Where did the word “Meow” come from?
“Meow.” That tiny word captures the quintessential cat vocalization that feline owners hear daily. But have you ever wondered about the origin of the word “meow” and what your cat is trying to say when it meows?
The common onomatopoeic word emerged in the early 1500s, though cats have been meowing since their earliest domestication thousands of years ago. Linguists theorize “meow” derives from the Middle English word “miaow” or may be linked to the Old French word “miauler” meaning “to cry like a cat.”
Early uses of “meow” and “miaow” appeared in Shakespearean literature. In The Taming of The Shrew, one character says “I pray you be good neighbour … and miaow not.” Clearly, meowing has annoyed humans for centuries!
Kittens learn to meow from their mothers, who use these vocalizations to communicate with their young. But while meows mean something to other cats, to human ears they can mean anything. Context, pitch, and tone all influence a meow’s translation.
Long, drawn-out meows typically indicate a cat is hungry or bored. Short, repetitive meows can mean excitement, while mid-pitched meows often express concern or distress. High-pitched meows may signal fear, pain, or confusion.
Meows are one tool in a cat’s complex vocabulary that also includes facial expressions, ear positioning, and tail movements. While we can’t be sure what they are saying, interpreting the context can help crack the feline speech code.
So the next time your cat meows, consider the intricacies behind their attempt to converse. Meow back thoughtfully and you may find yourself in an enlightening dialogue with your furry friend!
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