WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cat Call

I’ve finally watched episode one of Series Two of Poldark – no spoilers! – and the audience in the court scene made me think of a word for this week whose meaning has stayed essentially same through the years…except that it is no longer acceptable for use in the theatre, but rather everywhere else. Especially in broad daylight on busy sidewalks in metropolitan areas.

Sadlers Wells Theatre by Thomas Rowlandson, published by Rudolph Ackermann 1 June 1809, National Portrait Gallery.

Sadlers Wells Theatre by Thomas Rowlandson, published by Rudolph Ackermann 1 June 1809, National Portrait Gallery.

Cat Call (noun)

A kind of whistle, chiefly used at theatres, to interrupt the actors, and damn a new piece. It derives its name from one of its sounds, which greatly resembles the modulation of an intriguing boar cat. 1650s, a type of noisemaker (Johnson describes it as a “squeaking instrument”) used to express dissatisfaction in play-houses, from cat (n.) + call (n.); presumably because it sounded like an angry cat. As a verb, attested from 1734.

Covent Garden Theatre by Thomas Rowlandson, published by Henry Brookes 20 July 1786, National Portrait Gallery.

Covent Garden Theatre by Thomas Rowlandson, published by Henry Brookes 20 July 1786, National Portrait Gallery.

A diary entry concerning cat calling:

Dr. Adams was present the first night of the representation of IRENE, and gave me the following account:

“Before the curtain drew up, there were catcalls whistling, which alarmed Johnson’s friends. The Prologue, which was written by himself in a manly strain, soothed the audience 2, and the play went off tolerably till it came to the conclusion, when Mrs. Pritchard, the heroine of the piece, was to be strangled upon the stage, and was to speak two lines with the bow-string round her neck. The audience cried out “Murder, murder.” She several times attempted to speak, but in vain. At last she was obliged to go off the stage alive.” ~From The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell

I found an interesting take on the contemporary cat call, to see how far it’s evolved, for lack of a better descriptor. It’s interesting to hear the audience response and how it hearkens back to the original definition of a cat call – the interruption of the actor – minus the intent to damn. The audience clearly appreciates the effort of this modern balladeer: its snaps and hoots are accolades of a most affirming nature.

 

Advertisements

One thought on “WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Cat Call

Comments are closed.