Do you find the origin of words fascinating, or least interesting? I do. Find myself delving into word origins more and more; and hey it’s easy these days. How about this word: “catamaran”? The other night Russ and I tossed around some possible countries of origin and you might be doing the same right now …but we didn’t get it right. Try this: India.
You can check it yourself but here’s the Cliff Notes version: In and around India, vessels which looked to be nothing more than one or two lightweight pieces of wood tied together, were called Kattumarams in the Tamil language. (Tamil is one of 22 languages of India and one of the oldest surviving classical languages in the world). The word meant literally, “tied wood” (from kaṭṭu “to tie” and maram “wood, tree”). When English visitors encountered the swift and stable boats used by the Polynesians two widely spaced canoe-type vessels tied together, the same term was applied and thus today we have catamarans, or “cats” for short.
The same day of the catamaran word history tour, we drove down to lovely Wiscasset then lunched at Mine Oyster in Boothbay Harbor. I walked into only one shop in Boothbay Harbor (yes, I am feeling just fine) where local crafts and other interesting Maine items are sold. One book cover caught my eye; a stunning photo of a Maine Coon cat. Ah yes, the Coon Cat.
I smiled because if you Google that or do any search for Maine Cat, guess what comes up first? Yep, the Maine Coon Cat, which we never investigated, probably because we were too focused on that Maine Cat catamaran.
That same evening, there we sat at our tiny dinette table, sipping our Happy Hour libations and minding our own business. We sat inside because thanks to a cold front, the day was chilly, chilly and windy, windy. You get the picture. Our window looks out toward…….. not much, just open space, a barn, a few trees (one fallen) and grassy tent sites beyond. Movement caught my eye and I saw what looked like large, furry cat-like creatures; two of them.
We know next to nothing about cats….. but we do love the ones our family and friends have and share such wonderful photos of!! 🙂 More research was in order and you can just call us your nomadic research assistants for all we routinely Google; most of it we don’t trouble you with!
Maine Coons are quite special; known as “gentle giants”, they are the largest domesticated cat breed in the U.S. and are now one of the most popular cat breeds in the world. One of the oldest natural breeds in North America, especially native to Maine where they are the official state cat. Can you believe, a Maine Coon cat won the first North American Cat Show in 1895? Intelligent, excellent hunters with long fuzzy/bushy tails and medium to long hair, the one feature that assures you that you are indeed staring at a Coon cat is their slightly tufted ears. Look carefully at their ears in the above photo: see?
In the photo below you get a good look at the female’s tail. How do I know that she’s the female? At first I just labeled the light-colored one the female, but then …. well Spring IS here and love is in the air. 🙂
Now about that name; two folk tales seem to be the most popular, with the more ordinary one (naturally) being the more likely. My favorite goes like this: in 1793 when Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, tried to escape from France (probably to her relatives in Quebec 🙂 ) she brought her beloved Turkish Angora cats with her. She never made it, but her cats – with their nine lives- made it to the Wiscasset shore (weren’t we just there?) where they bred with the local short-haired cats and thus today- oh wait-people who first saw the new version must have seen dark-colored ones and though, “raccoon”. Romantic and all but not very likely.
The generally accepted theory among breeders also involves ships and the sea; perhaps not as boring as I led you believe. A seafaring trading ship Captain, Charles R. Coon often put into port in New England and his brave many-lived long-haired cats traveled with him. In classic literature what happens when a ship stops at a port? The sailors rush to the taverns, eager for brews and wenches. This wild abandon activity would surely include the cats aboard, eager to get away from a ship that offers not one speck of decent kitty litter! When the local population noticed cats similar to the ship’s long-haired cats with a touch of ‘common’, they called these felines “Coon’s Cats”. Take your pick, find another or make up your own story; but if you have a better one, you’d better share. P.S. I gave Captain Coon the middle initial “R”.