Do you want to know what the meow means in the English language? Here it is: “I require your immediate attention.” The meow is also spelled ‘miaow’. It always has the same basic message as stated. It is a general request. It normally means that the cat wants food as almost all cat caregivers know. And the meow varies considerably in the way that it’s delivered.
It depends on the individual cat and for pedigree cats it depends on the breed. The word ‘meow’ is an onomatopoeia meaning the spelling of the word is based on the sound. All words describing cat sounds are onomatopoeias.
Although the word ‘meow’ describes a standard, generic version. As there are a million variations, some of them very drawn out, it is impossible to create English language words for these sounds.
This feline vocalisation originates in the squeaky kitten mewing when demanding their mother’s help when in trouble. For wild cats the sound disappears when they become adult and independent but for domestic cats it remains part of their vocabulary as they remain mentally like kittens when grown up as they continue to talk to their human caregiver as if they are mom.
The cat meow is often modified for various reasons such as to add emphasis when it sounds a little like a baby crying (a smart move that one) or a purr is mixed in to ensure that it has a bit of ‘pop’.
RELATED ARTICLE: Cat sounds like a baby – the evolved meow
Or it might be modified to beg or demand or perhaps complain or to vocalise anxiety. Sometimes a cat might meow pitifully when they are ignored and are stuck outside in the rain. The English translation for these meow can be adjusted slightly to mean for instance, “Please listen to me, I need you attention now.”
Some cat caregivers will be aware of and respond promptly to these emphasised meows. They may understand the nuances of their cat’s meow because they are customed sounds appropriate to a relationship between a particular cat and a particular caregiver. The sounds might have evolved during the relationship and the closer the relationship the more likely the cat is to customised their vocalisations.
The basic meow is genetically inherited but the artificial or unnatural world of the domestic cat living in the entirely human environment is a fertile training ground for new subtleties to develop beyond the standard meow.
As for the breeds, one meow stands out: the raucous Siamese demand which cannot be ignored. The Oriental Shorthair, part of the Siamese cat family, has a similar capacity to make a special meow. Sometimes it can be a honk. In the video it is a nicely insistent demand that is bound to get attention.