smooching and pssing revisited

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Aug 1 19:33:50 UTC 2001

I fled the media frenzy to Iceland on July 10, leaving my poor son to
deal with it; it blew over by the 11th, so I am now one of the once-
famous.  Indeed, just yesterday I overheard someone say "I wonder
whatever became of . . . .?"

While in Iceland and Norway I did fieldwork on the practice of
smooching to get a dog's attention and pssing to get a cat's.  Although
when I first posted a question about this here, some of our
correspondents professed complete unfamiliarity with the practice; but
then, they were neither cats nor dogs, to my knowledge.

I can say that dogs in these countries are almost universally familiar
with "smooch".  A dog attached to a hotel in Iceland ran most of the
way across a parking lot when I smooched to her, to sniff my fingers
and get her ears scratched.  Only a few dogs ignored a smooch.  One or
two reacted unfavorably: one drew back, and perhaps one acted sullen or
hostile.  Naturally, I am selective as to what dogs I smooch at,
opening conversations only with dogs I suppose to be in a mood to make
a new friend, and these dogs at least acted as if they knew I was
trying to flirt with them.

I met far fewer cats, of course.  A kitten on a farm in Iceland came
bouncing when I pssed at it, although it had noticed that I had floppy
laces on my shoes and might have come to play with them anyway.  A cat
employed in customer relations by a dockside restaurant in Halden,
Norway, had finished the chore of sampling a shrimp several tables from
mine, to reassure the woman that it was properly steamed and fit to
eat.  It walked away from her liking its chops and sat with its back to
me, 15 or more feet away.  I pssed at it.  It looked over its shoulder
at me; I pssed again; it got up and trudged to my table, where it
tested one of my shrimp.  Then feeling that its good nature was being
imposed upon, it walked around the corner and I didn't see it again.

Its true that I didn't try the experiment of smooching at cats and
pssing at dogs, and will have to apply for a grant to return to
Scandinavia to continue this important study.  But it does seem that we
can say that cats and dogs who are speakers of north Germaic languages
all understand.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African
Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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