This is another word I made up myself from bits that were lying around. It’s a blend of diaspora and cat.

It turns out that I am not the first person to whip up this lexical canapé ex tempore; Georgie Anne Geyer used it in her book When Cats Reigned Like Kings. But she used it to refer to the global spread of cats (and cat adoration) from Egypt. I have something in in mind that is both more local and more universal, for all times and places where there are cats. Every litter – or almost every litter – becomes a dicatspora.

When a cat has a litter of kittens, it is only a matter of time before they are given away (or sold, I guess). They spread to friends, family, neighbours, strangers who answer ads; if you live in the country, they may just strike out on their own. They are dispersed, spread like dandelion seeds on the breeze of human connections: δια dia ‘across’ and σπορά spora ‘sowing’ (related to spore).

This is how we received and gave cats when I was a kid: a friend’s cat had had kittens and we wanted one; it grew up and had kittens of its own, and we gave them away in turn. In some cases we eventually got the cat spayed, but not before our friends were well supplied with quality felines (we kept a few to add to our set as well). We lived in the country, so we could have quite a few – and we could keep them outside as much as inside, which, along with medication, helped me not to suffer too much from my allergy. Never mind Oscar Wilde’s “each man kills the thing he loves”; I simply become allergic to it. It was an early and durable habituation to the idea that there would be things I wanted a lot that I would not be able to have.

It is not so cruel to cats to split up the litter; they are quite independent and tend to disperse in adolescence anyway. I like that, that independence (I too lived away from my parents most of the time starting in mid-adolescence, for educational reasons) and their low-intensity socialization combined with a desire for and expectation of attention on their own terms. They are like an introverted, questing mind, collecting experiences from various and sundry quarters and returning them to the repose of their quiet corner for curling up.

In grad school I was a teaching assistant for a course on intercultural studies. One theme we looked at was diasporas. There are the literal ones, of course, starting with the first to be called a diaspora: that of the people of Israel, across the world and away from the Promised Land. It has a resonance with many of us, Jewish or not; the longing for return can be powerful. The professors of the course took a liking to the idea of what they called each person’s “intellectual diaspora”: the many places the mind and interests had wandered to. I disagreed with this use of the term. Your mind, going to its many diverse interests, does not leave parts of itself in those places, never to return to its first home. Rather, it goes out and gathers things in and keeps them. Diaspora is centrifugal; the active intellect is centripetal, even hegemonistic.

Relative to itself, of course. It is not that a questing and acquiring mind is incompatible with diaspora. The wanderer, moving away from home whether or not by choice, may in the journeys acquire much knowledge and bring it along, keeping it in the moving library of the mind. The body moves away; the mind gathers towards.

Of course, I don’t really know what goes on in a cat’s mind. They don’t seem to have career plans; they don’t seem to desire fame or fortune, even if some of them get it. They rather prefer food and comfort… and exploration: the incessant curiosity for which they are famous, and their quest for superiority, even if literal (climbing high on the furniture). So they too embody the contradiction: each purring pawing part of each dicatspora puts the pet in centripetal.

7 responses to “dicatspora

  1. “…the incessant curiosity for which they are famous”? Et tu, Brute??? Falling for that phony school teachers’ contrived rule of old that since Latin is the perfect language, and IT doesn’t end clauses with prepositions, neither should English?! I’m guessing you know better but just temporarily fell afoul of common misguided usage. Please tell your readers to forget that they ever heard such an abomination as that nonexistent grammatical “rule”. Wouldn’t “the incessant curiosity they’re famous for” be SO much better?

    • I said it that way because I felt like saying it that way. We have the option of doing it either way. It’s not an error to say it the way I said it, and I’m not in favour of a reactive prescriptivism that says it is. I suggest that you sound out the line – say it aloud, feel the rhythm and the arrangement of sounds. Compare the alternative. My way has two amphibrachs; the way you prefer has one amphibrach and an additional final syllable that carries stress on a normally unstressed word. It stumble-stops a bit. Note also that the way I said it ends with the punch word, famous.

      I’m trying not to be really insulted that you would think I would “fall for” a contrived old rule. You can’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs, and you certainly can’t tell me about not falling for contrived rules. I have quite a lot of articles precisely about not falling for grammatical superstitions (one of them, dealing specifically with the preposition superstition, “Grammar Girl is not where it’s at,” is one of my most read articles). But there is a difference between being aware that the less “formal” was is correct and believing that the more “formal” way is incorrect. English has quite a lot of expressive range to it, and they are fools who would arbitrarily cut any of it off. Prescriptivism is prescriptivism whether it argues only for the formal or only for the informal.

      You may rest assured that I am a very conscious user of the language. 🙂

      • Kelly Pomeroy

        I apologize. When I said “I’m guessing you know better”, I was quite certain you knew that the supposed rule was only a stylistic choice. I was really trying to get across to your readers that this thing about not putting prepositions at the end of clauses (they think it’s about the end of sentences, but they subconsciously know it applies to clauses in general) – though not erroneous – is the result of a badly misguided chauvinist attempt to make English into something it isn’t, with often grotesque results:

        “you don’t know of what he’s capable” vs. “you don’t know what he’s capable of”

        “mail in which they’re not interested” vs. “mail they’re not interested in”

        “the question of to whom the debts are owed” vs. “the question of whom the debts are owed to”

        (Author Alexander McCall Smith is particularly guilty of using contorted sentences in order to avoid violating this bogus rule.)

        And , at the risk of further offending you, I would venture a guess that – your metric justification notwithstanding – you would not have used the word order you did if you hadn’t been raised in a society that harbors this misconception about what constitutes proper English.

        There are so many examples of where lessons in English grammar have been misunderstood by students (leading to common blunders like “to whomever wants it”, “an U.S.-NATO intervention”, “just between you and I”, “a French, red wine”) that I sometimes wonder if we wouldn’t be better off if we had just relied on people’s innate sense of their language, rather than trying to encode it into rules that make speakers distrust their guts and, as a consequence, may lead them astray.

      • I think the language would be even more fun and just a little less tidy… When a linguist starts analyzing a language that doesn’t have a long written tradition or any sort of prescriptive history, it’s a very fertile and convoluted field, morphosyntactically. So much trouble is caused by people who are trying to “tidy up” the language… see my piece on “Streamkeepers of the language” for some further thoughts. I did a presentation related to this at the most recent Editors’ Association of Canada conference too.

  2. Whew! I can’t even figure out now through what chain of links I got there*, but your interesting article on “When an ‘error’ isn’t” pretty much says it all. I see you’ve already discussed for you readers the preposition business I was addressing, plus a lot of other issues. There are so many comments I’d like to make on that discussion…but I don’t know if this is the right place to make them. Should I email you directly, or just go ahead and use comments section?

    One thing I would definitely like to address to your readers is an appeal that they support the idea of an American (or American-Canadian) Academy, similar to the French Academy, which could speak with authority on proper linguistic usage.

    I’m often in a quandary as to whether, for example, to use “like” as a conjunction in something I’m writing – especially something polemic – and run the risk of having opponents use that to demonstrate how “ignorant” I am. If the Academy pointed out that it makes sentences flow better and does and no violence to the language to accept this long-established usage, then I could employ it with impunity.

    *Probably better, I have to admit, than “what chain of links I got there through”…

    • I’d say use the comments section, so any others who would like to join in can.

      Given how conservative the Académie Française is, I don’t think I’d want a similar thing for English. Moot point, though; such things have been tried and have never really gotten much of anywhere. (And they have generally been full of the sort of people who cling to superstitions, and sometimes create them. So I’m glad they didn’t thrive.) We seem to do better with an assortment of authoritative usage guides, which are generally quite intelligent and non-superstitious: New Fowler’s, Oxford, Cambridge, NYPL… except Strunk & White; it’s on the dark side. But people who really want rules really really want rules that are lots of don’ts and can’ts. Very tribal. So the sensible guides are mainly just used by professionals; few free-range grammar freaks know them.

      • Kelly Pomeroy

        You’re probably right about setting up an official language czar. Maybe the best we could hope for would be to convince one or more of the major publishers (e.g. New York Times) to agree on a style sheet which sweeps out some of the old misconceptions.

        Back to your discourse on “When an error isn’t”. I hope you won’t mind if I do a little free associating of my own.

        Since those who object to starting a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’ claim that that doing so leaves sentence fragments, I’ll start with my own definition of what a sentence is. It’s an utterance that has meaning and uses a sentence stress pattern.

        I’m not even sure it has to have meaning. When my nephew was an infant and could speak no recognizable words, he nonetheless produced utterances that followed an English stress pattern. I don’t know whether they had meaning for him, or whether he was just apishly aping the behavior around him, as a step toward language competence. But I suspect he considered it a sentence.

        Regarding ‘who/whom’, maybe we should just abolish ‘whom’ – which is on its way out anyway. Then we wouldn’t have to hear people say things like “to whomever wants it”, which I brought up before.

        There are two reasons for this error. The obvious one is that people think the pronoun is the object of the preposition ‘to’, which immediately precedes it, rather the subject the real object: the whole clause. But, beyond that, there seems to be a misconception that in the context of ‘–ever’ the correct form is always ‘whom’.
        Then there’s the controversy over “it’s me” vs. “it is I”. Note that “it’s I” would sound kind of weird no matter which side you’re on…which should tell us something about which side we SHOULD be on. Since ‘I’ in this case sounds hypercorrect (i.e. maybe not really correct at all), if you’re going to say it anyway, you’d better buttress it with the formal, uncontracted form “it is”.

        I believe the rule should be that the nominative form is used only when it’s the subject of an expressed verb. “He’s taller than I am”, but “He’s taller than me”

        But then I came across this example: “Someone told me that, but I don’t remember who”. In this case, ‘who’ is the subject of an understood BUT NOT EXPRESSED* verbal phrase like “it was”. Well, maybe I’m saved – at least in this particular example – by the fact that, since ‘whom’ is disappearing, ‘who’ can be considered either nominative or accusative. But that seems like cheating. I’ll have to think about that
        Additional confusion over pronouns shows up in the mishmash of cases when either the subject or the object of a verb is compound and at least one of the elements is a pronoun. All rules seem to go out the window in this situation. “Me and him are going to the store”; “this is important for my husband and I”; and every other possible permutation. I’m afraid it’s like global warming: there’s not much we can do about it, so we might as well get used to it. (Luckily, it’s not nearly as devastating.)

        Have I used up my space quota yet?

        [*You said you don’t like the use of capitals to stress points. But, ironically, if a commenter wants to stress something, that’s the only way they have of doing it, since the comments field doesn’t accept italics or underlining.]

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