pssing and smooching

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Jul 3 14:06:53 UTC 2001

Is smooching to dogs and pssing to cats really just my own idiolect?
I thought that everyone did it.  When I meet a dog who seems eager to
make a new friend, I make a kissing sound -- as Tom Kysilko says, a
tight bilabial sucking -- if the dog responds favorably, I offer my
fingers for sniffing.  When I want to get the attention of my cats, or
other cats, I make a puh -- a bilabial plosive, I think? -- followed by
a long hiss.  It was my impression that that sound was the origin of
the word puss or pussy, meaning cat, because it was universally used in
addressing them.  I have not looked this up, though.  I also knew at
least one other person who was accustomed to smooch to strange dogs, as
an ice-breaker.

As regards their understanding of English, I can proudly say that my
cats recognize thousands of English commands.  They only obey two --
well, one almost always and one sometimes -- but they understand all
the others, and only disregard them after giving them careful thought.

My cats are brothers, about 5; their mother was an American domestic
shorthair, their father an undocumented alien from the former Soviet, a


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

----- Original Message -----
From: Rudolph C Troike <rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU>
Date: Tuesday, July 3, 2001 4:19 am
Subject: "pssing" at cats

> George Thompson gets around more than most of us, and may have learned
> this from some Near/Middle Easterners. The first I heard of it was
> from a
> Turkish friend, who told me that it was the way cats are called in
> Turkey.Perhaps not surprisingly, our Persian responds very readily
> to this, while
> our Himalayan doesn't. It would be interesting to learn what the
> regionaldistribution of this practice is (it is a sort of
> linguistic behavior, and
> linguists should pay attention to such things, but don't usually). I
> wonder how it maps compared to the Turkish gesture for "no", which
> is to
> move the head up, then down, resembling (and often confused for) our
> nodding the head down, then up, for "yes".
>        Rudy

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