Translating the feline purr into English

I have a translation of the cat’s purr into English. It means ‘I am inoffensive’. This is an all-encompassing meaning. A general meaning. The nearest human signal/message is the smile. In terms of the unwritten message, it can also mean:

  • ‘I am content’ (we all know this one such as when coming onto your lap).
  • ‘I need friendship’ (when in trouble such as at the vets and about to be euthanized.)
  • ‘Thank you for your friendship.’

The ‘I am inoffensive’ meaning is an umbrella phrase for the others. There will be other circumstances and small variations in the meaning.

My feeling is that the purr has a range of meanings depending on the circumstances but the differences are subtle and the inoffensive meaning covers these differences. The purr has even been introduced into the meow by some cats to make their request more potent.

At a fundamental level it means the cat is in a non-hostile mood and also:

  • Friendly
  • Submissive
  • Reassuring
  • Appeasing and
  • Content, to return to the one we know the best

It can be observed under the following circumstances to name some but this list is not meant to be comprehensive.

  • When a kitten is suckling on their mother’s breast to tell he that she is fine.
  • When the mother reassures her kittens that all is well.
  • In the wild, when mother returns to the den where the kittens are hiding to let them know that there is nothing to fear.
  • When a kitten approaches an adult to play to them, to signal that they are relaxed and in a subordinate role.
  • When an adult who’s dominant to a kitten approaches to reassure them that they are non-hostile.
  • When a submissive, inferior cat is approached by a more dominant cat to appease and signal that they are non-hostile.
  • When a sick cat is approached by a dominant one to signal that they are weak and non-hostile.

You can classify the purr into different types but it always has a similar underlying message of friendliness.

I mention the human smile in the opening paragraph. The smile can also have an umbrella meaning but it does not always mean the person is happy. It can signal:

  • Appeasement
  • Submissiveness
  • Non-hostility
  • Friendliness etc.

The umbrella meaning is: ‘I am not going to do anything to harm you’. Like the purr it helps in social interactions and de-stresses the interaction.

My thanks to Dr Desmond Morris for guiding me on this.

I welcome the input of others.

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