[Ads-l] calico (cat)

Barretts Mail mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 18 14:20:18 EST 2018

I’ve never understood what a calico cat is, so I looked it up (as I’ve done before):

1. English OLD (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/calico <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/calico>)
North American 
	• (of an animal, typically a cat) multicoloured or piebald.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/piebald <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/piebald>
(of a horse) having irregular patches of two colours, typically black and white.

Since most cats are at least bicolored, this includes nearly all of them.

2. Wiktionary (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/calico <https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/calico>)
Having a pattern of red and contrasting areas, resembling the color of calico cloth.
Synonym: tortoiseshell

3. Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calico <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calico>)
a blotched or spotted animal especially : one that is predominantly white with red and black patches

“Blotched” seems like a particularly useful qualification. 

4. According to “All About Calico Cats” (https://www.wwwallaboutcats.com/calico-cats <https://www.wwwallaboutcats.com/calico-cats>), calicoism is the result of partial deactivation of the X chromosome, and there are three “well known” types: dilute, tortoiseshell and patched tabby. 

I remain uncertain of how this word is used. When taken together, the three dictionary meanings do not seem instructive, particularly when citation 4 is taken into account.

I suspect that there is a colloquial term just meaning “multicolored with some blotches” and a prescribed scientific term as per the calico article.

Also of relevance, an ADS email from Victor Steinbok (http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2012-January.txt <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2012-January.txt>), in which he notes that calico is probably not common for horses.

Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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