Meow. We know this is the sound a cat makes. Five thousand years ago, so did the Ancient Egyptians. They just pronounced it “miw,” according to Sir Alan Gardiner, the deceased expert on Egyptian grammar. The “i” you see above is not really pronounced as an “i” but instead as a y sound (in the world of linguistics, sounds are written in italics). The title of the “i”—a title is the dot over an “i”—is curved (see pink circled title at right) to show you that its sound is somehow perverted—in this case from an “i” to a “y”—so this word for “cat” really should be written as myw, which suggests that the Ancient Egyptian word for cat was probably not far from “mew,” another sound we recognize as emanating from a feline.
I apologize for bringing up curved titles—and if the sound of this word makes you titter, it is not a coincidence. Our language is loaded with Cro-Magnon baggage, such as words and letters that show a similarity to sticks, weapons, and human body parts. We think our letters are not pictures. This is part of our myopia. The alphabet is a simplified form of what was important to early man: things found in nature. Our letterforms are pictorial, but the pictures are so derivational that we’ve forgotten—as a society, and on purpose perhaps—what they represent. It is convenient to think that our alphabet is not as logographic as Chinese, for example, but that’s because many of us are in some form of denial, and perhaps even elitist: “Their language is pictures; ours is not.”
Part of the problem is this curved title. The way to keep people from knowing things is to use arcane symbols or insufficient description. For example, Gardiner interprets the human arm hieroglyph as having “a guttural sound not found in the English language” (see below). He doesn’t even describe this sound. Why? Because then you would know too much, and linguists would have to kill you.
Ridicule has replaced homicide as society’s response to someone with a new idea. We marginalize by deprecation. The “Bow Wow” theory, as it is known, postulates that the origins of speech are based on early humans’ imitation of animal sounds. You can guess by the name how seriously this theory is considered. Onomatopoeia—a word that sounds like the thing it names—is the term for the class of words that the “Bow Wow” theory covers. Words like “bees,” “crow,” “cuckoo,” and “hawk,” would appear to have been named after the animal that makes that respective sound. “Meow,” though not recognized in our culture as a formal word, still signifies for most humans as the sound a cat makes. Onomatopoeic words are obvious choices for first vocalizations because the imitation of a sound takes only mimicry. It’s easier to copy than be original, and humans are good mimics. Perhaps an early speaker made the sound of a cat. An early listener understood what was meant was “cat.” It’s not difficult to imagine. Based on the Chinese and Ancient Egyptian words for “cat,” humans have heard and interpreted sound the same for at least five thousand years, and no doubt longer.
Linguists allow that there are similar-sounding words for some concepts across all cultures, but these congruencies are considered insignificant because they have the excuse of being onomatopoeic or else they fall into the category of “baby talk.” Wouldn’t those early words of children, uttered before the culture has had a chance to take a firm hold, more clearly suggest the origins of language? Should we discount words simply because they fall in the category of “too obvious”? Consider: Over the last 5,000 years humans have fought wars over religion, women, and body modification—but we agree on the word for “cat”? An irrelevant coincidence linguists would say.
Are coincidences of this magnitude irrelevant? The congruence between sound and meaning over a five thousand-year period in three distinct cultures—Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and ours—for the concept of “cat” seems significant, especially because human evolution would be a logical explanation for this similarity. Humans have primal needs, and these needs dictate that humans’ behavior follows patterns, much like children have characteristic stages as they grow (this could explain the pyramids existing in disparate cultures with no apparent contact). These dependencies ended up imprinting our earliest vocalizations. The consonant-vowel pattern meow may not seem important in our language, but in Chinese, this sound pattern—spelled “miao”—occurs 16 times by itself, and at least 78 times in conjunction with other characters, according to www.MandarinTools.com. The Miao of China—one of the meanings of “miao”—are an ancient people known for their farming and embroidery; the word also means “family, progeny, sprout.”
The Oxford English Dictionary does not include a listing for “miao” or “meow.” The closest word is “miaow,” and it means, “Imitative. Similar representations of the cry of a cat (and corresponding nouns and verbs) are very widespread in numerous languages: compare e.g. German miau, Spanish miau, Russian mjau, Turkish miyav, Finnish miau, Chinese miao, etc.” Even though OED claims the word is widespread, the earliest date given is 1288. Ancient Egyptian isn’t mentioned. Under “cat” however, OED offers, “History points to Egypt as the earliest home of the domestic cat, and the name is generally sought in the same quarter.” Not discussed is the fact that the Egyptians used the word “miw,” even though Gardiner’s book was published in 1927. National Geographic says that the oldest evidence of a “pet” cat was found in Cyprus inside a 9,500-year old human grave. The remains of the cat, eight-month’s old when it died, was 16 inches from the human remains. Almost ten thousand years later, owners still bury their pets and provide for the animals should they predecease them. Cats and dogs have made themselves desirable to humans, so we cultivate them: it’s the perfect gene strategy.
Language functions similarly to genes. Sound replicates if it means something. Meow transcends culture because so many cultures recognize this pattern of sound as signifying “cat.” Mewing is an automatic way to communicate the concept of “cat.” Perhaps the fact that humans are more than 99.99% genetically identical means we hear the same and think the same, so some amount of coherence exists between people, even if we haven’t been raised the same. Based on early scripts, it appears that we notate the same: Not only do the Ancient Egyptians and Chinese share a similar sound for “cat,” their depictions share a similar structure. As you can see, both the hieroglyph for “cat” on the left and the sinograph for “cat” on the right include meaning and pronunciation in their “words” that designate “cat.” In each language, the script for “cat” includes two levels of coding: content (meaning) and sound (pronunciation)—and in this case, both agree. Two ancient cultures not only pronounce the word for “cat” nearly the same, they also graphically depict the concept of “cat” in a similar manner. However this similarity takes an effort to see because they are so unalike pictorially. The Chinese and the Ancient Egyptians appear to have arrived at this strategy independently. One depiction does not seem copied from another. Both cultures triangulated their written ideas by combining content and sound in the same graphic in order to pinpoint the concept to be communicated just like x and y coordinates mark a location on a graph. The underpinnings of the characters—the components that make up the “word”—aid understanding by adding content. “Miao” in Chinese means “fertile.” The “w” sound in Egyptian was a chick, synonymous with new life. If we compare similarities in the scripts between the two ancient cultures, a focus on fertility is evident in both societies. When language was being created, procreation was big, and this focus on sex was encoded into language.
The hieroglyphic cat on the left is easy to recognize, and we will come back to it in a bit, but first I will focus on the language spoken by more than 800 million people: Chinese. The Chinese cat on the right is more stylized, but one can still perceive two eyes, at least one whisker, the curvature of the animal’s back and rump, as well as the stripes for which some cats are known. Those stripes are probably not legs as this radical (a radical is a repeated component of a Chinese sinograph) is called a “legless insect” and a “legendary beast.” This character is known as zhì (the character gives no sound to the pronunciation of “cat”) and is also occasionally known historically as a snake or a worm (both which have stripes or reticulation).
It’s important to make clear that the descriptions different authorities attach to a particular Chinese character are interesting but misleading—the true test of what a character means is in the totality of the words in which it is found. History tends to play up certain aspects—like leglessness in animals known for their agility—however, the boundary conditions that color the meaning of a particular Chinese character are formed by the words that include that character. A method for categorizing what a particular character means is to organize the lexicon of words that have the character as a component. One place to do this is www.mandarintools.com. If you enter the Chinese character for “cat”—猫—and search “Traditional Chinese,” you will get 21 listings which include mostly cats and leopards, but also pandas (“bear cats”) and owls (“cat hawks”). This zhì 豸 animal—I will put the pronunciation and the Chinese character it represents together for clarity—stood not just for mammals, not just for fur, but for animals that were lovable predators. Fuzzy but with an agenda humans could understand. Comparing the cat radical zhì 豸 with the dog radical quǎn犭, one notices that the cat version has a face. Humans typically don’t eat animals to whom they give faces. A common character in Chinese is a dog on a fire. You never see a cat on a fire in Chinese.
The role that a radical plays in Chinese is the same role that the determinative played in Ancient Egypt (i.e., the cat, upper left on page 4, is the determinative of this hieroglyph because it determines the meaning). Think of a radical as a category—the ballpark into which the sound you hear will fall. Both the Chinese and the Ancient Egyptian cultures used this ballpark strategy which combined content and sound together in order to communicate via writing. One could think of this strategy as a code. The key to cracking the code is to understand the culture that created it. Understanding culture helps one can understand the logic behind the strategies. Triangulations are nothing more than coordinates given together in order to hone in on an object; this method of locating something is a natural tendency of a strategic animal.
The Chinese language uses more than just the sound-content triangulations. It also uses known + known = unknown. For example, if your culture knows what a bear is and what a cat is but not what a panda is, a good way to describe one to a kinsman would be by combining both ideas into the term “bear cat,” which is what “panda” is in Chinese: xióng māo. The word “cat” is a kind of universal catchall meaning a “small living unit.“ We have “cat” in lots of words. “Cattle” for example. This word, like “chattel,” comes from “capital,” which means “head” (where your cap goes). A “head” denotes one individual but often within a group of individuals, like heads of cattle. Even the word “category” signifies one of many. Cats are one of many: clones of each other, perhaps this is why we think they have nine lives—they look so alike, they appear to live forever. In elementary school, a “copycat” is a pejorative for one who copies another. Cats are famous for making copies—even children know this. Not only does the 豸 radical suggest imitation, when it is accompanied by miáo 苗, this sense of cloning is magnified because miáo 苗 depicts reproduction, both in its shape (note the bilateral symmetry) and in its most basic meaning: that of a fertile field, the quintessential metaphor for reproduction in every kind of mammal.
The character that is left—miāo喵—is the Chinese depiction of that fertile field accompanied by a character that represents a mouth—duplicated in three different typefaces so that one can see the similarities between a modern face up top, to the older, “handwritten” depictions below. The character means, “say this sound: miao.” This is the sound a cat makes in both Chinese culture and American culture. Notice that the character highlighted in red in all three examples is a kind of rectangle (more squarish on the bottom two). This is the mouth character, though sometimes it can be simply an orifice. This mouth is a common component of a sinograph (also known as a Han character), and in this case, it means the reader is to make the sound of the character on the right: miao (though with the first tone instead of the second tone).
Miāo or miao1 is the sound a cat makes. (I will now write the tones with numbers in order to be clear as to which of the four voiced tones found in spoken Mandarin Chinese are meant.) Miao1 is the pinyin pronunciation; pinyin is the spelling of Chinese sound in Roman letters (“Roman” is what the style of letters I am writing this with are called). In pinyin, 苗 by itself is pronounced miao2, and it has two sprouts or blades of grass growing on the top of a cultivated field. This field could be a rice field, but it is also metaphorical, so it is any fruitful pasture that signifies stability, home, progeny, and longevity.
In analyzing the graphic, one notices that the lines dividing the field into fourths could be a division of land or a stake in the ground—or both. Chinese is a cumulative language. In Chinese, a stake in the ground—十—means “ten.” Ten fingers is how one holds onto something tenaciously. That stake is in the center of the field, illustrating a tight grip: ownership. That cross also creates quadrants on the field which represent irrigation and cultivation, as well as fairness to subsequent generations as these divisions are even distributions of the land. Put a square around a stake and you have possession. The sprouts growing over the divvied land are symbolic of the beginning of life; they synecdochically imply sons. The square and quartered field is a miniature chessboard, the boundaries defining one’s realm, the turf one must defend.
The English have a similar miniature checkerboard in the form of a coat of arms. It is often divided into fourths; it also has bilateral symmetry. The plant growth, or mantling, which commonly emerges from the top of the coat of arms, signifies life and mirrors the sprouts which flower above the quartered field. The family crest depicts conquest with its helmet and ax, but the miao2 character also has conquest in the division of its land. The root character of miao2 is tian2 田—also roughly 3,000 years old—which is a field and means to “cultivate.” Cultivated land is a metaphor for Manifest Destiny, an idea embodied in the 19th century Caucasian conquest of territory but present in all cultures, which is that land, plants, animals, even humans are there for the taking. When you’re focused on survival, such niceties—concern for others for example—are not priorities. This field metaphor is seen in phrases like, “He’s sowing his wild oats,” where oats euphemistically stands in for semen—they are both seeds—and women are the implied “field” into which the unknown “he” is sowing. At ww.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms, this phrase is defined as, “If a young man sows his wild oats, he has a period of his life when he does a lot of exciting things and has a lot of sexual relationships.” At http://www.urbandictionary.com, this same phrase is defined as, “To lead a promiscuous and self-indulgent lifestyle. Less stylistically, to nail lots of women before you settle down.”
“Nailing” is a key phrase. Pinning them down. Making them bear your babies. It’s all about reproducing because that’s how a culture survives. You can see this focus on reproduction in the table on the next page. If you take the Chinese Han character for “cat” and swap the animal radical豸 for “woman”—女—you get “pretty girl.” A pretty girl makes for a stable home life (theoretically) because she will bear children. Miao2 represents stability because cultivated land is stable. Plants stay where you last left them because they have roots there; animals stay because someone cares for them and stables them; consequently, they produce offspring or copies. If you swap “woman” for “hand” 手, you get “copy” or “to trace” because now the hand is making the reproduction, not the woman. If you swap that same character for “metal” 金 (that’s the shine of ore you see under the mountain), you get “anchor,” because “metal plus stability equals anchor.” If “eye” 目 goes before the miao2苗 character, the meaning becomes “aim” because a steady eye is needed for a good shot.
Aiming is what predatory animals do. They go after what they want. Man idolizes predators because man is a predator. A predator doesn’t always kill. Sometimes a predator dominates by passing on genetic material aggressively. Miao2苗 is all about depositing procreative material and making copies. The structure of the Chinese written language is much more consistent than most people realize. The pronunciation component of a character also provides context. Miao2苗 not only suggests the sound, it suggests stability. This unrecognized aid to the meaning of a character is true of Ancient Egyptian as well. Both languages use the pronunciation portion of a character or a hieroglyph to clue the reader as to the meaning; this is in addition to the determinative/radical portion, which is already acknowledged by linguists to demonstrate meaning.
Cats are linked to women in many cultures because of these same generative and stable qualities. Cats breed like rabbits, which, before birth control, was exactly how women bred. Statistically, we’ve all evolved to be fertile. This is why “cat” and “pretty girl” are both pronounced “mao,” with a slight difference of tone (this is similar to Hebrew where the difference in tone of גמל means either “camel” or “to wean a child,” i.e., a woman; see Chapter 1 at www.originofalphabet.com for more info). By calling the pretty girl a “cat,” one is suggesting that she will be fertile. One way of depicting fertility is metaphorically with a field; another way is more literal by actually showing the equipment required to be fertile: Fallopian tubes. Both the Egyptians and the Chinese used body parts in their scripts. Many people ask, “How did they know what Fallopian tubes looked like?” It’s important to remember that early man’s life was violent and gory. They took animals apart all the time, and that sometimes included humans. Sacrifice was a bloody endeavour. The root of the word “sacred” and “sacrifice” comes from “sacrum.” The sacrum shelters the Fallopian tubes. The Fallopian tubes lead from the ovaries of female mammals—where eggs are produced—to the uterus—where an egg combined with sperm turns into another mammal. An illustration of Fallopian tubes can be seen above; this graphic is meant to be used as a reference for comparison to the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph and the Chinese characters underneath, since modern humans are less familiar with our insides than early man was. The hieroglyph directly below the Fallopian tubes illustration is the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for “bicornuate uterus of heifer,” “vulva,” and “cow.” The third and fourth graphics on page 9 are Chinese characters for “ovum” and “hatch,” respectively, both of which include the stylized, Fallopian tube-looking character which resembles our lower case “g” next to a “p.” The “p” character is known as the “seal” radical. Note that the words “ovum” and “hatch” contain two dots in the Fallopian tube-looking character. These are eggs. Note also that “pretty; charming girl” has (next to the woman radical) a similar depiction to “ovum” but without the two dots; it would appear that a pretty girl’s seal radical is empty. Could a girl be pretty by the mere fact that she is a virgin and has no other male’s child in her womb? Perhaps that “seal” is a euphemism for hymen or barrier. The loss of a woman’s virginity has historically been required in order to finalize a deal. This seal is what seals a woman from another man’s genetic material, along with whatever else might have been traded in the bargain.
Using human evolution as one’s lens around which all language is filtered, a pattern begins to emerge that focuses on fertility and—consistent with the first 50 chapters of Genesis—preservation of seed. It’s easy to discount this theory if one has not read the beginning of the Bible or the histories and myths of early cultures. Women were a source of regeneration, and this was the focus of primal man because it allowed humans to build a work force or an army. It allowed them to see themselves in their offspring: Sons. They are the future around which all life radiated. The desire for children is what unites men and women. Children soften the human existence. They make adults laugh because they are new to the world and everything is a wonder. They are the prototypical clown, wide-eyed and falling. They make one forget the ofttimes violent act that beget them.
Man has two sides: murdering and nurturing. Languages’ scripts reflect these two sides, but we don’t see it because we are still so motivated by sex and procreation that we are in denial: Facing our animalistic nature is too painful. If sex is important to us now (and I think we can safely say it is), imagine its significance before entertainment existed. Back then we had fire and sacrifice for excitement. Women were cloistered. The only way you could get at them was to be very powerful or to conquer and pillage. One’s own women were off-limits unless there was an exchange of collateral and a sanctifying of the union. Another tribe’s women, however, were fair game. And I mean “game” in the sense of a game animal.
The focus on pretty girls has always been with us. When establishments like Hooters, an American restaurant chain that insists the name “Hooters” refers to owls, has 425 franchises, this demonstrates that euphemism is thriving in 2011. I recently spoke to a man who had just frequented a new Hooter’s at Tanforan Mall in San Bruno, California, and he claimed he hadn’t known that the place was famous for large-breasted women. This is like saying that one reads Playboy for the articles. The owl’s eyes in the Hooter’s logo are meant to represent the two “O’s” of the word “Hooters, and of course, owls “hoot” when they call to each other. It’s the perfect cover: “Hun, it’s just owls.” But any conscious person who has been to a Hooters knows that T and A is what Hooters is all about. This is not the first time in history that eyes and breasts have been correlated. Perhaps those big eyes belong to males who can’t help the fact that evolution has given them an instinctual desire for large breasts because bodacious tatas suggest ample milk for a future generation.
Sex is everywhere in society, why wouldn’t it be in language? Language was written at a time when procreation was the major focus of all cultures. In Chinese, there’s at least three ways to write “pretty girl” (see above), and one of them means “prostitute” as well. This character 㑤 includes the fertile field miao2. Why would the breeding potential of a prostitute be important to someone having sex for money? Because fertility suggests youth. Men have evolved to be attracted to youthful women because that is the way the genes are most likely to replicate. Menopause is nature’s way of telling men to move on to more fertile women—but before you get riled, consider that we hardly ever listen to nature—we live past 30, we take antibiotics, we fly in airplanes. Fortunately these days, fertility isn’t the only thing driving relationships.
Miao2 is clearly a complex character. As I consider how many ways it represents females, I wonder if this symbol could have other meanings? Could it too—like the Fallopian tubes—be a replication of female body parts? Could the miao2 symbol represent “tits” (the two “t”-like upper parts) and “ass” or “vagina” (the lower square with the plus in it)? A common symbol for women includes a plus sign: ＋. It isn’t difficult to see this miao2 character as signifying female anatomy when we know that it is linked to the word “prostitute” as well as “cat.” “Cat house,” “catting around,” and “tom cat” all carry the sense of sexual licentiousness. “Cat fight” means a fight between two women (according to Wikipedia). Women are often likened to animals or plants. Those two “t”-shaped characters represent sprouts; breasts are often considered “buds” (or “nubs,” think “nubile”); the vagina is the proverbial “field.” This may explain why the ancestors of the ancient Miao culture now prefer the name “Hmong.”
Why has no one noticed that miao2 has this connotation? The Chinese I have spoken to only learn a subset of their language. Many had never seen the characters on page 11 for “pretty; charming girl.” One woman told me she learned Chinese as a child in a class of 50, and it was strictly rote; there was no pattern recognition of the language. Even when using pattern recognition, there are at least three aspects of the written Chinese language which make it difficult to retain: 1) Radicals look one way by themselves and another way when combined with other characters; 2) Traditional vs. Simplified scripts add that many more characters to recognize; I was told that educated Chinese read Traditional but write Simplified (I have used only Traditional for this paper); 3) Shapes change their meanings depending upon what they are to represent: dots mean eggs sometimes, milk other times.
Above, the mother or female elder has milk, so she has two dots in her two respective squares; the little girl does not yet have milk, so the character that depicts her has no dots. “Little girl” is a combination of “woman” and “clown”—농. A clown is what someone would be with breasts and no milk if he were not a little girl. (I learned from years of theater that the underpinnings of comedy are men in women’s clothing and people falling down.) Clowns often do pratfalls, as do small children. Children were the world’s first clowns. Remember that children were not always treated as well as they are in present day first world countries. Childhood was a new creation starting about Dicken’s time, at least in terms of preserving innocence.
The characters above make this shockingly clear. Both sinographs contain the same two characters—a woman and a field—but orientation makes all the difference in meaning. The first example is woman left of field = little girl. The second example is woman under field = sodomy. Odd that just changing their positions yields such different meanings, yet it makes sense if one goes back in time to when little girls (and little boys) were not as protected as they are now. That field character tian2 田 is a bull’s eye of sorts. When one examines the etymology of tian2, it is referred to as a “rice paddy”; however, “to hunt game” is inherent in that definition (according to www.chineseetymology.org, www.websters-online-dictionary.org), and hunting is what tian2 is all about in the characters seen above. Even little girls are potential targets because they will eventually be able to reproduce, and with the right lineage and circumstance, they could be valuable. Language is all about control and domination, as is much of human nature.
Searching Chinese textual databases uncovered the above characters, all of which include the field radical. The top example, “pubic region,” consists of “vermillion” or “cinnabar” on the left (think “red”) and “field” on the right. A pubic region is a “red field.” The next example is the “corpse/body” radical plus “field,” which means “cave or hole.” Though modern day humans may have a hard time with this equating a body with a cave or hole, in order to understand any language, one must step out of one’s default brain processes and enter the orientation of the culture one wants to embrace. To understand Chinese, or any written language, one must mentally go back 2,000 years when the written language began. Examining triple radicals is one way to do this. If a radical means something, than tripling the radical should mean three times as much. For example, three trees is a forest, three men is a crowd, three horses is a herd, three water signs is a flood. However…
Three women mean adultery?
Three sons equal weakness?
These are spikes of aberrance between modern thinking and ancient China. These characters, along with their definitions, are archaeological relics. They tell us about the culture when these characters were first inscribed. This was a culture unlike our culture now; this was a culture that viewed women as something to be owned, a culture that gave no importance to a woman’s feelings of attachment or even her mobility. Keep in mind that the production of tiny shoes for bound-foot women ended in 1998.
The examples above, from Chinese Text Project, show the current representation of the triple radical for “adultery, debauchery,” (far left). (For a sampling of Triple Radicals, view the opposite page; for a full Triple Radical database, go here: http://www.originofalphabet.com/2011/01/blog-post_20.html.) The precursors to the character for adultery are, moving left to right, Seal Script from the Bronze Age; Jinwen, circa 1100-770 B.C.; and Jianbo, an ancient form of writing on silk. In all four depictions, a trio of women are a consistent representation of evil. If one woman is bad, three are plotting. In a repressed society, women’s only outlet was gossip, and scandal was the soap opera of the day. A group of women clustered together would be suspect, especially when male control was absolute. Adultery would have been a serious transgression—and something to whisper about—because unlicensed sex could produce a future of competing genetic lineages. Illegitimate children were a threat to those in power. Putting structures in place to retain power is part of why writing started. Ten thousand years ago, the first stages of writing were in the form of tokens, which were used as a way to keep track of slaves, livestock, and other commodities. When women are commodities, impregnating them is a crime. Unsanctioned procreation means that male A’s seed is growing in a woman owned by male B, which would be a breach of ownership. The only way a man could be sure he was the father was to know where his women were at all times. Crippling a woman by binding her feet, as they did in China for more than 1,000 years, was one way of ensuring that one’s woman wouldn’t be inseminated by another because her mobility would be restricted, limiting her access to other men. China is not the only culture that controlled women however. Other cultures appear to have used different techniques to subdue humans, including drugs (specifically Deadly Nightshade, also known as Belladonna—“beautiful lady” in Italian—which is at the root of the word “dwell,” according to www.etymologyonline.com) and restraints (Ancient Egyptians had depictions of tethers and prisoners in bondage in many of their words, however, the tethers had been replaced by the loaf shape by the Middle Kingdom).
Owning and controlling land, seed, and women is the recurrent theme of language. These possessions are metaphorically interchangeable, such that a woman is a field, and sperm is seed. When a character is used metaphorically, that character becomes a common component of other words. Seed is metaphorically depicted as rice in Chinese script. The importance of grain in fostering the beginning of civilization is touted in Guns, Germs, and Steel, but the picture of grain itself is revered in the Chinese language. Two different radicals represent different aspects of rice, the major grain of China. The radical that is “hulled or husked uncooked rice” is pronounced emphatically—think DeNiro in Taxi Driver: “You talkin’ to me?” That “me” is how to say “rice” in Chinese.
However the tone of mi changes to a more playful sound when calling a cat. The cat-calling mi1 uses the first tone in Chinese, and this tone sounds like the third note in the Sound of Music’s famous “Do, Re, Mi” song, spelled the same way. According to OED, the musical note “mi” comes from “mira,” which means “miracle” in Latin. “Mirage” would seem to be related. “Mira” means “look” in Spanish. “Ra” or “re” is “sun” in Ancient Egyptian. Ri4 is Pinyin for “sun” in Chinese, and both cultures’ suns are depicted as closed, roundish shapes that have a dot in the middle.
That bright sun makes one squint, and “mi” is all about squinting because of the brightness. (Mi4 can also mean “sun.”) Being dazzled is a theme which carries through many “mi” words. Mi3 resembles a flash of light, the glint of reflection off water. It resembles the sun in its roundness.. The bilaterally symmetrical mi3 resembles a snowflake, as you can see to the left in variety of typefaces. Snow is known for its whiteness. Mi3, too, represents whiteness by implication.
If one considers all the things that rice is: 1) seed, 2) white, 3) sustenance, 4) sticky, 5) ubiquitous, and 6) identical to other grains, it makes logical sense that this mi3米 character is a component of “phosphorous”—燐—because white things glow. This is the same reason that mi3米 is in “air, gas, steam, vapor; spirit”—氣—because vapor is white. Mi3米 “is in “bewitch, charm, infatuate”—迷—because when one is dazzled by whiteness—or a lot of rice—one may be “confused”—another word represented by 迷.
Food is an intoxicant when one is starving. Eating wasn’t as habitual as it is now. Hunger was a frequent condition in the beginning of man. When one’s entire life is focused on survival, food takes on more meanings. Mi3 is rice, but it is also seed, the progenitor of rice. When characters are honed over thousands of years, they tend to pick up meanings as they get molded into perfection. Rice is a grain; a grain is a seed; a seed multiplies and reproduces. Reproduction matters to early man, so this seed is equated with something else that reproduces rapidly: cats. This white-inflected, round, food representative is also the sound a cat makes, and consequently, the sound to call a cat (see below), which is mi1. Mi3 even resembles a cat’s face, and that “me” sound is the beginning of the word “miao/meow.” A mink, a cat-like animal that begins with “mi,” has similar associations to women as cat does; according to OED, “mink” is “U.S. slang. An attractive or sexually provocative woman; a girlfriend. Also in extended use. Cf. fox…minx.”
The similarity between the character for the sound of a cat, and an actual cat’s face in a frontal view is seen by superimposing one over the other. There is also a character which represents the bleat of a sheep, and it too resembles a sheep’s face from the front. Depicting an animal’s head frontally is a reverent act—it gives the animal face, literally, in a culture that constantly thinks about preserving and losing face. Cats, and it would seem sheep, were special creatures to early man, and so they earned a character that presented them as more than just their bodies. They were so special, they got a face.
Mi means “face” and “food.” In English, “me” is our identity, yet it could also be “meat” with just the addition of a “t” sound. Humans are meat, much as we hate to recognize it; and “meal,” besides being a time of eating, is also the “edible part of a grain” (OED).
Rice allowed the Chinese culture to flourish. Mi3 means rice, yet the character looks more like a face that is reacting to the blinding whiteness of rice; the “eyes” in the “face” are slits, seemingly in order to shield them from the brilliance. Mi3眯—which is “eye” plus “rice”—means to be “blind.” Mi1 瞇 means “squint.” “Myopia” is the condition of bad eyes. According to OED, “myopia” is related to “mystery,” which has “the base of μύειν to close (the lips or eyes), probably of imitative origin.” When we close our lips and hum, we make the mmm sound. Babies close their lips to take in food; if they don’t have enough food, they start making noises that sound like mmm as their lips try to take in food. “Mmm” is synonymous with hunger. “Mmm” says, “Feed me!”
Clearly 米 signifies for ideas that are even more expansive than just narrowing the eyes and calling cats. Representing grain, this character is found in many words that play on the metaphorical idea of rice as a seed—something which starts small but grows to abundance. When a concept is important—and the concept of food was huge in the beginning of man—the character which stands for that concept ends up being used in many related words. The original idea is an underpinning to subsequent ideas. However the original idea wasn’t just an idea, it was food. Sustenance is key when it comes to having the energy to extrapolate. When you’re starving, you don’t have time to invent written language. Once you have abundance, controlling it, taxing it, and doling it out necessitates record keeping. A prevailing theory suggests writing started as accounting. Rice isn’t significant in ones. You need thousands of kernels for even a bowl. Once man figured out that this small grain could feed a multitude, rice took on huge stature.
The character mi 米 is in words that include “paste,” “glutinous,” and “mucous.” If you’re wondering why, look at a bowl of rice congee.
The word “congee” describes a gelatinous porridge of rice. If rice gruel was a staple, you would expect to find it in many words, and you do. Perhaps even in our words as well. Could “congeal”—“with gel”— be a form of “congee”? The character for congee is two bows and rice in between (see top of page). A bow is a half circle. Two half circles make a circle. A circle can describe a bowl (see “bow” in the word “bowl”?).
This character—粥—seen above, represents a bowl of rice.
The table below shows rice plus other characters found in definitions related to reproduction. The first example, “grain,” shows the rice radical combined with “descendant.” Rice was more than rice to the ancient Chinese. Rice was the future. Rice was posterity. Being a metaphorical culture—like all cultures—the fact that rice congee looks a lot like semen is not lost upon the Chinese because this rice character is also the radical for “essence, semen, spirit” (see green highlight below). This character which means “semen” is composed of “rice” and a character which essentially means purity. This character has color meanings as well (blue, black, green), but these are perceived as the essence of an entity. This character 青 is about flesh exploding.
The third example shows rice combined with a child character which produces the meaning “seed, pip, pit, stone.” In all of these words, the rice radical is telling the reader to think in the “seed/egg/grain” category. The rest of the sinograph gives the specifics once you’re in that “egg” mindset. Even in the case of “roe, spawn,” where fish is the radical, the addition of rice doesn’t mean a satisfying meal, instead it means “caviar”…which is a tasty fish dish, but the rice character doesn’t signify for “rice” as much as it does “seed.”
If mi米 is really more seed than rice, and miao苗 means to make a copy of something, it is no surprise that together they mean to reproduce (see above, top). The rice radical sandwiched between the two halves of miao accentuates the fact that life is flourishing. The example below “a fetus inside the belly” (see above, bottom) shows rice inside the stomach, and the radical on the left is the flesh radical. One note about the flesh radical: it almost always looks like the moon, though it’s “official” depiction looks more like a suggestion of ribs and a spine enclosed in a body (see lower left). If you consider that the best eating on an animal is the rump, and that mooning someone is to show your rump, a relationship can be seen between moon and flesh: the whitest part of the body is the part one keeps covered.
This isn’t a pretty theory, but it is elegant. The disturbing nature of this theory—that humans are animals and have acted animalistically in the past—is what keeps people from having seen these similarities between different languages before. We live in denial and euphemism. The swapping of actual meat—that looks uncomfortably upright and human—for the moon is an example of this euphemistic process. To include a graphic representation of meat is too painful for humans, so we—if we learn Chinese—swap the “meat/flesh” radical for the “moon” radical.
Edward Albee pointed out Americans fear of their dirty selves in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf when George calls the bathroom a “euphemism.” Now even “bathroom” is too personal, and we have substituted the word “restroom.” According to MandarinTools, the Chinese expression for this room means “wash bath separate,” yet the major purpose of this room (or hole) is to be where we defecate and micturate—poop and pee. We’re pure after the event, but the event itself is not pure, no matter how much we fixate on the clean up.
All language is metaphorical. This is how new words and concepts form. In the case of Chinese, mi米 would seem to be the first half of both the sound and the concept of miao 苗. If we examine the characters with the sound ao1 (I hear this sound as a high pitched “ow”), only two characters show up at MandarinTools.com. The first has the meaning “concave” (see above). Interesting that “ow” a common term for pain, would signify for a word that means “with cavern” or “indentation.” Physically indenting a human would make that human say “ow.”
If we consider the strong human desire for sex—which, considering the difficulty of life for early man, is evidenced by the fact that we exist in large numbers—the equation of mi米 equaling semen accompanying ow凹 equaling concave and resulting in a term miao 苗 which means fertility is not a surprise. For those of you following along, consider: “cav” and “vac” are palindromes. A vacuum and a cave share similarities—for one thing, they draw you in. “Vac” and “vag” are not that dissimilar in sound, especially when you remember that “cave” and “pubic region” use the same “field” character in Chinese. Ideas and sounds were basic in the beginning. There were only a few things that mattered to early man: pain and how to avoid it, pleasure and how to achieve it.
The second meaning of ao1 is “to boil; stew; to simmer” which is not a bad description of ejaculation. These words mi and ao came together because semen and the concavity of women come together to produce humans. Rice symbolizes the beginning of a long span of progeny. No surprise that rice is historically thrown at weddings because it symbolizes fertility. Several websites insist that throwing grain is a centuries-long tradition but that wheat was more common instead of rice. One might throw the grain most accessible, the salient fact being that the concept of “grain” is more significant than which grain is being thrown. Weddings signify a union, and a union means the continuation of a dynasty.
Not all offspring are born of acknowledged unions. When poverty is the state of both parents—or even one—lineages tend to be less important. In fact, the father is often unknown, especially in the early days of man. Paternity was guesswork before genetic testing. In cases where there is not the stability of family or wealth, children are often unwanted, and “miao” has been around long enough to reflect this fact. Miao3 means “small” and “despised.”
There’s that cat character bottom left, the sprouts on the top, but the character on the right is a version of “son, child” and is overshadowed by the other characters, yielding something unimportant.
Cats reproduce at a quick pace; rapid replication makes an entity less special. As civilization progressed, so did the cat population. If a civilization sees worth in cats, the name of the animal is more likely to be onomatopoeic: meow. However, if a civilization views cats as unconstrained breeding machines, it calls them by the less reverential, monosyllabic “cat.”
“Cat” signifies one of many, just as “rice” does, and as “woman” did back when women were cloistered in harems or nunneries or some type of safe enclosure. Numbers were fuzzy then. “Myriad” was around 10,000, but who’s counting when it comes to rice? Ghenkis Kahn allegedly impregnated myriad women. That means a lot of us are related to Mr. Kahn. Professor Mark Jobling at the Department of Genetics, University of Leicester, makes this more clear: “8 per cent of the Y chromosomes over an enormous geographical area belong to a very closely related cluster with a time of origin only about 1000 years ago. Comparison of this distribution and its likely date and place of origin with those of the Mongol Empire suggests that the ancestors of this multitude of chromosomes were Genghis Khan and his dynasty of male-line descendants.” Genetic studies have shown that the male gene pool is smaller than the female gene pool. This has been ascertained by studying the mutation diversity of the y chromosome, which is unique to the male. Jobling writes, “This is why the Y chromosome is so widely used in human population studies. As it passes from father to son down paternal lineages, the only changes occurring are due to mutation, and the molecular record of the past is therefore relatively easy to interpret.”
Long ago, most men died in battle. Women were cloistered in groups by rulers who impregnated them. The majority of men who procreated were kings, conquerors, rapists, and some lucky ones who managed to pass on their genetic lineage by some other strategy that helped them nail women. Jobling explains, “European colonists of the Americas and the Pacific took with them all of their genes, but contributed almost none of their mitochondrial DNA [which comes from women] to the local populations; in contrast, they spread a generous number of their Y chromosomes [which comes from men]. This ‘sex-biased admixture’ is a striking reflection of the sexual politics of colonisation and slavery.”
If all this makes you feel squeamish, remember that it’s hard to fault those ancestors because we exist. They figured out a strategy to survive long enough to procreate, and eventually we resulted. As you read this, consider that you live and have perhaps procreated yourself. It’s easy to denigrate your forbearers until you realize that the difficulty of survival would drive one to extremes. Definitions exhibit this because they are a relic. Every culture’s dictionary is an archaeological dig. In Chinese, the definition “Cutting off feet as form of punishment” (see above) has only a knife on the right and flesh on the left (euphemistically depicted by the moon). How would one know which flesh was to be cut? Was cutting off the feet the most common flesh to be removed? Does the fact that women were hobbled for a millennium suggest that this character may not have needed more clarity?
The simplicity of this sinograph—刖—suggests it was used regularly. If these types of punishments were readily administered, human beings were significantly less special than they are now. And if humans were less special, imagine how cats were treated.
There is no word that specifically means “cat” in Strong’s Concordance, which is a lexicon of words from the Old and New Testament. However, there is the word “qt,” טק in Hebrew (the language is read right to left, so our rendition is a mirror image of theirs)—pronounced kat according to the International Phonetic Alphabet (or IPA)—which means “small thing.” This sound—which I would spell “cot” after listening to the voice at searchgodsword.com, one of the websites that has Strong’s Concordance—signified “small” in many early cultures. Even now, our word “cot” means “small bed”; “cottage” means “small house”; “cotton” is a small ball of white plant material; and “cut” means to make something smaller. The seeming unimportance of this monosyllabic word that means “smallness” is balanced by the longitude of its sound/meaning correspondence: kat/kot/cut has meant “small” for several thousand years.
When an idea has a sound correspondence for that long it suggests that human populations find something logical in that association. That sound-to-meaning relationship has stuck with us for a reason. The Ancient Egyptian word for “be small” and “girl” was “ktt.” Hebrew’s “qtt”—קטט—means “to be cut off.” Something cut off something else would be, by definition, smaller, because it would have been clipped from the main entity.
The sound of t often swaps with d. This is because the tongue is in exactly the same place in the mouth to form both sounds. The only difference is one is voiced and one is not. Voiced means that one is using one’s larynx. If you put your finger on your Adam’s Apple while you make the d sound, you can feel it move. This does not happen when one makes a t sound. But the tongue and mouth are in the same positions, so the sounds are very close. In Sumerian the word for “cut” was pronounced kud, and this has been attested for 1,111 times; kid meant something similar. To us, “cud” is the small mouthful cows chew when they cut the grass with their teeth; a “kid” is a young child or goat; “kitty” is a small cat. These words have a relationship to each other if one thinks in basic terms.
In Sumerian, kita meant “lower” (see right) which is where down is, and where one finds cats, dogs, children, and women, especially in the beginning of man. In Ancient Greek, the closest “cat” word—kata—means “down,” but kata is rarely written by itself; usually it is compounded with another word. The Greek word καταβολή pronounced katabolay shares the sense of fertility with miao, with the strongest sense being “the injection or depositing of the virile semen in the womb,” but it also means “laying down a foundation,” which is what progeny do.
This “kata” idea—whether sprout, feline or child—seems rooted in the idea that something small will get bigger and reproduce. In Japanese, kata means “pattern, model, type.” Its literal translation is “shape which cuts the ground” or “pattern in the earth.” This is a lot like the phrase, “to leave one’s mark,” which is what one does when one reproduces.
“Cat” and “miao” seem inextricably linked. In Ancient Egyptian, myw meant “semen” (see above). If you recall from page 1, miw meant “cat.” The relationship between cats and fertility that was seen in Chinese appears to have existed in Ancient Egypt as well. A piece of “cat”—iw—meant “is” and “are” in Ancient Egypt; iw also meant “wrongdoing.” It would seem that to exist was assumed to be a transgression. Iwr meant “conceive.” Iw seems to play the same role that the id played in Freudian psychology: that of the child or helpless soul. The w sound is a “quail chick” according to Gardiner. On the next page you can see a list of words from Ancient Egyptian that started with the sound mi—the first half of “cat.” Mi in the hieroglyphs means “come,” just like it does in Chinese. The rest of the words relate to semen, water, or making copies. The sound “me” has a universal theme of cloning.
Isidore of Seville (seventh century AD) writes—his actual words are in italics—“The offspring of any kind of animal are incorrectly called ‘pups’ (catulus), for, strictly speaking, pups are the offsprings of dogs.” He also writes, “The mouser (musio) is so called because it is troublesome to mice (mus). Common people call it the cat (cattus) from ‘catching’ (captura)….Others say it is so named because cattat, that is, ‘it sees’—for it can see so keenly (acute) that with the gleam of its eyes it overcomes the darkness of night.”
The predatory nature of cats, along with their good eyesight, makes them human’s doppelganger, as the postcard left eulogizes. Cats, eyes, and women were often synonymous in early history, especially in Ancient Egypt. In Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven, Women in Ancient Egypt, the authors write, “A variety of feline goddesses were also popularly represented in amuletic form. One of the oldest to appear is the goddess Bastet, patroness of the city of Bubastis in the Nile delta. As an amulet, she typically appears in late Dynastic Egypt as a seated cat, often accompanied by her kittens….cat amulets were almost certainly worn by women for their fertility-enhancing powers. Along with a number of other female deities, Bastet was often represented as a maned lion-goddess.”
According to Geraldine Pinch, an Egyptologist at the Oriental Institute of Oxford University, “The images of lions and cats tearing out the throats of foreign captives may allude to the myth of the Eye of Ra being sent down in her lion form (Sekhmet) to destroy the humans who had rebelled against the sun god….When the eye who was the first-born daughter of Ra [the sun god] became alienated from her father, she wandered the deserts [as a Distant Goddess] in the form of a lion or a cat. A relief in the temple of el-Dakka in Nubia showed this goddess with the full mane of a lion and the swollen teats of a nursing lioness…..The myth of Thoth and Shu luring the Distant Goddess back to Egypt with promises of food and comfort mirrors the way the Egyptians had transformed wild cats into pets….An Instruction Text of the Greco-Roman Period warns Egyptian men that women are like a friendly cat when you give them what they want and like a raging lioness when you cannot.”
Women are likened to many animals, but felines have the most constant association because they seem like “feminine” animals. The word “pussy” stands for both cats and female genitalia: most likely because they are both soft and strokeable. OED writes that “pussy” means a girl who is cat-like: “Chiefly colloq. A girl or woman exhibiting characteristics associated with a cat, esp. sweetness or amiability. Freq. used as a pet name or as a term of endearment.”
Women are so sweet and amiable that it is no surprise they are easily duped, especially if they are uneducated. This is why they were kept hidden in ancient times (as women still are in some countries) until they were married off, and their potential value realized by the family. Unmarried and married women have been hidden in houses, burquas, and wimples; cloistered in nunneries, convents, and red tents. When all you see of a woman is the movement of the pupils through the slits of a chador, the eyes become the stand-in for the woman. Eyelids were the first veils; they are used to transmit shyness when they are batted or downcast, disinterest when closed. “Eyes are the windows to the soul”—this cliché equates a human being to a house. An opening in a house allows one to see in; an opening in a human accesses the spirit. In theory, one’s spirit animates a person. It is to be. To act. To do.
Pinch writes, “The Ancient Egyptian word for eye [irt] sounded like a word for ‘doing’ or ‘acting….’ Since the word irt is feminine in gender, divine eyes were personified as goddesses….The Eye of Ra was regarded as Ra’s daughter and protector. This Eye goddess was associated with both fire and water. Her fiery glance destroyed the enemies of the divine order while her tears created life….The pupil of the eye could be thought of as a womb…” In Chinese, the pupil of the eye is represented by the same “essence” character that is found in “semen.”
The second character in Chinese is often called the phonetic component, as I have shown on page 3, bottom right graphic; however, because Chinese has so many homonyms, many different phonetic components with the same sound could have been chosen. The choice of one phonetic character over another is a key to aid the uninitiated when reading written Chinese. All words sharing the same phonetic component share a similar spirit that might not be clear until looking at them as a group. This is why we need a substructure-searchable database of Hanzi, Chinese writing. The dictionary at Chinese Text Project.org is close, but you cannot search by English or by substructure, only by some phonetic components (besides the normal character, pinyin, stroke, etc. searches).
An eye, a womb, an orifice—both Chinese script and Egyptian myth treated openings in the body similarly, as cloacae from which all things emanate. Pinch tells us that it is written in Coffin Texts spell 1130 says “the Lord of All…created deities from his sweat and ‘people from the tears of my eye.’” “One hymn to the creator states that humanity came forth from the two divine eyes, which are the sun and the moon.”
The moon has always been associated with women. Even the sound moon is close to mu3, which is “mother” in Chinese and signifies for “cow” in American; mah meant “cow” in Sumerian 1,000 recorded times; when it comes to milk, women and cows were synonymous in early humanity. In Chinese mu4 means “eye, look, see.” The moon looks like an eye in the sky, and the word “moon” has “oo,” which looks like two eyes. “Eye” and “I” are homonyms, and “I” is the word that refers to ourselves singularly. We often think of eyes as our primary sense. Our identity is through our eyes.
Mei2 眉 means “eyebrows” and structurally resembles mei3 每 which means “every.” Both characters arch over their root word. The word “Eve,” the theoretical mother of all, is found in the first three letters of “every.”Everyone descends from a mother, and this would seem to be buried in the word “every,” yet who notices? In fact, this observation will seem mystical unless you consider that humans are very simple. We are automatons when it comes to our sex drive. The desire of the average male to have coitus with a variety of women has driven language. “Eve” is at the root of “evening,” and in Chinese, the shape of the character for “dusk” resembles the shape of the character for woman; it looks like a piece of a female.
Language is all about pieces of women. “Dusk” plus “to divine” means “outside; relatives of one’s mothers, sisters, or daughters.” Women and darkness have often been equated. “Eve” and “eye” are very close in spelling, especially when you consider that the letters “V” and “Y” look similarly, plus they are neighbors at the end of the alphabet. The Egyptians used the y sound to mean “two,” and structurally, “V” and “Y” have two clear arms (or legs). Women are constantly associated with the number two: we are the second sex, we have two breasts and two sets of two lips, and when women replicate they create another from their ovaries. “Ovum” and “ovine” both begin with “ov.” Sheep, cows, women—language implies a relationship. “Bovine” is “ovine” fronted by that “B” which linguists say comes from “house” but oddly enough has the same shape as the character which means “breasts” in Chinese. “House” is a euphemism for the milk container that resides inside.
Many Russian names end in “ov” or “ova,” and this signifies possession. Impregnating someone is the biggest kind of possession. The sound of “ov” isn’t far from “of,” which is a term for belonging to someone or something, or being from somewhere. “F” and “V” swap often in language: wife, wives; knife, knives; life, lives. “Of” and “ov” would seem to mean the same thing. The related sound “off” can mean “offal” which is excrement that comes out of the body, or “offspring” which is genetic material that the body expels after nine months. In cuneiform, lum meant “excrement” and “fruit” both. There was no one around to tell early humans what pregnancy was, or pooping. If it seems like written language has too many associations with women and sex, consider that no one dictated that there was a one-to-one correlation between the constituents of language and the things that motivate humans. If something motivates humans, it’s going to be all over language.
Male eyes see breasts, breasts produce milk, milk allows humans to exist. Milk comes from a variety of mammals, and those animals play an important role in language. The Chinese have four characters that describe the sound a sheep makes (see page 22). A sheep was more than just a source of wool. There’s a reason that the boy who takes care of the sheep gets beaten in Waiting for Godot (and the one who takes care of the goats doesn’t) because sheep are so docile, they are easy to take advantage of. A ewe is a female sheep. “Ewe” is a very similar word to “Eve” and “eye.” And it sounds like “you,” which is second person singular. The Sumerian word for “ewe” was u 4,255 times according to the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary. Our letter “U” represents a sack similar to a uterus, or the universe for that matter, which is the “whole of creation” (OED). Women are the ultimate creators: they create milk and people. “Milk” is another “mi” word (like “rice” in Chinese) that represents whiteness. “Milt” is the sperm of fishes, often whitish. Milk, being such an important commodity, goes by many names. In Ancient Greek, it’s “gala” and we have words like “galaxy” which describe the Milky Way.
Ga was the word for “milk” in Sumerian, according to the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary.
The oldest recorded and decoded language is Sumerian, which used the cuneiform you see at right. Wikipedia says, “The cities of Sumer were the first civilization to practice intensive, year-round agriculture, by 5000 BC….The surplus of storable food created by this economy allowed the population to settle in one place instead of migrating….It also allowed for a much greater population density, and in turn required an extensive labor force and division of labor. Sumer was also the site of early development of writing, progressing from a stage of proto-writing in the mid 4th millennium BC to writing proper by 3000 BC.”
Ga meant “milk,” and gala meant “vulva.” These might seem like different things until you realize that they come in the same package. And we wonder why a gala is so festive. Even laga meant “vulva”—and the milk symbol is there, bottom right—which shows that in the early days, it was the sound that mattered, and not always the order of the consonants. Funny that “gal” still kind of implies “vulva.” “Laga” and “lac” of “lactate” have similar sounds, especially when you consider that “G” was the third character of the alphabet in the beginning. The word for “milk” in the hieroglyphs is irtt, “to make tt.” Could “lactate” be two forms of milk, Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian, that came together in one word? Laga-tt: lactate. Milk is important now. Imagine living in a desert.
In Sumerian, the concept of “cat” was represented by three different sets of cuneiform, and the pronunciations were sua (71 times), suari (two times), and gullum (one time). Breaking these words down to their component parts demonstrates that the Sumerians did not revere cats when they were alive, only the parts of them they could use. The first example, sua, is shown to the right. Think of it as an addition problem:
catgut + progeny = cat
In the word “gullum” we have:
destroy + fertile = cat
“Gullum” is only attested for one time, but it looks like a cat from the aerial view. A related word is kigula, which meant “destitute person.” According to John Halloran, who maintains a Sumerian lexicon, gullum means “cat (‘to fall upon, destroy, extinguish’ + ‘fertile’; cf., ki-gul-la).” The related word, “ki-gul-la: waif (‘ground’ + ‘to fall upon’ + nominative; cf., gul-lum),” suggests that cats and waifs were equal. A waif, says OED, is “a piece of property which is found ownerless and which, if unclaimed within a fixed period after due notice given, falls to the lord of the manor; e.g. an article washed up on the seashore, an animal that has strayed.”
Equating women with cats is not ultimately a good thing. It makes women seem expendable. This means that if one impregnates a woman, it’s of less consequence because she’s no different than a cat. The human male desires sex more consistently than the female because they have less physical involvement in the outcome. They won’t have that baby growing in their bodies for nine months. Women are much bigger stakeholders in the act of sex because they will live with the decision for a much longer time, whatever choice they make about the future of the entity growing inside them, and that choice has even affected whether they live or die.
No wonder women were cloistered, but they weren’t necessarily protected. They were used as pawns, often marched in front of the battles as a form of distraction in order to avoid massacre or married to pay off debts. Women were chattel once records started to be kept. Written language was created in order to control human and non-human commerce. Knowing language’s origins help us understand ourselves. It’s not easy looking at our violent past, but it is necessary in order to recognize why divisions still exist between what men want and what women expect. The fact that cats have been depicted reverently in ancient scripts—and that they still signify for women—shows that women have had a huge effect on language, even if the majority of women did not read or write during most of written language’s existence.