Cat huffing and snorting in Japanese and Chinese

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Full disclosure:  I'm not an expert on felines, except sort of for Hello Kitty.  I've owned a lot of dogs, but have never had a kitty kat since the time I was a little boy.  I have a poor understanding of their psychology and behavior, although I very much like to observe them, especially when they're sleeping or sunning themselves, and I love to hear them purr.  Occasionally it's fun to pet them, and I like it when they walk around my legs, twirling / wrapping their tail as they go.

Here's a reddit thread from last fall:

Posted by u/Curious_Cilantro, Oct. 1, 2021

[Chinese] xīmāo 吸猫 – to zone out and enjoy the company of a cat, as if it were a drug. Lit. “snort/suck cat”

Example: After work, I just want to relax at home and xīmāo 吸猫 (enjoy my cat’s company).

It’s a new phrase mostly used by young people. Since snorting drugs is xīdú 吸毒,and cats are so charismatic, appreciating their company is like snorting a drug that helps you relax.

A variation is yún xī māo 云吸猫 (cloud snort cat), which refers to browsing pictures and videos of cats online. A significant portion of reddit is dedicated to accommodating this activity.

[VHM:  Romanizations / Hanyu Pinyin added]

A screenshot of this has been making the rounds on Facebook, shared via the page "Cats on Cocaine" (CokedOutCats), appropriately enough.

But now we have to shift gears somewhat, because — in response to the post of u/Curious_Cilantro, Oct. 1, 2021 — eniteris says, "Sounds very similar to cat huffing", to which Curious_Cilantro replies:  "It doesn’t refer to literally huffing a cat, more like treating the cat as a drug to zone out to. Nice reference though!"

Things are getting a bit confused, because we have one expression in Japanese and Chinese, nekosui 猫吸い / xīmāo 吸貓, but the semantics are diverging from huffing to snorting.

First of all, we have to get a handle on what cat huffing is:

Cat huffing involves burying one’s face into a cat’s body (usually the neck or belly) and repeatedly inhaling the kitty scent. So far, there aren’t any known side effects to cat huffing, although it can be highly tantalizing, like catnip for people.


So people can huff (v. tr.) cats, but cats can huff (v. intr.).

*"I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down".

If you don't know what the huffing of a cat sounds like, here's a brief sample:  "Cat vocalization: huff".

Japanese nekosui 猫吸い

From (ねこ) (neko, cat) + () (sui, sucking, (れん)(よう)(けい) (ren'yōkei, stem or continuative form) of the verb () (suu, to suck).).

Chinese: 吸貓吸猫 (xīmāo)


Mandarin xīmāo 吸貓

Orthographic borrowing from Japanese (ねこ)() (nekosui).


Here are ten sounds cats make, and this list doesn't even include huffing, chirping (chirruping), wheezing, and mrr(p)ing.

  • Meow.
  • Distress call.
  • Purring.
  • Trill.
  • Female and male calls.
  • Hiss and spit.
  • Howl and yowl.
  • Snarl and growl.

Maybe we're just going to have to live with people huffing cats and cats huffing at people.


A forthcoming guest post from Nathan Hopson will focus on cat tongues.  Fascinating, with all sorts of funny and profound implications.

Selected readings

[h.t. Ben Zimmer]


  1. Chas Belov said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 11:48 pm

    When I was in my teens, my sister had a cat named Fuzz. (I suppose Fuzz's name is not relevant to this story, but it does disambiguate her for me from her successor Pixie.) Normally, Fuzz and I ignored each other. But sometimes, when my parents and sister were out and I was sitting in the recliner in the corner of our dining room, Fuzz would come over and make a rising, vibrating sound which by the second occasion I had learned it meant "I'm coming up (into your lap)." It wasn't quite like the trill in the recording – the vibrations were slower and just slightly longer if my memory serves correctly – maybe it's the chirrup that you refer to.

    I was also once in the presence of a cat named Pyewacket. She would meow at me to pet her. When I did so, she would stop meowing and start to purr. When I stopped petting, the purr would go on for a bit, then she would meow for more pets. Except that the meow would start before the purr ended. So it wasn't really a trill, it was overlapping purr and meow and while it overlapped it sounded like a trill. But it was clearly a Venn diagram of a sound.

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    June 17, 2022 @ 2:31 am

    I don't think that it corresponds to any of the "ten sounds cats make", but Squeaker has a most distinctive sound which means "I have something for you", where "something" is usually a half-dead mouse, juvenile rat, vole, or (fortunately rarely) bird. She uses it on no other occasion, and it takes just one of these calls to awaken me from even the deepest sleep to see what she has this time and whether there is any chance of saving it …

  3. Seth said,

    June 17, 2022 @ 12:10 pm

    Has anyone ever tried to apply all the new AI and computational speech recognition tools, to cat vocalizations? As in, seriously attempting to find common features in vocalization data. It seems to me this would be something that would be an obvious application, and someone should have tried it by now.

    Ah, I should use Google first:
    "MeowTalk: Alexa developer’s app to translate cat’s miaow"

  4. Emily said,

    June 20, 2022 @ 8:55 pm

    Probably unrelated but amusing:

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