Thursday 2 September 2010

Victorian Slang Primer No.1 - Shooting the Cat

Shooting The Cat.—Among the strange phrases in use among sailors, which at first sight appear utterly senseless and silly, is one applied to the victim of seasickness, who is said to be "shooting the cat." What possible connection can there he between the overt act alluded to and the destruction of a "harmless necessary animal?" The first thing a man in search of what schoolboys call a " desi" has to do, is to settle in what language he must look for it. We have not far to go for the cat. Our sea terms, especially those of the mercantile marine, are almost all of either Dutch or Portuguese origin, these two nations having been our precursors in over-sea commerce. That which for many years past we have decided upon calling the ship's cargo (from the latter language) was in earlier days sometimes designated by the Dutch name of katt, the tradition of which still remains in our naturalised tea-caddy and katty-packages employed to this day; and also in the English word cat, which is used for a coasting vessel, the name of the thing carried being given to the vessel carrying, just as packet is short for packet-boat. To shoot the cargo is a common expression for disburdening a ship of its load ; and I need not insist further upon the aptness of the metaphor to the misery of the sea.

The Shipwrecked Mariner : A Quarterly Maritime Magazine, 1869

1 comment:

  1. A nice piece of linguistic research.

    As a cat lover, I am relieved that "No cats were harmed in the making of this article". :)