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Dog is to Man as Cat is to Woman (Proposed)

Women cannot become dogs, for dog is to cat as man is to woman, and as Devil is to witch.
-Jeremy Harte


In “Dog is to Cat as Man is to Woman” I propose to explore the role “dogs” play in relationship with “cats,” with whom they are often cast as binary opposites. This pattern can be found in both language and mythology going back for many centuries. As Edmund Leach notes, English distinguishes a female dog as a “bitch” and a male cat as a “tom.” “This implies that a dog is otherwise presumed male and a cat female.”This plays out in obvious ways in such clichés as “fight like cats and dogs.” It is also an ingredient in more subtle ways in phrases such as “house trained.” There are ways in which the two most domestic of species echo the sexes in their physical qualities: dogs tend to be larger than cats as men tend to be larger than women and dogs tend to speak with lower “voices” as do men. Yet the relationship goes much deeper than that. Dogs and men may be portrayed as more awkward and bumbling than cats and women, but are they really? I think it goes deeper than that.

Readers are invited to contribute ideas and resources.

1. Harte, Jeremy. Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been? At the Edge , no. 6: 30-7. Available from http:// edge/ pussycat.htm


2. Leach, Edmund. “Anthropological Aspects of Language: Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse.” In New Directions in the Study of Language, ed. Eric H. Lennenberg, 23-63. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1964.

Last updated: May 26, 2008

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