Origin of the Word ‘Cat’


God Bastet. Image created by Gunkarta

This is an explanation of the origins of the word, ‘cat’. I feel I should try and do this as it is at the heart of a site about cats. Although not always the case, there are many languages that have similar words to the English ‘cat’. Here are some examples:

  • gat (Catalan)
  • kat (Danish and Dutch)
  • kato (Esperanto)
  • kass (Estonian)
  • chat (French)
  • gato (Galician)
  • katze (German)
  • gatto (Italian)
  • cattus (Latin)
  • kaķis (Latvian)
  • katė (Lithuanian)
  • qattus (Maltese)
  • katt (Norwegian)
  • kot (Polish)
  • gato (Portuguese and Spanish)

It appears we can go back to the word ‘utchat’. What does this word mean? It is the eye of Ra or Eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian symbol and the Egyptian sacred eye:


Ancient Egyptian symbol ‘Utchat’

The Egyptian Cat Goddess Bast was, in the early days, a lion headed goddess. She protected the Pharaoh and the sun God Ra. She was the goddess of protection. In that role she was the holder of the Utchat – the all seeing eye.

In later years she had the head of a cat and represented ‘more nurturing aspects’ (http://www.goddess-guide.com). By the time of the Middle Kingdom (2055 BC and 1650 BC) in ancient Egypt she began to be regarded as a domestic cat rather than a lioness.

Here then we have a connection between ‘utchat’ and the domestic cat. The god Bast is well known. She was a ‘local diety’ situated in what is now known as Zagazig. Sacrifices were made to her in the form of deliberately killed kittens bred for the purpose – big business ancient Egyptian style.

The cat goddess Bast (or Bastet) became Pasht later on in Egypt (305 BC to 30 BC). From ‘Pasht’ the English words ‘puss’ and ‘pussy’ developed. Apparently there are other words for cats based on ‘pasht’ – past, pushd and pusst but I can’t find out more on this derivatives.

That’s it, basically. Perhaps the nearest modern word to ‘utchat’ is the French ‘chat’.

Associated: Origin of the word ‘meow’.

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Origin of the Word ‘Cat’ — 2 Comments

  1. I wonder what the OED has to say on the earliest usage of the word “cat” in the English language. I’ve never looked up such a simple word in there before. I last looked up kidney to see which came first, the kidney or the bean, (it was the organ, not the bean which came into the language first) and I looked up “bubbler” which is what we call a drinking fountain here in Milwaukee. It was in there. Naughty words are fun to look up in the OED, because often they didn’t start out with vulgar connotations, but were in every day usage. So I wonder when the words meow and cat first appeared in writing in the English language? If you don’t look it up, Michael, maybe I will if I ever manage to get to a library again. You have to pay to access the entire Oxford English Dictionary online and I’ve never felt like forking over the money when I can use the hard copy version (all 21 volumes or so) in the library.

    • Good idea Ruth. I would be nice to add a bit more to this to put some more detail on the development of the word. I’ll have a look at that.

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