Sunday, August 30, 2009

El mes de los gatos/ Kitty month

So the end of August means many things to you. Perhaps it's the end of the blackberry season, time to dust off your pencils and books, looking forward to Labor day. I have been somewhat remiss in not educating you on the finer points of August here in Santiago, which is that it is cat month.

We don't exactly celebrate cats during this month, so much as we hear them yowling their fool heads off, because this is the month in which cats tend to entrar en celos (which sounds like they're getting jealous, but really means they go into heat). Because most people don't get their cats "operados" (fixed, neutered, spayed), the cats go a bit crazy this time of year.

Yesterday on a long walk with some friends to look for a new apartment (for me) on which we found absolutely nothing, apartment-wise, we did come across a lot of very sweet cats, like this one:

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And it got me to thinking (aside from why am I not finding a spiffy new apartment), about all the ways in which we use the word gato in Spanish.

...There's gato the cat, which is easy enough to remember.
...Then there's the jack for the car, also a gato (or gata), though in Portuguese it's a monkey (macaco), which I think makes more sense, monkeys having actual fingers and things with which to hold onto stuff, and I daresay they are probably stronger, and mayhaps more cooperative than cats.
...Gato is also the game of tic-tac-toe, though not tiki-taka, which is the name of kerbangers (remember those, two plastic balls on string, and you had to make them hit each other without losing an eye?), which recently flooded the market here, I imagine from China and several times a day hear tiki-taka-tiki-taka-tiki-taka, and I kind of wish it would stop, and I bet the cats don't like it either.
...Gato is also the name of the number sign, or as the British among us would like to call it, a hash sign. This is becoming more well-known, as the word "hashtag" takes over the world, as a way to create community on twitter, by doing something like this #travel or #quirk or #perspective. I was at a conference here recently, and we were asked to "hashtaguear" our tweets (twitter posts, for the uninitiated) on the conference, or simply to "anteponer un gato," or put a number sign before what you were writing, though "anteponer un gato" sounds like putting the cat before something. (linguistic joke alert!!!) Like a hose?
Get it? Cat before the hose. Cart before the horse, both missing the R. Does your mind not work this way? You should get a tuneup.

Gato (usually the cat one) also has the fortune to show up in a bunch of expressions, such as:

...te pasaron gato por liebre (they gave you a cat rather than a hare, fig: you got duped)
...buscarle la quinta pata al gato (search for the cat's fifth paw, fig: violating occam's razor, which says the simplest explanation is probably the right one)
...defenderse como gato de espaldas, to defend yourself fiercely

There are many, many more, which I will leave hanging so the illustrious commenters may leave their wisdom re: cat sayings in the language of their choice.

A gato is also a person from Madrid, a money bag, the money inside the bag, an amateur, a folk dance, a punch to the thigh or bicep, and my favorite, is also (I believe) the root behind gatear, which sounds like it means "to cat" but actually means "to crawl," which is pretty great.

None of which has anything to do with this jolly soul, out juggling knives in the dying sun.

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Which in Providencia, on a weekend afternoon, you can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting a traffic-light entertainer. Which as nothing to do with the blood on his apron.

I think.

4 comments:

Bystander said...

It seems to me that our neighbourhood cats do not wait for August! As cats in Spanish have seven lives and cats in English have nine, they probably like to celebrate for a whole month that they have managed another year intact. Like the senior citizens who hold "Sobreviví Agosto" parties. Making it through the last month of winter is an accomplishment in some circles. Perhaps this is why old ladies and cats often hang out together.

Annje said...

I love all the gato phrases. I remember having a conversation with someone in Chile about why it would be cruel to "fix" a cat and take away her chance to... you know, like give birth to two litters of kitties every year until her untimely death. Ah, a society where motherhood is truly revered!

Bystander is funny!

Sharon said...

That juggler looks amazing! Way better than the ones we get over here

Margaret said...

I've always wondered about this month of gatos business... maybe we just don't have enough cats in the neighborhood, but I don't ever remember being particularly annoyed by them in August... other months, yes, like in the summer when I have the windows open, for example...