Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday Trivia: Origin of the Tomcat

Everyone knows what "tomcat" means. The word seems to have been around forever!
Not quite, actually. It only dates back about 245 years, give or take.

"Tomcat" first appears in a book written by British dramaticist and novelist Henry Fielding, in his title, The Life and Adventures of a Cat (1760).

Fielding was known for his somewhat earthy humor and the book itself, though a children’s title, was considered by some at the time to be a bit edgy for young eyes.

Faraday: Do I look like a "Tom" to you? Didn't think so. I'm a "Faraday".
The book’s protagonist was a male cat by the name of Tom, who Fielding repeatedly referred to throughout the story as “Tom the Cat.” The book was highly popular at the time, possibly for the same reason parents don’t mind taking their kids to see a Disney movie: much of the dialogue has a secondary meaning that adults appreciate.

At any rate, Fielding’s use of the phrase “Tom the Cat,” together with its popularity, resulted in a cultural shift: male cats came to be known as tomcats.

Prior to this, they were referred to as ram-cats. And the origin of this phrase was so ubiquitous that it would be impossible to date its origin.

Its oldest use in print can only be traced back to a book written by British satirist John Wolcot, writing as Peter Pindar in 1788. Note this actually postdates Fielding's "tomcat"!

The book was Peter's pension: a solemn epistle to a sublime personage and here’s a screenshot of its use in the book:
Allie: And of course, I'd like to remind everyone that boycats are merely called Tom, while us girlcats are properly called Queen.

Anyone want to challenge her opinion on that? Maxie? Faraday? Nope, didn't think so.


Notes and Queries, William White. Oxford Journals. Complete text here.

Henry Fielding: wikipedia

Online Etymology Dictionary: "Tomcat"

The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature: Volume 2, 1660-1800, George Watson (Editor). Cambridge Universtiy Press.

Peter's pension: a solemn epistle to a sublime personage, Pindar, Peter. London, 1788. Complete text here.


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  1. Interesting but we LOLed at the queen bit. Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Cool info - we didn't know that!!

    The Florida Furkids

  3. What a cool story! And we totally agree with you, Allie ;)

  4. That was very interesting and educational - you are smart kitties.

  5. Hmm. I think we need a better name for man cats than Tom.
    Now Mom always thought Tomcats were un-neutered male cats - so what should we neutered buys be called? Same with Queen, she thought that was reserved for a breeding female (or breed able one).

  6. Mowzer! Tom cat is sure better den 'ram cat' DOES sometimes call me her "widdle goat" because of my head-bonks. *blank stare*

  7. Wow we didn't know all that :-)

  8. Maxwell and Faraday I think you are wise not to challenge the QUEEN!
    Very interesting background on the word "tom" for male cats.

  9. Very interesting. I did not know that. Now how did erm, roaming MEN get to be called tomcats? heh

  10. I wonder why female kittens aren't called Princesses. Well, actually around here, they are!

  11. Allie...indeed and I second and triple bazillion trazillion your statement....hugs girl from dai$y, queen of cats, royalty of trout towne....

    { dont EVEN mess with me brother boomer or cousin tuna }



  12. Interesting! I definitely did not know where the term came from before reading this.

  13. Interesting to know. Ramcats doesn't sound so good.

  14. Good point, Allie! Those boys should pay attention... and bow down.

  15. Mom bean lubs the Thursday trivia 'cuz she learns so much. Now whether she retains any of it, that's another matter, MOL

    Sasha, Sami, & Saku

  16. No, Faraday, you look much to distinguished to be a common "Tom" cat.

  17. Very interesting read! Of course we think the last sentence is the most impawtant. - Precious & Prudie

  18. Interesting! Faraday definitely does NOT look like a "Tom" and Allie absolutely totally looks like a "Queen" !! Me????? I'm certainly a SAMMY!

    Hugs, Sammy

  19. Being an English major, Mom read a couple of Fielding's works in college, but never heard of this particular one. Oh my gosh, now we know why we have so much discord in our house: Seven Queens vying to be top cat! XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

  20. We had a male cat named Tom, but Mom often called him TomCat.

  21. Allie! Being a Queen is much better than being a tom or a ram!

  22. I’m glad you’re not a Tom Faraday or I’d have to put a “hit” on you. The Toms are the rival gang to my Alleys.


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