Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday Trivia: Pussyfooting Around

The fact that cats walk silently (when they so choose) is universal and so today’s trivia word seems to be a very intuitive one. And in part, it is.

Today, if someone is “pussyfooting around”, they’re either walking stealthily, or proceeding with caution. Maybe they’re even figuratively tiptoeing around a topic.

Faraday "pussyfooting" on the counter -
perhaps he knows he should not be there?
Many people think Roosevelt coined the term, but – though there’s no doubt he was fond of the word – he didn’t invent it.

The verb “pussyfooting” as we know it today seems to have surfaced in print back in 1903, in the Atlanta Constitution where a columnist wrote: “Vice President Charles Warren Fairbanks is pussy-footing it around Washington.”

A related reference surfaced a bit prior to that, in November of 1893 as an article in Scribner’s Magazine referenced “…men who were beginning to walk pussy-footed and shy at shadows.”

But what if we told you it had an entirely different meaning over the pond?

The website Word Origins suggests that the use of the word is unflattering and pejorative. And in truth, whenever we’ve heard it, the word is usually delivered with a bit of scorn: “stop pussyfooting around!”

But what we didn’t know was that this could mean, “stop being a teetotaler!”

Wait. What?

It all goes back to Indian Territory Oklahoma in the early 1900’s – and a man by the name of William E. Johnson. Johnson, a renowned teetotaler, was apparently known for his silent walk.

Evidently Maxwell is not a pussyfoot ;-)
Newspapers in Muskogee, Oklahoma branded him as “the gent with the panther tread” and began
calling him “Pussyfoot” Johnson.

(Apparently he admitted to wearing rubber heels on his shoes…?)

Johnson made his way over the pond in 1916 to broaden the reach of his prohibitionist message. And it was there that “pussyfooting” came to be known as supporting the ban of alcohol.

Word Origins tells us,

“The English took the nickname and applied it as a derisive term for a prohibitionist or teetotaler.

A 23 July 1919 cartoon in Punch had this caption:

Gloomy Policeman. ‘You’ve had enough. Better go home.’ 
Reveller. ...’Shurr-up—Pussy-foot!’” 

So now you know!
Oxford English Dictionary, pussy-footed, adj., 3rd Edition, Dec 2007, Oxford University Press, accessed 25 Dec 2008 .
Louis E. Jackson and C.R. Hellyer, A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang (Portland, OR: Modern Printing Co., 1914), 68. 
"Over 90,000 Bottles Liquor Confiscated," Evening News (Ada, OK), 29 Apr 1908.
Word Origins


  1. Hmmm... my Auntie Primrose stomps around the house like she's auditionin' for a stomp fest or somethin'. No pussyfootin' around for that girl!

    I, on the other paw, am very stealthy.


  2. That was a fun post!

    cats of wildcat woods

  3. Lovely! Talking about cat movement, in FInnish the phrase 'Nostaa kissa pöydälle' means to put the cat on the table, literally (kissa is cat) with the actual meaning to start to talk about a difficult subject.

  4. We could think of someone we wish would pussyfoot around LOL instead of doing a baby elephant impersonations.
    Nice one. Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  5. Now we know for sure. Great post.

    Have a great day.

    hugs, Bugsy and Knuckles

  6. What a fun history lesson!
    Of course his usual form... has broken the history norms. He's simply not capable of pussyfooting of ANY sort. He's more like a herd of wild elephants.
    ; ) Katie

  7. You learn something new everyday!!
    Love Milo :)

  8. Well, that was a weird way for that saying to develop… especially considering how much we kitties love nip!

  9. Maxwell seems to have no intention of pussyfooting any more MEOW!
    Very neat and Fun

  10. Well I don't walk like a silent indian , I walk like an Elephant :)

  11. well that was unexpected....

    and we have to say, "pussyfooting" will never happen around here - those kittens sound like a herd of elephants

  12. We love knowing where terms come from.

  13. We didn't know about that alternative meaning over this side of the pond!! Mum thinks that pussyfooting means I'm doing my stampeding herd of wildebeest impression!! ;)

  14. The art of sneakiness is one we cats are born least I think so.....! Love that photo of Maxwell in the beer carton box.....a man after my Dad's heart! HAHAHA

    Kitty Hugs, Sammy

  15. As always, very interesting! I guess the humans are pussyfooting around when they don't want to give us treats, too ;-)

  16. Can we offer an a;ternate meaning? We cats place our front paws carefully on to the ground to not crunch leaves or twigs. Then our back paws come to rest on the exact sme spots as the front paws (already determined to be non-noisey).

    So "pussyfooting" is (to Beins) something like "leaving no sounds or evidence of presence". And WE think that's what the earliest references really meant.

    And THAT is as old as WE are when the Beins first thought to try to copy our stealthy ways when we first came into their lives...

  17. Even without the beer box, Maxwell looks as if he has had a few too many. Purrs and hugs, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo


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