Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jerusalem street cats

Two Jerusalem cats at 12 Elazar ha-Modai St.
 Because so many people make their way to this blog when they are searching for cats online, I decided to put "Jerusalem street cats" into Google, and discovered that this blog in fact is the first hit. There were some other interesting sites after it - one a Facebook page whose goal is protect the neglected street cats of Jerusalem. Another was an article on the cats of Jerusalem by Basem Raad in the Jerusalem Quarterly, published by the Institute of Jerusalem Studies. While the article makes a number of questionable assertions, it is also an affecting, humane meditation on the street cats and how they are mistreated by people. He writes:
Something similar happens with cats and people in the old streets of Jerusalem. Jerusalem cats stand apart; they are and are not like other cats. What is striking is the absolute non-pet nature of their existence and the feline grace some of them can exhibit, even under conditions of hardship. I am speaking of the many street cats, not the ones owned by west Jerusalem Israelis who have come from the West and imported that pet culture (and sometimes the pets themselves) with them, or the few cats kept by “aristocratic” Palestinian families in east Jerusalem who generally keep their pets locked up inside. That kind of culture comes with luxury. The “non-pets” are the many feral cats on the streets, mostly on the east side of the city or within the confines of the Old City walls.
It is actually not true that feral cats are mostly on the eastern side of the city - there are many street cats in West Jerusalem as well, and they are generally subjected to the same sad fate as the east Jerusalem and Old City street cats that he writes about.

The author argues also that the English name "cat" probably comes from North African and Asiatic roots, which I suppose is possible, but the Oxford English Dictionary's entry on the etymology of the word does not mention such an origin.
Etymology:  The Middle English and modern cat corresponds at once to Old English cat and Old Northern French cat. The name is common European of unknown origin: found in Latin and Greek in 1–4th cent., and in the modern languages generally, as far back as their records go. Byzantine Greek had κάττα (in Cæsarius c350) and later κάττος, as familiar terms = αἴλουρος; modern Greek has γάτα from Italian. Latin had catta in Martial a100, and in the Old Latin Bible version (‘Itala’), where it renders αἴλουρος. Palladius, ? c350, has catus, elsewhere scanned cātus (Lewis and Short), and probably in both cases properly cattus. From cattus, catta, came all the Romanic forms, Italian gatto, Spanish gato, Portuguese gato, Catalan gat, Provencal cat, Old Northern French cat, French chat, with corresponding feminines gatta, gata, cata, cate, chate, chatte. The Germanic forms recorded are Old English cat, catt, Old Norse kött-r ( < kattuz) masculine, genitive kattar (Swedish katt, Danish kat); also Old English catte ? feminine, West Germanic *katta (Middle Low German katte, Middle Dutch katte, kat, Dutch kat, also Swedish katta), Old High German chazzâ (Middle High German, modern German katze) feminine; Old High German had also chataro, Middle High German katero, kater, modern German and Dutch kater, he-cat. The Germanic types of these would be *kattuz (masculine), *kattôn- (feminine), *kat(a)zon- masculine; but as no form of the word is preserved in Gothic, it is not certain that it goes back to the Germanic period. It was at least West Germanic c400–450. It is also in Celtic: Old Irish cat (masculine), Gaelic cat com., Welsh and Cornish cath (feminine), Breton kaz, Vannes kac'h m. Also in Slavonic, with type kot-: Old Slavonic kot'ka (feminine), Bulgarian kotka, Slovene kot (masculine), Russian kot (masculine), kotchka, koshka (feminine), Polish kot (koczur m.), Bohemian kot (masculine), kotka (feminine), Sorbian kotka; also Lithuanian kate; Finnish katti.
On the other hand, the Arabic word for "cat" does seem very similar to the Indo-European. From Wiki Answers:
A male cat = qitt قطّ
A female cat = qitta قطّة
Cats = qitat قطط
The Hebrew word for "cat" is unrelated - it is חתול or חתולה - hatul (masc.) or hatulah (fem.).

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