Catgut

catgut spoof

Old sort of cartoon. In public domain.

When I played tennis in my teens all rackets had strings made of catgut. Since those days (1960s) synthetic materials have become much more common and much better. Apparently many modern day professional tennis players have their rackets strung with a mixture of artificial tennis strings and catgut. There are a plethora of types of synthetic string one of which is monofilament. Roger Federer uses a hybrid racket with catgut as the main strings (from top to bottom) and monofilament going across the racket. Professional players are very fussy about their racket strings!

100 year tennis racket with catgut strings. Photo Ben Cooper.

I’ll stop there writing about tennis although it is a good time to write about racket strings as we are mid-Wimbledon (July 3rd 2012).

Catgut is not cat gut. It is not the intestines of a cat, thankfully. I would not have been surprised if it was, however, as many cats are horrendously killed for their fur.

Catgut is a type of cord made from the natural fibres found in the walls of the intestines of:

  • cows
  • goats
  • sheep
  • hogs
  • horses
  • mules
  • donkeys

All have been referred to as a source in my research. It seems that sheep and cows are the usual source. The intestines are processed quite extensively to produce a string that is acceptable for a tennis racket and a cello or a violin etc. – also used for surgical ligatures.

Catgut has the best feel for the tennis player. There is only one factory in the UK at Bow Brand in King’s Lynn.

If catgut is cow’s gut why is it called ‘catgut’? We are not sure, is the honest answer. Two possibilities are available:

  1. ‘catgut’ may be a shortened version of ‘cattlegut’.
  2. the word may derive from ‘kitgut or kitstring’, where ‘kit’ means fiddle (violin) but which evolved to mean ‘kitten’, hence the reference to cat.

That is the story of catgut. Note it is spelled as one word.

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