notes on ‘ailurophile’ (cat lover)

The noun ailurophile denotes a cat lover, and ailurophobe denotes a person who has an intense fear of, or aversion tocats.

These words are based on ancient Greek ἀίλουρος (= aílouros – cf. footnote 1), also αἰέλουρος (= aiélouros), meaning cat. This Greek word is perhaps, as reported by ancient grammarians, from αἰόλος (= aiόlos), swift, and οὐρά (= ourá – cf. footnote 2), tail, the cat being perhaps so called on account of the swift movement to and fro of its tail.

Both ailurophile and ailurophobe are first recorded in A Synthetic Genetic Study of Fear, by the American psychologist and educator Granville Stanley Hall (1846-1924), published in The American Journal of Psychology (University of Illinois Press) of July 1914:

The literature on ailurophobia or morbid dread of cats usually describes it in adults. Rare in its extreme, it is so common in its mild form that a large proportion of mankind take sides and either like or dislike cats at the same time or by turns. The presence of cats in every known land and age shows that the ailurophiles, among whom women predominate, vastly outnumber the ailurophobes. Its relation to man is based chiefly on its attitude to small rodents, especially rats and mice, which have always been commensals and parasites of man. Both love and fear of cats are far more common and so best studied among children and young women, whose feeling toward them is based on other than their utilitarian qualities. […] We have a number of specific causes, more or less distinct. (1) Some affirm that their repulsion toward them is “because they walk so stealthily and noiselessly that you do not know that they are about until there they are.” […] Hammerton observed a cat leap to a sideboard, explore it and thence to a completely set dinner table, worming its way between delicate wine-glasses, touching nothing and making not the least noise, when a dog would have upset things. This, then, is the first indictment against them and is the reason why the rats in their fabled parliament resolved to bell them. […] When the Kaiser visits his relatives at Buckingham Palace it is said every room in his suite must be thoroughly searched by a trusted official as to whether cats lurk unknown in some nook or corner, for this the war-lord cannot abide. […]
(2) Another closely related, uncanny, gruesome, deeply graven element in our cat complex is our appreciation of their power to make such great and sudden springs or leaps. […] Thus their saltatory power is often magnified to mythic dimensions. The cat to children is a salient illustration of the shock-inflicting power of being jumped out at and this is another ingredient. Practically every vertebrate that in fact or fancy may suddenly spring upon and overpower us is one of the Felidae.
(3) Its nocturnal habits intensify the dreads of both its creeping and leaping traits, and this is intensified by the omatophobiac tendencies. “Its eyes are so shiny and glistening at night and in a dark cellar that you can see nothing but two glary balls of fire,” etc. Living things upon which the wonderful optic organ of the cat tribe is unswervingly focussed (for it is thus they have acquired a trait of attention and persistence in which Romanes thinks they excel all beasts) have usually been in grave danger. Folk-lore says that they thus charm, fascinate, hypnotize their prey. Only a fraction of the creatures who have experienced the baleful influence of its evil eye have survived to tell the tale. […]
(4) Next comes the homuxophobiac element or the fear of claws, together with odontophobia or fear of teeth, which is very akin to it. […] Writers like J. Wesley Mills and Cornish mention the great delicacy and deftness with which the cat uses its forepaws, and the very early stage in its development in which this power is acquired, and call it almost manual. Save its ancestor the hyena, the cat jaw is relatively the most powerful known.
(5) The cat’s vocal powers are no less exceptional and uniquely varied. It can growl threateningly, purr (“a whispered growl” as a girl termed it), it can miau plaintively and wheedlingly in asking favors, and this if it has to be too long repeated may rise to an angry and despairing yowl like the angry cry of the baby. It has a remarkable register of shrieks in its combat with its fellows although often silent when battling with dogs. It has also a crooning note inviting its young to its dugs. Very unique is its hiss and spitting, which is highly developed in some of its wild congeners and which some think it copied in order to add an ophidian terror to those which its own powers could create. These seven types of phonic expression for as many different sentiments are all in the highest degree expressive, not only to its own species but to man. There is much reason to think that all infants have to learn not to fear even the most specific of these utterances, while some soon come to be very effective danger signals. Altogether this vocabulary shows the cat’s nature to be emotionally rich and diversified although it is almost proverbially changeable and unreliable. Animal vocalization expresses feeling, not intellect, and the child lives so largely in the world of the former that its rapport to the feline soul is made much closer by this quality, so that it anthropomorphizes the cat and learns far more of the animal soul from it than from the more humanized and less composite psyche of the dog, for the cat has rightly been called the most emotional as well as the most vocally accomplished of mammals.
Besides these more readily rubricized elements of children’s ailurophobias, our records show many other special features. One lady feared “nothing so much as the silent to and fro movement at the end of a cat’s tail,” which she fancied might even bite her and always watched for and dreaded it. This, too, Cornish would say had a viperous suggestion.




1. From Greek ἀίλουρος via scientific Latin Aeluroidea, the adjective aeluroid means: of, relating to, designating, or characteristic of, the division or superfamily Aeluroidea of the mammalian order Carnivora, comprising the cat family Felidae and allied families.

2. In English, the combining form uro-, from Greek οὐρά, means: relating to a tail or the caudal region; it occurs in such terms as uropod, denoting the sixth and last pair of abdominal appendages of lobsters and related crustaceans, forming part of the tail fan.


Further reading on cats:
dead-cat bounce
the authentic origin of ‘to rain cats and dogs’
fat cat (wealthy and powerful person)
cat o’-nine-tails
no room to swing a cat
to look like something the cat has brought in
the nonsensical origin of ‘Kilkenny cats’
to let the cat out of the bag
the Cat-and-Mouse Act
a cat may look at a king
to see which way the cat jumps
‘who’s she’—the cat’s mother?
like a cat on hot bricks
not a cat in hell’s chance
to grin like a Cheshire cat
‘the cat’s whiskers’, and all that jazz


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