Learn Vocabulary with Cats – Part 1

Caitlin Dempsey


A cat looking at the open pages of a dictionary.

Welcome to this fun and informative article that combines vocabulary learning with examples featuring lovable cats (and a few other cute animals). This guide is perfect for cat lovers and anyone looking to expand their word knowledge.

With straightforward and easy-to-understand examples, you’ll find yourself confidently using new words in no time. So grab a cozy spot with your furry friend, and let’s dive into this enjoyable journey of vocabulary learning with the help of cats!

This Pallas’s Cat is Chary of the Camera

A bit larger than the average size of a domestic cat, the Pallas’s Cat (Otocolobus manual) is a threatened wild cat that is native to the  grasslands and montane steppes of Central China and Mongolia.  Since this region can get extremely cold, Pallas’s Cats (also known as Manuls) have an incredibly thick coat to keep them warm.  They get their name from German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas who described them in 1776.

Peering out from its den in this cute video, the Pallas’s Cat cautiously approaches a camera set up to capture its movements.  The Pallas Cat’s demeanor is most definitely chary as it takes note of this strange object outside its home.  

Chary is an adjective meaning to be cautious, careful, or wary.  It has its origins in Old English from from 1000 CE from the word cearig, meaning sorrowful.  

After beelining for the camera, the cat disappears from view for a second seconds before a blurry closeup of the manul reappears as it sniffs and checks out the lens.  The cat’s eye glance back and forth as it scopes out the lens before, ever so slowly, descending back out of view.  

While the setting for this comical cat investigation looks like it was taken in the wild, the video was actually captured at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent, England.  

These Dachshunds Attempt to be Chthonic

Chthonic is a word that relates to things that occur in the underground realm. This could mean things that literally occur underground, like the work of earthworms, or what metaphorically happens underground. Chthonic can mean related to the underworld and its workings as well as literally the earth beneath our feet.

Chthonic isn’t a commonly used word in this day and age but it does come from surprisingly normal origins. The word chthonic comes from the Greek word ‘chthon’ which means ‘earth.’ In the Greek language it was most commonly used to describe the beings that lived in the underworld, such as the god Hades, and was very much a part of the Greek mythos. Hades and Persephone, the two most common gods associated with the underworld, would be known as chthonic deities.

The word chthonic is an adjective and was used apart from its Greek origins to describe people or situations that could be thought of as underworldly. Chthonic was most commonly used in the late 1880s and has fallen into relative disuse in the years since.

These little dogs in the video can’t be thought of as particularly chthonic themselves (they are just too cute!), but they do seem to be quite concerned with what is happening beneath their paws. These dogs are searching for chthonic realms in their own backyard, proving that you don’t have to run too far from home to have an adventure.

This Crepuscular Cat is Most Adorable When Sleeping

The adjective crepuscular first entered the English language around the time that Europe was beginning to embrace science, and it is during this time–the mid-18th century—that a lot of more scientific terms start entering English. And a lot of scientific language in Europe was derived from Latin. So crepuscular is derived from the Latin word crepusculum, which means “Twilight.”

Crepucular means “Active at twilight.” Most people know the world nocturnal, which means “Active mostly at night.” Raccoons, bats, hamsters, and even tigers mostly come out at night.

The opposite of nocturnal is “Diurnal,” meaning “Active mostly during the day.” Humans are diurnal; for the most part, humans are awake during the day, and asleep at night.

Crepuscular animals, on the other hand, are most active at dawn and dusk. Basically, crepuscular animals sleep during the day, sleep at night, and are active in the hours in between, around sunrise and sunset.

A lot of animals are crepuscular, particularly hunters. Hunting when other animals are just winding down, or just waking up, makes for great hunting times. And for other animals, only being awake at dawn and dusk means you can avoid both daytime predators and nighttime predators.

Large cats and wolves, being the apex predators they are, are crepuscular. This means that their household equivalents, cats and dogs, are also crepuscular. If you’ve ever wondered why dogs and cats sleep so much during the day, it’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because they’re naturally crepuscular.

Watching this cat so enjoyably sleep may be cute, but it’s also totally natural! This is why cats sleep all through the day, and what makes them such good nap-time companions. This is certainly one cat that loves to sleep. The adorable little toe stretches just put the cat’s cuteness over the top.

This Cat is the Cynosure of this Tortoise

Cynosure is defined as “a person or thing that is the center of attention or admiration.”  The noun has its origins from the Greek word kunosoura, meaning ‘dog’s tail’.

This tortoise certainly has his sights on Fred the cat in this cute video.  The tortoise persistently headbuts this rather large orange tabby.  

Even when Fred the cat repeatedly moves, the tortoise doesn’t give up, slowly lumbering over to the cat’s new position to resume his headbutting in what is probably an attempt to show dominance or perhaps to mate with the cat.

Watch this Kitten Emulate Her Mommy

Emulate is a verb that means to copy, to imitate, or to match. “Emulate” comes from the Latin word “Aemulus,” which means “Rival.” It found its way into the English language during the late 1500s, when it began to be used in England.

Emulating someone isn’t always a good thing, but it isn’t always a bad thing, either. You can emulate a role model, for example, by trying to reach the same level of achievement they did by achieving similar victories and looking to them for inspiration. It’s often easier to accomplish something if we have an example to look to.

Emulation can also mean copying someone exactly. If someone were to forge your signature, for example, you could say they were trying to emulate your handwriting. If they are really, really good at forging signatures, you could even say that it was a perfect emulation.

The noun version of emulate is emulation, a word that is usually associated today with computers. Emulation is used in a very similar way to simulation.

In this video, we see a mama cat and her month-old kitten sitting next to each other. Many animals learn how to act by watching older animals at work and emulating their actions. This video is a great example of this (and a particularly adorable one to boot).

One of the most important skills a young kitten learns is how to clean themselves. Much like any kid, this little kitten tries her best to emulate her mother, although she gets distracted and bored more than once.

After making a valiant attempt at cleaning her ears, the kitten keeps emulating its mother, or at least attempting to. This kitten is only a month old, but is still making a good attempt! As the kitten gets older and older, she’ll get better and better at this emulation of her mother.

As one point, the mama cat starts cleaning her paw, which confuses the kitten for a moment. She starts doing it (incorrectly), takes a look at her mom, and then does it again, much more successfully the second time. The little kitten isn’t the best emulator, but she’s able to learn from her mistakes.

Furtive Cat Doesn’t Appreciate Being Caught

Furtive is an adjective that means to move quietly and sneakily, usually while doing something others may not appreciate. The word “Furtive” comes from the Latin word Furtum, which means “Theft.”

The term made its way into the English language during the 17th century, from the French word Furtif. In a sense, the word “Furtive” means “Acting like a thief,” or being sneaky and secretive.

Someone being furtive isn’t always doing something bad. For example, if you were planning a surprise party, you may act furtively so that the guest of honor doesn’t catch on. Furtiveness is about not getting caught; that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong.

When someone is furtive, they act quietly, move quietly, and try not to get noticed. Ironically, acting furtively can make people more likely to suspect you’re up to something.

This little Russian cat is being very furtive, sneaking into a room where she knows her treats and toys are kept. Cats are natural hunters, which is why they are so good at being sneaky. But for a house cat, their prey isn’t always an animal.

In this video, we see what a furtive animal looks like. With her ears back and moving quietly, forces her front paws into a small gap in a sliding drawer. The cat knows that this is where her treats and her toys are kept and, being clever, slowly pulls open the drawer with her paws and her mouth.

The cat reaches in, fishes around for a bit and, instead of pulling out a treat, pulls out a small pink tutu! Whether or not this is what the cat was after, we’ll probably never know, but the cat is happy all the same. She starts chewing on it to celebrate her victory when she finally notices she’s being filmed!

Like anyone that is being furtive, the little Scottish fold cat did not want to be caught. But instead of running away, the cat looks right at the camera and, without looking away, pushes the door shut with one paw. Not only is it adorable, it shows that the cat knew it was doing something it shouldn’t have. Because, like anyone being furtive, they know that if they get caught, there’s going to be trouble.

Gaminesque Dolphins Put on a Show for Boaters

Gaminesque is an adjective that means playful and impish. Anyone who has had pets knows that animals can be incredibly playful and impish. Their personalities are as varied as humans are, and animals’ gaminesque nature can be a humorous relief in a world growing increasingly all too serious. From dogs to fish, racoons to goats, animals of all kinds demonstrate a gaminesque nature.

Dolphins are one such animal species that are known for being incredibly playful. Dolphins live in a pod, or a group of dolphins, and are incredibly social creatures. They have relationships with one another that are very strong. Each dolphin has their own specific whistle that identifies them from other dolphins, and they will respond to that whistle for their entire lives.

Dolphins in the wild are known to play with one another and objects they find in the ocean. Dolphins will play with seashells or rocks, in addition to jumping out of the water and spinning in the air. Some dolphins can blow bubbles underwater. These marine creatures are very gaminesque and are easily trained to do tricks with one another and the humans around them.

This Herpetic Panther Just Wants to Play

The word herpetic means creeping and comes from Latin origins. Herpetic was originally a cognate of the Latin word for serpent and the Greek word for creeping. 

The adjective came into the English language via New Latin and late Middle English, becoming a part of the popular vernacular between 1375-1425.

This black panther can be seen in the video sneaking up on his trainer. The panther’s herpetic or creeping motion was caught on tape, giving audiences and the trainer a good laugh when the panther was caught in the act. 

This trainer has many different videos showing the playful nature of the felines he works with including ones featuring lions, tigers, and jaguars.

About the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation

The panther lives at the Black Jaguar- White Tiger Foundation in Mexico, where felines of all kinds are taken in. The Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation currently cares for about 240 large felines including panthers, lions, and jaguars. 

Many of these animals were rescued from abusive or illegal situations and have found their forever homes with the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation. Tigers, leopards, lynxes, pumas, and others were taken from unhealthy situations in circuses, zoos, or illegal breeding operations and now live happily together in the wildlife sanctuary.

Human contact is herpetic to many species of animals; we creep onto their territory, damage their migration and food patterns, and often contribute greatly to their endangerment. Foundations like the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation help combat this destruction and promote animal conservation around the world.

Inquisitive Kitten Discovers Lizards

“Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back,” goes the old saying. Cats are known for being highly curious, always investigating things in their environment. There are cats who live primarily indoors and others who spend their days chasing birds and basking in the sun beams outside, but all display similar reactions to new and old situations they come across.

To be curious, or inquisitive, is the natural state of a feline. The word inquisitive means to show an interest in learning things, to be curious, or to pry by being overly curious. The English word inquisitive comes from the Latin inquirere which became inquisitivus in later iterations of the Latin language. The word then co-evolved into French and English, or inquisitive and inquire, respectively.

The word inquisitive relates to the word inquiry, which means to question or investigate. Cats are naturally investigative, whether that means chasing a rogue piece of string or an elusive mouse underneath the house.

In this case the kitten is inquisitive (and a bit frightened!) of the reptiles around it. In all likelihood the kitten would never have seen a lizard or possibly any other species of animal in its life; everything is new, exciting, and a bit surprising.

Housecats aren’t the only members of the feline family to have a reputation for being curious. Lions, tigers, leopards, and other wild felines show their inquisitive natures in the wild and where they have been placed in captivity.

The old joke about cats having nine lives isn’t technically correct, but anyone who has owned a cat knows the close calls and scrapes they are liable to get into due to their inquisitive characters. Cats poke their noses into plants, get uncomfortably close to edges of buildings and roofs, and are liable to jump very high in any direction if startled or taken by surprise.

Their quick reflexes may be what fostered the cat’s curious nature all this time. With the ability to move quickly out of the way of danger, cats can follow their inquisitive natures wherever they may take them.

The lizard’s twitching tail looked like a good plaything for the kitten, but once the other lizard crept into the corner of the cat’s eye it was taken by surprise and wasn’t so inquisitive about the reptiles any longer!

Having an inquisitive nature allows cats and other animals to learn about the world around them through investigation. Without a curious nature, few things would be learned about the world around us.

Raccoons Demonstrate Their Mastery of Ladronism by Stealing Cat Food

Ladronism is a noun that means banditry, thievery, or robbery. Ladronism was used most popularly used in the early 1900s, and Theodore Roosevelt notably used the word in his 1905 and 1906 State of the Union addresses. 

Ladronism would have been used to describe the thievery or banditry of people in the early 1900s, although the word has fallen out of normal usage in more recent years.

Ladronism describes the behavior of these sneaky raccoons who have found a snack in the neighborhood cat’s food bowl. These furry bandits know exactly where to find a mid-day or midnight snack and are taking advantage of their feline friends’ access to cat food. 

The ladronism of these raccoons is documented in the video, and shows them sneaking into the garage and making off with the cats’ lunch.

Nature is full of ladronism, and not just from nocturnal raccoons. Some birds are notorious for stealing the nesting spaces of other birds of their same species, or even those of other species of birds that live in the same habitat. 

Other animals in nature steal food, eggs, or shelter from other species in order to continue their own. Some bird species are known to take over the eggs and nests of another bird and raise those young birds as their own. 

In the ocean, animals like hermit crabs may exhibit ladronism when they find or take a shell from another crustacean or fish that try and steal another’s cave. In this video the raccoons have used ladronism as a way to get a tasty snack.

Limpid Kitten

Limpid is an adjective with two meanings.  The first is “marked by transparency” or “clear and simple in style”.  It’s the second meaning of “absolutely serene and untroubled” that brings the word limpid to mind with this heart melting video of a kitten getting a back massage from its buddy.

In the video, a kitten has propped itself up against the edge of the litterbox (not exactly the most aromatic place to perch) while its mate kneads the kitten’s back.  The look on the kitten’s face is pre bliss.  I have to admit, the limpid moment is contagious as I felt quite serene myself watching the video.

The word limpid originates from the Latin limpidus which in term may have descended from the Latin word lympha, meaning “water”.  The earliest usage of limpid  in the English language is from the early 1600s.

Two Cute Cats Demonstrate this Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a word that mimics the sound it is describing.  The noun originated from the Greek word onomatopoiíawhich is a concatenation of ónoma meaning “name” and poieîn meaning “to make.”  The earliest use of this word in the English language dates from the middle of the 16th century.

Boom, honk, click, boing, and moo are all example of onomatopoeia.  These two cats demonstrate an onomatopoeia in this compilation of them meowing over a six month period.  

Starting as little kittens, these two insistently meow over and over again, probably as they wait impatiently for mealtime.  As the kittens grow into cats, the level of meowing continues unabated.

This Dreaming Cat Will Make You Squee

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) each year announces its list of new word entries for the latest edition of the esteemed dictionary.  A team of fifteen staff members tracks words through digital text collections to identify new words that are spreading in use.  

Typically, evidence about a word’s adoption are tracked for ten years before gaining acceptance by OED (More: How do they choose new words for the Oxford English Dictionary?).

Listed in the September 2016 list are new definitions of the word squee.  The noun and injection have been used since the 1860s to defined the high-pitched sound produced by musical instruments and animals.   The word is now has added definitions to reflect the proliferation of the word on the Internet and squee as a verb has been added .  

All three of the newly entered definitions are focused on the action or the state of expressing delight or excitement.  The earliest iteration of the word is the injection which first appeared in 1998.  In this usage, people on the Internet started writing “Squee!” to indicate their excitement or happiness about something.

Starting in 2003, it was noted that squee was being used as a verb to indicate the actions of being excited.  Finally, in 2004, the usage as a noun was recorded for an expression of excitement.

The utter cuteness of animals snoozing are always a squee moment.  The reaction to this sleeping cat is a perfect demonstration of wanting to squee.  Cozily spread out on a sofa, the cat seems to be enjoying a pleasant dream judging by the slight smile on its face.  As someone gently pets its belly, it shows its enjoyment by stretching mid sleep.

This Raccoon Uses a Rock to Demand Succor

Succor is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it refers to assistance and help, particularly in times of hardship; as a verb it means to help, to bring assistance to. It comes from the Latin word succerrere, which means “To run to the help of.” It found its way into the English language around the second half of the 16th century.

Technically, succor can be any kind of support. It’s usually used to refer to food, but it could also be clothing, money, or anything that would help someone in great need. The word succor is often used to indicate that resources are needed desperately. The word succor is often used to imply that the person receiving it has been saved.

Historically, it also meant military help to someone in need: for example, a lord may need succor from his king in the form of soldiers.

The video starts with a mama raccoon standing on an outdoor porch. The raccoon has previously eaten all of the cat food that was left outside, and is now hungry for more! The mama raccoon wants succor for her and her little cubs. Raccoons are clever animals with paws that are almost like human hands. So just like anyone that wants something from inside a house, she knocks!

The hungry raccoon grabs a stone in both hands and, using both paws, she rattles the stone on a glass door! With pleading eyes, the raccoon continues to rattle the rock against the glass in a way that is very cute, very clever, and, for the homeowner, a little bit annoying.

But the homeowner decides to succor the mama raccoon, and gives her a bowl of cat food! After taking a few bites of cat food, the raccoon grabs a handful and holds it protectively. She spills a few pieces, but holds on to most of it.

Usually, raccoons will avoid humans. But when humans build homes near a natural raccoon habitat, the raccoons may become used to the humans over time. When a raccoon gets familiar enough with humans, they can use their natural intelligence—and unexpected cuteness—to get the succor they need.

It isn’t always a good idea to succor a wild animal: for one thing, if you do it once, they may come back later. But it’s hard not to appreciate this clever little critter.

This Raccoon Engages in Tatonnement by Washing a Phone

Tatonnement is a noun that means trial and error or experimentation. We have all been in a situation where we have tried something again and again, or participated in scientific research where trial and error is a matter of fact. Experimenting and conducting trial and error is something that humans do often, but you might not think to look to the animal world to find instances of trial and error as well.

The noun tâtonnement is a French word that means trial and error. The French used it to describe the way they climbed new mountains where the route to the top was not always known or obvious. Although the French may have perfected the art of mountain climbing by trial and error, our friend the racoon is a little behind the times.

Racoons are known to be curious creatures. They stick their adorable paws places they don’t belong (like the cat’s food dish!) and like to get their paws on anything they possibly can. When they do find something they like, raccoons will obsessively wash it as a means of exploring the item.

Up next –> Learn Vocabulary with Cats – Part 2


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of Geographyrealm.com and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.