Catfights and Dogfights
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?
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