Turkish "kedi" and English "cat"

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In reacting to the fierce denunciation of Xi Jinping by Cai Xia (see bibliographical note at the bottom of this post), Conal Boyce mused:

Mind-boggling material. I had to do a double-take on the passage you show that contains both chǔn and jiāhuo (蠢家伙 ["stupid guy / fellow"]).  And sure enough, in the video, she actually uses the term zhèngzhì jiāngshī (政治僵尸 ["political zombies"]) more than once!

These are shocking terms, with a peculiar color all their own. They reminded me that, in a sense, there are no words that are actually 'equivalents' between two languages. For instance, the Turkish for 'cat' is 'kedi', which has a comfortable look of familiarity at first, because of English 'kitty', yet we suspect that the semantic range of 'kedi' in Turkish versus the semantic ranges for 'cat' and 'kitty' in English probably overlap in some unexpected Venn diagram style, with much of 'kedi' not immediately accessible to a speaker of English.

Here's the etymology for "kedi" in Wiktionary:

From Ottoman Turkish كدی‎ (kädi). Replaced native pisi, now often restricted to archaic use and child-speak.

Mehmet Olmez provides rich historical background:

No, it is not from English :).

There was not a Turkic word for 'cat', there were some words for 'wild cat'. Detailed description about the cat we can find in Divanu Lugati't-Turk (from 11th century, 1072-1074). Turkish kedi 'cat' must be related to European CAT and KATZE. But it cannot be a direct borrowing as mentioned from Europe. According to A. Tietze and R. Dankoff, it can be related with Armenian kadu or Ar. qiṭṭ . In Siberian languages there is just 'wild cat' (similar Mongolian malur and other forms): manu. About Mongolian forms Juha and Sasha can write more. About Turkic forms Marcel, Jens, Stefan, Uwe, both Peter  'hocalarım', Róna-Tas, Marek can write more.

I can share here Clauson's explanation:

?F çetük ‘(female) cat’. The various Turkish words for ‘cat’ are collected in Shcherbak, p. 129. Some of them, e.g. maçı:, VU mö:ş, and mışkıç, are demonstrably l.-w.s, and it is likely that the rest, including this one, which has no obvious etymology, are also l.-w.s. The Turks prob. did not meet cats early enough to have their own word for them. (Xak.?) xıv Muh. al-sinnūr ‘cat’ çetük Mel. 72, 6; çe:tük Rif. 174: Oğuz çetük al-hirra ‘female cat’; (VU) küwük (unvocalized) çetük al-ḍaywan ‘tom cat’ Kaş. I 388; a.o. III 127 (mö:ş): Xwar. xıv çetük ‘(female) cat’ Qutb 42: Kıp. xııı al-qiṭṭ ‘tom cat’ (ma:çı:, also called) çe:tük Hou.  ıı, ıı: xıv çetük (c-c) al-qiṭṭ İd. 42; Bul. 10, 10: xv al-qitt setük (sic) Kav. 62, 3; sinnūr (maçı and) çetük Tuh. 19a. 11: Osm. xıv ff. çetük, occasionally çetik, ‘cat’; common till xvı, occasionally later TTS I 155; II 222; III 147; IV 165: xvııı çetik (spelt) in Rūmī, gurba ‘cat’, in Ar. hirra and sinnūr San. 205r. 14. [Clauson 402b:]

We need to check Ščerbak and Sevortyan too.

Right now I have to leave home for a workshop. That is all that I can write about on short notice.

mıškıč ~ Man. Sogd. mwškyč, mwškyšč(h) ‘Wildkatze’ // wild cat Heilk I (Uigurisches Wörterbuch, Neubearbeitung Band I.1: kulak sakzı bolsar … ölüg mıškıčnıŋ yakrısın ergüzüp sürtser ačılur Heilk I (Uigurisches Wörterbuch, Neubearbeitung). [Gershevitch § 382 and 382, footn. 1.; more see Gharib, Sogdian Dictionary, § 5561; Sims-Williams & Durkin-Meisterernst 2012: mwškyč ‘cat’ s. 117b]

See also S. Nişanyan: https://www.nisanyansozluk.com/?k=kedi

Juha Janhunen fills in many gaps and adds new dimensions:

Mongolian has muur (from Chinese mao-er 貓兒) and mii : migui (apparently native onomatopoetic words, but recent, since the sequence -igui is unique). The word for 'wild cat', manuul, which Mehmet mentions, is clearly more basic and may be old (though I do not know anything more of its origin). – Words for 'cat' are often recent, descriptive / onomatopoetic, or borrowed. Finnish has kissa, from Swedish kisse (but note also Russian kisa), ultimately from the sound k-s with which cats are called. Other Baltic Finnic languages have *kassi > Estonian kass, which is probably connected with the Indo-European words, but not as a regular borrowing. But even French chat (< *kat) and Italian gatto do not quite match because of the initial consonants.

Sasha Vovin contributes a vital anthropological detail:

Just a small addition to what Juha already said. Western Middle Mongolian has miγui 'cat' attested just once in the Leiden Glossary (66b). No Eastern MM attestations, which is no wonder since feeding cats would fit poorly in the nomadic lifestyle.

All of this leaves me with two burning questions:

  1. Why are words for the domestic cat, an animal now so widespread and much adored (think of Hello Kitty, the zillions of cat videos, etc.), relatively late in many languages?
  2. Why is the evidence for cats so relatively scant in the archeological record? — except for ancient Egypt, where there were millions of mummified cats, so many that in the 1800s they were sold for fertilizer in Europe.  Incidentally, the ancient Egyptians also mummified millions of dogs. (Source)

Etymological notes on English "cat"

The origin of the English word 'cat', Old English catt, is thought to be the Late Latin word cattus, which was first used at the beginning of the 6th century. It was suggested that the word 'cattus' is derived from an Egyptian precursor of Coptic ϣⲁⲩ šau, "tomcat", or its feminine form suffixed with -t. The Late Latin word is also thought to be derived from Afro-Asiatic languages. The Nubian word kaddîska "wildcat" and Nobiin kadīs are possible sources or cognates. The Nubian word may be a loan from Arabic قَطّ‎ qaṭṭ ~ قِطّ qiṭṭ. It is "equally likely that the forms might derive from an ancient Germanic word, imported into Latin and thence to Greek and to Syriac and Arabic". The word may be derived from Germanic and Northern European languages, and ultimately be borrowed from Uralic, cf. Northern Sami gáđfi, "female stoat", and Hungarian hölgy, "stoat"; from Proto-Uralic *käďwä, "female (of a furred animal)".



From Middle English cat, catte, from Old English catt (“male cat”), catte (“female cat”), from Proto-Germanic *kattuz.

Further etymology and cognates.

The Germanic word is generally thought to be from Late Latin cattus (“domestic cat”) (c. 350, Palladius), from Latin catta (c. 75 A.D., Martial), from an Afroasiatic language. This would roughly match how domestic cats themselves spread, as genetic studies suggest they began to spread out of the Near East / Fertile Crescent during the Neolithic (being in Cyprus by 9500 years ago, and Greece and Italy by 2500 years ago), especially after they became popular in Egypt. However, every proposed source word has presented problems. Adolphe Pictet and many subsequent sources refer to Barabra (Nubian) (kaddîska) and "Nouba" (Nobiin) kadīs as possible sources or cognates, but M. Lionel Bender says the Nubian word is a loan from Arabic قِطَّة‎ (qiṭṭa). Jean-Paul Savignac suggests the Latin word is from an Egyptian precursor of Coptic ϣⲁⲩ (šau, “tomcat”) suffixed with feminine -t, but John Huehnergard says "the source […] was clearly not Egyptian itself, where no analogous form is attested."

Huehnergard opines it is "equally likely that the forms might derive from an ancient Germanic word, imported into Latin and thence to Greek and to Syriac and Arabic". Guus Kroonen also considers the word to be native to Germanic (due to morphological alternations) and Northern Europe, and suggests that it might ultimately be borrowed from Uralic, compare Northern Sami gađfe (“female stoat”) and Hungarian hölgy (“stoat; lady, bride”) from Proto-Uralic *käďwä (“female (of a fur animal)").

Related to Scots cat, West Frisian kat, North Frisian kåt and kaat, Dutch kat, Danish kat, Norwegian katt, Swedish katt, German Low German Katt and Katte, German Katze, Alemannic German Chatz, Icelandic köttur, Afrikaans kat, Latin cattus, French chat, Norman cat, Occitan cat, Portuguese gato, Spanish gato, Aromanian cãtush, Scottish Gaelic cat, Irish cat, Breton kazh, Welsh cath, Cornish kath, as well as Ancient Greek κάττα (kátta), Greek γάτα (gáta), and from the same ultimate source Russian кот (kot), Ukrainian кіт (kit), Belarusian кот (kot), Polish kot, Kashubian kòt, Lithuanian katė, and more distantly Armenian կատու (katu), Basque katu, Hebrew חתול‎ (khatúl), Arabic قِطَّة‎ (qiṭṭa) alongside dialectal Maghrebi Arabic قَطُّوس‎ (qaṭṭūs) (from Berber, probably from Latin).



Old English catt (c. 700) "domestic cat," from West Germanic (c. 400-450), from Proto-Germanic *kattuz (source also of Old Frisian katte, Old Norse köttr, Dutch kat, Old High German kazza, German Katze), from Late Latin cattus.

The near-universal European word now, it appeared in Europe as Latin catta (Martial, c. 75 C.E.), Byzantine Greek katta (c. 350) and was in general use on the continent by c. 700, replacing Latin feles. Probably ultimately Afro-Asiatic (compare Nubian kadis, Berber kadiska, both meaning "cat"). Arabic qitt "tomcat" may be from the same source. Cats were domestic in Egypt from c. 2000 B.C.E., but not a familiar household animal to classical Greeks and Romans. The nine lives have been proverbial at least since 1560s.

The Late Latin word also is the source of Old Irish and Gaelic cat, Welsh kath, Breton kaz, Italian gatto, Spanish gato, French chat (12c.). Independent, but ultimately from the same source are words in the Slavic group: Old Church Slavonic kotuka, kotel'a, Bulgarian kotka, Russian koška, Polish kot, along with Lithuanian katė and non-Indo-European Finnish katti, which is from Lithuanian.

Online Etymological Dictionary


[Middle English, from Old English catt, from Germanic *kattuz; akin to Late Latin cattus and Old Church Slavonic kotŭka, all ultimately of unknown origin.]

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition.


Selected readings


Bibliographical note

Zhōnggòng zhōngyāng dǎngxiào tuìxiū jiàoshòu Cài Xiá nèibù jiǎnghuà wénzì gǎo: Cóng xiūxiàn kāishǐ, zhège dǎng yǐ shì yīgè zhèngzhì jiāngshī


"Transcript of internal speech by Cai Xia, a retired professor of the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China: Since the revision of the constitution, this party has been a political zombie"


Note that Xi was the former director of the Central Party School.


[Thanks to Erika Gilson]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 10:19 am

    From Peter Golden:

    In the Rasūlid Hexaglot, two “dictionaries"/vocabularia compiled by al-Malik al-Afḍal al-‘Abbās b. ‘Alī (r. 764/1363-778/1377) of the Rasūlid dynasty in Yemen, in the Arabic-Persian-Turkic (in three Turkic languages)-Greek (a dialect of spoken Byzantine Greek)-Armenian (a dialect of Western Armenian) section we find: (f. 195, C,29): Arab. al-sinnaur (“cat”), Pers. gurba, Turkic četük (جتك), Greek kata (كاتا) Armen. gadu (كادو) and in the Arabic-Persian-Turkic-Mongolian section (f.199, C, 21) there is: Arab. al-sinnaur, Pers. gurba, Turkic mešük (ماشوك) and četük (جتوك), Mongolian miġu (ميغو). The author’s sources are not given, but many of the entries stem from the spoken language rather than the official literary tongues. For the text and facsimiles of the ms. see “The King’s Dictionary. The Rasûlid Hexaglot: Fourteenth Century Vocabularies in Arabic, Persian, Turkic, Greek, Armenian and Mongol,” trans. Tibor Halasi-Kun, Peter B. Golden, Louis Ligeti and Edmund Schütz with introductory essays by Peter B. Golden and Thomas T. Allsen, edited with notes and commentary by Peter B. Golden ((Leiden-Boston-Köln: Brill, 2000).

  2. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 11:06 am

    From Brian Spooner:

    Interesting that there doesn't appear to be any relationship between the Persian gorba and any of the other words in the region, even though (if I am remembering correctly) what is now our domestic cat originated somewhere in the same part of Central Asia as the Iranians. But I don't remember any words for cat in middle or old Iranian languages.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 11:51 am

    From András Róna-Tas:

    I have to join this fantastic cat chat, Hungarian has cica and macska the first was a call word, the second comes from South Slavic, no Finno-Ugric and no Turkic word. Many of the cat words as Juha remarked are onomatopoeic, some are from call words. Interesting is that both categories have history, and both can be borrowed. In most cases they are also irregular. It is also noteworthy that many cat words have an m- initial.

  4. Elizabeth said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 12:41 pm

    Interesting post! (But as soon as you mention cats, the internet lights up!)

    We have a Turkish Van who we named Lucifur (loose-fur) Van Kedi, playing with the “van X” of Dutch naming conventions and the name for his breed in Turkish.

    My husband and I are both native speakers of English, but I’d say the this kedi is more accessible to me.

  5. Bob Ladd said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 1:14 pm

    The Romanian word is pisicǎ. I always wondered where it came from, but if (as it says in the OP) the native Turkish word is pisi that must be the source, given the number of Turkish words in Romanian generally.
    It's also interesting that lots of languages seem to have an official word for 'cat' and another unrelated word. Italian has micio and French has minou/minet (more cat words beginning with M!). And English and Dutch have puss(y) and poes respectively (I know of no German cognate for that word) – could that possibly share a connection with pisi?

  6. Bob Ladd said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 1:17 pm

    The Romanian diacritic should have showed up this way: pisică.

  7. cameron said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 1:29 pm

    Alongside gorba, which is more like gorbe in current Tehrani pronunciation, Persian also has informal pishu, which is obviously akin to English "puss" or "pussy", and also to the Turkish and Romanian words already cited. I think these words in p- are all in the onomatopoeic category, from a "pshpshpsh" sound used to get a cat's attention.

  8. Nicky said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 1:53 pm

    Kyrgyz word for cat is мышык/myshyk. Is it related to Turkish pisi? p/b and m often interchange in Turkic languages.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 2:31 pm


    I think that Kyrgyz word мышык/myshyk must be related to the Russian word for "mouse": мышь. My Mom and my sisters always admiringly and affectionately referred to cats that were particularly good at catching mice and presenting them at our doorstep as "mousers".

  10. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 2:33 pm

    The Taiwanese word for cat is niau-á 貓仔.

    Note the following topolectal pronunciations of 貓:



    (Pinyin): māo (mao1)
    (Zhuyin): ㄇㄠ

    (Chengdu, SP): mao1 / miao2
    (Dungan, Cyrillic): мо (mo, I)


    (Guangzhou, Jyutping): maau1, miu4, maau4
    (Taishan, Wiktionary): miu2

    Gan (Wiktionary): mau4 / mieu4


    (Sixian, PFS): meu
    (Meixian, Guangdong): miau4

    Jin (Wiktionary): mau1

    Min Bei (KCR): mê / miâu

    Min Dong (BUC): mà / mièu

    Min Nan

    (Hokkien, POJ): niau / bâ / bâu
    (Teochew, Peng'im): ngiao1 / ngiou1 / bha5

    Wu (Wiktionary): mau (T3); 'mau (T1)

    Xiang (Wiktionary): mau1 / miau1


  11. Oatrick said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 4:18 pm

    I recall from Red Land, Black Land that the (paintstakingly reconstructed?) trigram root for cat in Egyptian was “m-i-w”. …

  12. martin schwartz said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 5:40 pm

    Persian gurba/gorbe, Middle Perisan gurbag 'cat' is ultmiately
    cognate with Latin vulpes 'fox'; there is a Lithuanian cognate which
    means 'wild cat'. The Sogdian word for 'cat', cited above, is etymologically 'mouse-killer'. Most Iranian languages, including the Middle Iranian Khwarezmian, have the usual word for 'cat' derived from the onomatopoeic p-sh. The Anc. Egyptian word for 'cat'
    is indeed miw (the i has a diacritical indicating it is a consonant),
    Coptic has, as I recall, mouie, cf. Eng. meow etc. The Hebrew word for 'cat' cited in the thread (where kh = the velar continunant x, while it
    looks like the 'cat' word, is from Anc. Egyptian xtrw (cf. Coptic shathoul 'weasel'.
    Lat. catus 'whelp, young dog' poses a problem.
    Arabic qiTT, in Arabic script (provided above), looks like it has a cat's head with ears (the q) and body on ground with rump and tail lifted (the
    Finally, there is a charming film Kedi, about the cats of Istanbul.
    Martin Schwartz

  13. Bathrobe said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 5:43 pm

    No Eastern MM attestations, which is no wonder since feeding cats would fit poorly in the nomadic lifestyle.

    Mongolians tend not to like cats that much, although you do see them around. I've seen people actually take them out for walks on leashes, like walking a dog.

  14. DOREEN said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 6:43 pm


    Cat skeleton found along the Silk Road, Kazakhstan–800 CE–indications that it was domesticated.


  15. David Branner said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 7:15 pm

    The Taiwanese morpheme bâ 'wild cat' (that's the 陽平 tone) is presumably the main popular-stratum reflex of 貓.

    I've always assumed Mǐnnán niau/niào 'domestic cat' (陰平、陰去) was an unrelated morpheme.

  16. CuConnacht said,

    July 25, 2020 @ 7:19 pm

    I will second Martin Schwartz's recommendation of the documentary Kedi. See if you can figure out which Turks pronounce the initial consonant like an English k and which like an English ch. I couldn't find a pattern: not class, age, country/city, nothing.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    July 26, 2020 @ 4:08 pm

    With thanks to Martin Schwartz and CuConnacht for recommending the documentary "Kedi", here is the Wikipedia entry on it:


  18. Philip Taylor said,

    August 1, 2020 @ 4:45 am

    And by way of further recommendation, here are the first five sub-titles :

    In Istanbul, the cat is more than just a cat.
    The cat embodies the indescribable chaos,
    the culture, and the uniqueness that is the essence of Istanbul.
    Without the cat, Istanbul would lose a part of its soul
    And there’s nothing like it anywhere else on earth.

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