By Tony Deyal
A few days ago I read in the Jamaica Observer that “cats are the single biggest problem Jamaicans are having right now, next to crime”. I was not shocked or even surprised. After all, I grew up in Trinidad where every family has at least one cat or at least one small, domesticated feline mammal, the Felis cattus (or domesticus), the majority of which has thick soft fur of various colours. However, almost all the people in the region and beyond – men, women and children – recognise that “cat” (a.k.a. “pussy” or “pussin”) is not necessarily a domestic feline pet but also a colloquialism for the female sexual organ.
And not just us in the Caribbean. One night, at University in Canada, I took in the Johnny Carson show. Johnny was interviewing the flamboyant actress, Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose fame lay (and I use that word with full awareness of its many meanings) in the number of marriages in which she was a protagonist and which exceeded the number of movies in which she featured. She had brought on the set of the Tonight Show a small creature as described above (feline mammal) and petted it constantly during the interview. She then, in seeming innocence, asked Johnny archly, “Do you want to play with my pussy?” To which he replied, “You have to get that cat off your lap first.”
In Trinidad, the Calypsonians were the first to make the second meaning of cat overtake the first by leaps, bounds and not single, but “double” entendres – two words and phrases one of which is usually risqué or indecent. Lord Blakie came with, “Hole de pussy, hole de pussy, hole the pussy cyat.” He made sure the police couldn’t hold him for it. The great Lord Kitchener, the Road March Champion, in his “My Pussin” demanded, “Mistah move youh hand from dey, dat pussin belongs to me.” Many years ago when the present prime minister (PM), Dr Keith Rowley, was the leader of the opposition (LO) and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, now LO, was the PM, Rowley, referring to the PM, made it clear he was no Kitch.
He chanted, “She could jump high; She could jump low,/ She could drink this; She cold drink that,;/ She cold bark at meh dog, I go ignore she cat.”
One of the senators on Dr Rowley’s team termed the “cat” reference a “colloquialism”. Their Women’s League called it “political picong” (meaning, “politically based teasing or satirical banter”). Another Senator, the Honourable Faris Al Rawi, insisted that the use of the term “cyat” by his political leader had “nothing to do with genitalia”. One of my colleagues scoffed, saying that all the kids in Trinidad and Tobago knew exactly what “cat” or “kyat” meant. I stopped him. “You can’t be sure of that. It is possible that because the Senator went to school in Iraq and was catapulted to power in Trinidad, categorically speaking, and catastrophic as it might sound, the minister might have been catnapping for so long a period that he was unable to understand our categorization of animals.”
All this came to my mind when Al-Rawi, removed from his high post of attorney general and made minister of rural development and local government, claimed that the media in Trinidad and Tobago (TT) are “too negative”. He insisted, “TT is hooked on bad news…” and added, “In no other country do you see 365 days of bad news on the front pages.” The response in an editorial by journalist Kambe Lovelace of the TT paper “Newsday” was immediate, “Conventional wisdom might suggest the minister is playing the old game of Shoot the Messenger.
A more cynical view: this latest lecture is the strategy known to journalists as a “dead cat”- an attempt to shift the focus from all that is going wrong in the country – under Al-Rawi and company’s watch.” In other words, Lovelace took down Al Rawi from self-acclaimed Rolex watches to Fog (off-white).
I was impressed by the inclusion of the term “dead cat” and felt that I needed to share its meaning and usage to my readers. Seeing that we were dealing with politicians, it was not surprising that the first thing I came up with was, “What’s the difference between a dead politician and a dead cat on the street?” There were skid marks in front of the cat. I tried another angle. “What has four legs and flies?” A dead cat, one that helped me to understand what the term meant. Basically, the “dead cat strategy”, also known as “deadcatting”, is the political strategy of deliberately making a shocking announcement to divert media attention from problems of failures in other areas.
The former British prime minister, Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London wrote a column for The Telegraph (March 3, 2013) describing the “dead cat” as a piece of Australian political strategy about what to do in a situation in which the argument is being lost and “the facts are overwhelmingly against you.” He stressed, “There is one thing that This cap on bankers’ bonuses is like a dead cat-pure distraction…Let us suppose you are losing an argument.
The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as “throwing a dead cat on the table, mate”…everyone will shout “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!”; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”
Talking about grief and how to manage it properly, here’s a story that will help you deal with pressure. A woman went on vacation, leaving her husband behind. Before she left, she told him to take extra special care of her cat. The next day, she called her husband and asked if the cat was all right. Her husband said, “Darling, unfortunately, the cat just died.” She burst into tears and complained, “How could you be so blunt? Why couldn’t you have broken the news gradually? Today, you could have said that it was playing on the roof.
Then tomorrow you could have said that it fell off and had broken its leg. When I’m over that you could have said, ‘Darling, I hate to tell you this but the poor thing passed away in the night.’ That is the way you could have helped me manage the pain. The main thing is that you should be much more sensitive about the whole thing.” Then she asked, “By the way, how is my mom?” The husband remained quiet for a while and then told her, “She is playing on the roof.”
*Tony Deyal was last seen asking, “What is the difference between a man and a cat?” One eats a lot, is lazy and doesn’t care who brings the food. The other is a pet.