or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Rest

As you know if you own or ever have owned or been owned by one, cats love to climb into cardboard boxes. It is an irresistible thing for them. (Paper grocery bags, too. Also open suitcases, desk drawers, tucked-in bedclothes, and really almost any well-defined enclosed space.) I have never known a cat that didn't do this with at least one of the available forms of space (some cats prefer gym bags, some gravitate to desk cubbyholes, but nearly all of them seem to adore cardboard boxes). I am fairly sure it stems from their evolutionary history of being both hunter and prey, and therefore liking to fit themselves into small spaces from which they can watch without being watched. Therefore, making cat furniture out of cardboard boxes seems like an obvious thing to do if you're the sort of person who likes to make things for pets, and therefore here is a stylish chaise longue for a cat.

Don't you just want to run out and get a refrigerator box and make one?

Now, in North American English, in Canada for sure, and for all I know in Britain as well, a chaise longue is almost invariably called a "chaise lounge". We generally pronounce the "chaise" part as if it were French (which is to say "shays" rather than "chaze"), but the second half has mutated from "longue", which is the feminine form of the adjective "long", which means in English what it means in French, as well it might, since we got it from them, into "lounge". Not mutated, exactly: the verb "to lounge" has been in English for a fair while, some five hundred years. What happened was, people looked at the term, figured, "Well, that's got to be a typo, since we lounge around on it," and started calling it a chaise lounge.

Here's the interesting thing about "lounge"; nobody is exactly sure where it might have come from. The Oxford English Dictionary is of the opinion that it might be traced back to "lungis", a corruption of "Longinus", the soldier who is said to have pierced Jesus' side with a spear as he hung on the cross. Huh. "Lungis" meant, for obscure reasons, a slow, lazy person, so it's not hard to see where "lounge" comes into the picture. I think a more likely etymology is that "lounge" actually is related to "longue", from the expression "s'allonger paresseusement", "to lie down stretched out" (with the "-long-" in "allonger" meaning exactly what you think it means). Here's the really baffling thing, though: we got it from Scottish.

Anyway, "chaise lounge" is extremely well established in English: if you are even pickier than I am, you might say that it's wrong, but it isn't. It's been in the language for over two hundred years and is immovably part of the language, though it stems from a sort of folk etymology. I would unembarrassedly say "chaise lounge", although I would hope that the article in question had a backrest at both ends rather than just one, because then I could call it a "récamier", and isn't that a lovely word? (Although if you want to be absolutely correct about it, and I am sure you do, a récamier has no long side, just a backrest at each end. This does not sound as comfortable to me as a proper chaise, because I think I would feel as if I were going to fall out of one side or the other. Presumably Mme. Récamier was made of different stuff than I am, or she just had a better sense of balance.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Evil Non-Cat Owner in me is half tempted to take several tall boxes, place a bowl of water at the bottom, and watch kitty soak herself, or unlearn this practice.

But in other news, I was reading, came across the word Traitorous, and thought "Related to Treacherous?". Alas, but no. Treason and Traitor, however, as well as Tradition, are related.

Sunday, September 13, 2009 4:01:00 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

Speak of the devil: http://cuteoverload.com/2009/09/13/maru-itis-is-sweeping-the-nation/

Sunday, September 13, 2009 7:22:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Fun in theory, but kind of mean in practice. Cats take visible pleasure in getting into boxes, and I wouldn't deprive them of that.

I was going to mention Maru, because his videos have brought great joy to this household. And then I kind of forgot. He is hilarious, though, the way he flings himself into boxes and leaves his legs sticking out and, if we're lucky, twitching or flailing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009 9:30:00 PM  

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