Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursday Trivia: Copycat!

The word copycat is so ubiquitous, it's easy to miss when considering the origin of pet-related words or phrases.

But it's really fairly young, as words go.

It's a slang term - an Americanism. As such, it was probably in use colloquially for a bit before it first appeared in print.

It means to imitate or mimic someone or something. And it has a slightly negative or disapproving connotation. Being called a copycat isn't really a compliment, after all.

Its first use in print has been traced to a late 19th century American writer by the name of Constance Cary Harrison (we'd never heard of her, either!).

And - you'll love this! - the book was written from the point of view of a fox terrier named Dame Trot. Her canine companion was a fox terrier named Paul Pry. The book details several adventures with her human family (the master, the mistress and "our boys") in day trips set around Bar Harbor, Maine.

Here's a little snippet from the book - and incidentally, the first known use of copycat in print:

An intrepid intern at the web-based magazine, Slate, is to be commended for her sleuthing. She was the one who actually tracked this down, and the folks over at the Stack Exchange  forwarded her research to the Online Etymology Dictionary for updating.

In the course of researching this, we came across a pretty nifty tool we had not known about. This tool is called the Ngram, and it tracks a word's use in print back through the centuries!

We plugged the word copycat (and all variations we could think of) into Ngram and here's what we found:

Sure enough - there's our little blip, right at 1887!

Again, we apologize for our mom, who tends to geek out at the most inappropriate times. Like now, when she should be showing gratuitous photos of Maxwell being a big copycat. When everyone knows it's not possible to copy purrfection. 

Who is copying whom, we ask?

Dictionary definition's online copy of Bar Harbor Days, by Constance Cary Harrison's article 
The Stack Exchange: English Language & Usage
Google Books' Ngram site's etymology
Wikipedia on Copycat 
Wikipedia on Constance Cary harrison


  1. Ngram sounds great. What a fun tool to have found when doing your research.
    Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. guys...ther used ta bee a copee cat in de office were de food servizz gurl werks but him
    wuz makin two manee copeez N him getted .....canned.......N de kitteh never did get any
    benny fitz either....

  3. We love those photos of the both of you being copycats. :p

  4. Boodie is the copycat here - she watches Binga's bad behavior, and then imitates it!

  5. I cannot tell who is copying whom ! Purrs, Zorro

  6. It's a tie! They are both equally adorable

  7. How very interesting to find out the origins of the word "copycat", had never thought about it before. Never heard of Ngram viewer before, but will go and find out more about it now. I agree with Goldie, they are both equally adorable.

  8. We loved the background and had never heard of Ngram! It's all so interesting.

  9. You are too cute singing! We never thought about where that term came from, but thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  10. Oh, we had forgotten about the Ngram. That thing is addictively fascinating.

  11. Probably no surprise that Waffles is a TOTAL copycat. Actually, that's putting it mildly. He's really an outright thief.
    ; ) Katie

  12. Me have never heard about Ngram , shall check it out later.
    I have no idea who is copying who if any of you is copying :)

  13. still don't understand why they used 'cat' because cats don't usually mimic or copy, that is a dog thing! Great pics of you guys singing though!


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