Catamounts, sea bears, and camels

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Nov 12 19:31:13 UTC 2013

We have, close by the howling wilderness of New England, "lions and
bears [of two species] and ... camels, oh my!"

The catamount exhibited in 1741 provides an antedating for the OED,
sense 2 (sent to Jesse, but not yet incorporated on-line):

"To be seen at the Grey Hound Tavern in Roxbury, a Wild Creature,
which was caught in the Woods about 80 Miles to the Westward of this
Town, called a Cattamount, it has a Tail like a Lyon, its Leggs are
like a Bears, its Claws like an Eagle its Eyes like a Tyger, its
Countenance is a mixture of every Thing that is Fierce and Savage, he
is exceeding Ravenous, and devours all sorts of Creatures that he can
come near : its Agility is surprizing, it will Leap 30 Foot at one
jump, notwithstanding is [sic; should be "it"] is but three Months
old.  Whoever inclines to see this Creature may come to the Place
aforesaid, paying one Shilling each shall be welcome for their Money
."  [Boston Gazette, 1741 April 27, 4/2]

As an example of America's lack of sophistication in fabricated
animals, London mermaids of the 18th century were motile.

I suppose "sea bear" is Alice Morse Earle's term for "polar bear".


At 11/11/2013 05:43 PM, W Brewer wrote:
>Full text of "Customs & Fashions in Old New England" is in Project
>Gutenberg. Sea lions, catamounts, and polar bears, oh my! From chapter X.
>Sports & Diversions:
>In 1789 a pair of camels went the rounds--"19 hands high, with 4 joints in
>their hind legs." A mermaid also was exhibited--defunct, I presume--and a
>living cassowary five feet high, that swallowed stones as large as an egg.
>A white sea bear appeared in the port of Pollard's Tavern and could be seen
>for half a pistareen.

The American Dialect Society -

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