Catfights and Dogfights

background image 392

The following headline on the editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette caught my eye:

Catfight at pet clinic

The first sentence of the editorial told me that whoever wrote the headline:

1. hadn’t read the editorial;
2. didn’t know the meaning of “catfight”

How I know:
1. the editorial was about something that happened at an animal shelter, not a clinic.
2. the incident being commented on involved a worker who had threatened to kill his fellow workers. I don’t know of any definition of catfight that includes terroristic threatening.

Here are two definitions of catfight as given in the OED:

A fight between cats. A vicious fight or altercation, esp. between women.

Merriam-Webster makes no reference to fighting women in its definition:

catfight: a bitter and usually intensely personal dispute

The definition at Answers.com also avoids any display of insensitivity towards women:

A fight between or among cats.
Informal. A vociferous dispute: a catfight between farmers and the government over subsidies.

I suggest that what most people understand by catfight, when not used literally of felines, is a fight, verbal or physical, between or among women, as described here:

Catfight is a term for an altercation between two women, typically involving scratching, slapping, hair-pulling, and shirt-shredding as opposed to punching or wrestling. Wikipedia

The word dogfight, has different connotations.

The OED hyphenates the word as dog-fight:

A fight between dogs.
transf. A general disturbance or mêlée; spec. a ‘scrap’ between aircraft.

Merriam-Webster spells it as one word, dogfight:

1 : a fight between or as if between dogs : MELEE; broadly : a fiercely disputed contest 2 : a fight in aerial warfare between two or more fighter planes usually maneuvering at close quarters

Answers.com adds an addtional definition:

An illegal, organized fight between dogs, arranged for spectator entertainment and betting.

Political correctness aside, the words dog and cat carry gendered cultural connotations. For example, if someone describes a heterosexual married couple fighting “like cats and dogs,” which member of the couple do you think represents which animal in the mind of the hearer?

Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!

You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!

Each newsletter contains a writing tip, word of the day, and exercise!

You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!

5 thoughts on “Catfights and Dogfights”

  1. Hi Maeve,

    Since morning I have been trying to figure out which one is correct among the two- ‘mystery for’ or ‘mystery to’

    The masked guest is an absolute mystery to everyone.


    The masked guest is an absolute mystery for everyone.

    or both are correct?

    Thank you.

  2. I think, in terms of fighting, that larger dogs bring more brutality to the fray than the house cats we generally think of when we think of cats fighting. House cats damage more by ripping with smaller (unless you are on the receiving end) claws and teeth; more small puncturing and shredding.

    And I think the association of women with cats, men with dogs might have a cultural bias (you think?), having to do with appearance.

    A guy tends to think of ability, and attacking strength to weaken an opponent, in physical terms. The knockdown, the bruising and punching are pretty combative and related to taking down an enemy. Catfights, fights using slaps, pulling hair, scratching, are about damaging image, injuring the opponent’s ability to portray control, substance, or attractiveness.

    How about this meaning? Catfight – attack to cause image damage to the opponent; dogfight – attack to disable an opponent physically. Because I don’t find the men/women definition isn’t as clear cut as it might have been in the past.

  3. I seen a spot on CBS Sunday Morning (great show) a couple of weeks back along this line of reasoning with regard to “cougars”. There is also no male equivalent.
    “Chick” and “fox” also come to mind.
    And for males I guess there is the term “stud”, which refers to type of horse rather than the whole species.

Leave a Comment