coal scuttle, the Devil’s waistcoat pocket, andthe inside of a needle. Joyce Cary once wrote about something being as dark as the inside of a cabinet minister, and Groucho Marx also had something to say about the inside of a dog.

Gee and Haw in Dog-Sledding

 In dog sledding, the commands gee and haw are used for left and right respectively. KattiJo in Fairbanks, Alaska, uses those terms when training her dogs for the Iditarod and wonders about their origin.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Roughing It by Mark Twain (Bookshop|Amazon)
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (Bookshop|Amazon)

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