No, this isn’t a post about the Supertramp song. Instead, I’m revisiting the subject of cats and dogs, which I mined in an earlier post. I’ve always thought that it’s curious how some seemingly analogous compound words containing “cat” and “dog” often have such divergent meanings. I’ve augmented the list of common phrases with some gleanings from the OED and other dictionaries. I think it’s worth remarking that there is a sexist or chauvinistic flavor to some of the definitions.
catnap • dognap
To catnap (v.) is to take a short, light doze. To dognap (v.) is to steal a dog, especially for the purpose of selling it for profit. What do you call it when someone steals a cat? Or are cats historically deemed to be not as valuable?
cathouse • doghouse
A cathouse (n.) is a brothel, a whorehouse. A doghouse (n.) is (1) a small shelter for a dog, (2) a small cabin (on a yacht) that presents a relatively high profile and gives the appearance of a box. A man in the doghouse is unhappy, whereas a man in a cathouse is probably pleased.
catfight • dogfight
These words have corresponding definitions (a fight between cats, a fight between dogs), but also differing ones. A catfight (n.) can be a vicious fight or altercation, especially between women. A dogfight (n.) is additionally a general disturbance or mêlée; specifically. a ‘scrap’ between aircraft. Reminds me of the awful joke, How is a woman like an airplane? A. both have cockpits. I prefer a more positive answer: both are good at banking.
catfish • dogfish
Okay, so these are really quite similar, but I’m including them in my list because there’s a neat tidbit at the end of this entry. A catfish (n.) refers to any of numerous scaleless, chiefly freshwater fishes of the order Siluriformes, characteristically having whiskerlike barbels extending from the upper jaw. Dogfish (n.) are any of several small sharks, especially of the genera Mustelus and Squalus, that are destructive to food fishes. There’s also an animal called a sea-cat, Anarrhichas lupus, more commonly known as the wolf-fish. Identity crisis?
The following are more obscure, but I’ll include them anyway.
cat-head • dog-head
A cat-head (n.) is a projecting timber or metal beam to which an anchor is hoisted and secured. A dog-head (n.) is the head of a nail or spike formed by a rectangularly projecting shoulder, or part of the lock of a gun; the hammer. No clever comment for this one.
bear-cat • bear-dog
A bear-cat (n.) can refer to either the red panda (Ailurus fulgens), which is considered to be related to raccoons, or to the binturong (Arctictis binturong), one of the larger members of the civet family. A bear-dog (n.) is simply any dog used to hunt bears, although there is a Finnish breed called the Karelian Bear Dog.
The red, or lesser, panda is another critter with an identity crisis. In addition to being called a bear-cat, it’s also known as a firefox. There are some related words for this entry: hellcat and hellhound. Furthermore, and along similar lines, a bearcat can also be an aggressive or forceful person; one of great energy or ability.
Last, and least, we have:
flying-cat • flying-dog
A flying-cat (n.), from the French chat-huant, is used to refer to some owls, whereas a flying-dog (n.) is of course a kind of vampire bat, not to be confused with flying foxes, which are some of the larger fruit bats. Is your head spinning? I think mine is.