No word for fetch

« previous post | next post »

By Drew Dernavich, originally published August 20, 2007, a cartoon addition to our No Word for X archive:

Or, to put it another way: "They have no words for anything, but they have no concept for 'fetch'."

[h/t Joan M.]



  1. John Coleman said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 11:44 am

    But cats do have "bring", unfortunately.

  2. Morten Jonsson said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 12:04 pm

    Cats do have a concept for "fetch"; many of them enjoy playing it. What they don't have a concept for is "I [the human] want to play fetch with you [the cat]."

  3. leoboiko said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 3:05 pm

    @Morten: It would be like saying "the ball wants to play fetch"; objects don't want things.

  4. Carrington Dixon said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

    Anyone who thinks that cats (or other animals) don't want things has never been around one as feeding time.

  5. Ellen K. said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 6:02 pm

    Carrington Dixon, I believe Leoboiko is saying that cats see humans as objects.

  6. Adrian Morgan said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 6:14 pm

    This might actually be worth discussing seriously. What words do readers use to instruct a dog to retrieve an object in play, and what is the geographical distribution of those words?

    I've never seen anyone, here in Australia, say "fetch". The familiar term is "where's it gone", pronounced something like [ˈwɛzɪɡɔn]. Is the same used elsewhere?

  7. Eric P Smith said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

    When my nephew was 4 years old, he lost a football in thick undergrowth and was in tears. A passing dog-walker said "Find the boy's ball!" and in 5 seconds the dog did so.

    Some dogs' understanding of human language is phenomenal.

  8. D-AW said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

    Gretchen, stop trying to make "fetch" happen. It's not going to happen.

  9. Mark Mandel said,

    November 25, 2014 @ 9:53 pm

    «Or, to put it another way: "They have no words for anything, but they have no concept for 'fetch'."»

    Not so! If the anthropomorphic dogs have language, so must the ditto cat.

  10. Nicki said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 1:36 am

    I was amused to hear my younger brother exclaim "Hunt it up!" to his dog instead of saying fetch. SE United States.

  11. leoboiko said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 6:13 am

    @Carrington Dixon: As Ellen K said, the joke was that my cats lump "human" and "balls" in the same mental category as "toys to be used". Though it was just a joke; in fact I think domestic cats have some sort of agent concept for other animals, and actually do care about their non-cat friends. They just aren't brown-nosing adulators, unlike certain other pets I shall not name.

  12. richardelguru said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 6:54 am

    Many, many years ago I had a budgie that had a word for "fetch".
    Surprisingly it was "fetch".
    I could tell him to fetch his ball (a small 'whiffle ball'—I think that's the term, light plastic with lots of holes) and he would drag it along the carpet towards me. He could also say* "fetch", though I don't remember him doing it at the same time.
    * Or, for purists, he would squawk something that I interpreted as "fetch".

  13. Christopher said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

    Adrian, people I know with dogs say things like "go get it", "where's the stick", "fetch the ball"; not that the word fetch is absent but perhaps some preference for three syllables, just as in "where's it gone"?

  14. Keith said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

    In the UK, the verb "fetch" is used in at least three ways, to my knowledge.

    1. I can order my dog to fetch the stick.

    2. I can go and fetch my daughter from school.

    3. I can fetch you a clip round the ear.

    Apparently Americans only ever use the first sense, and for teh seven years that I lived there they were without exception either really puzzled or just plain outraged when I used the verb in the second sense.

    I never attempted to use it in the third sense, because I was sure that this would have provoked an EOTWAWKI scenario.

  15. Nicki said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    Keith, as an American it seems to me that both 1. Fetch the stick and 2. Fetch your daughter both share the same basic meaning, bring back. Although I wouldn't probably use the second very much, I wouldn't be shocked by it, either.

    Your post made me think of another meaning for fetch, a ghost or doppelganger. Wikipedia then taught me another,

    Fetch (geography), the length of water over which a given wind has blown

  16. Emeniano Acain Somoza Jr. said,

    December 3, 2014 @ 6:05 am

    This cat that plays fetch.

RSS feed for comments on this post