I’ve been enjoying watching a couple of bobcats lately. No, not via webcam, and I’m not watching old Hinterland Who’s Who episodes. I’m watching them out my window. They’re gradually ripping apart the building next door to my office, floor by floor.
Right, I mean the small front-end loader machines, popular on farms, construction sites, and so on. (Obviously I should have written Bobcat loaders, but that would have given away the game.) The building next door is – was – an office building, and the bobcats are lifted onto the floors by crane and used for knocking out walls and fixtures and dumping them out what used to be the window. I must admit, though, it’s a pleasing picture to imagine a couple of feisty felines doing the damage.
On the other hand, it would also be quite amusing to picture twin versions of Bobcat Goldthwait doing it. He might just run around screaming at things and they would crumble. (See his role in Police Academy for the reference.) Of course, in the world of real physics, he’d probably do pretty much bupkes.
The word bobcat is rather likeable. It has that one-two punch of a two-syllable two-morpheme compound, as though it’s a more specific, more emphasized version of cat. (Vulgarities sometimes gain a similar impact from the addition of horse, bull, goat, or such like before the focal four-letter word.) It has a nice balance, too, with the twin voiced stops bouncing off the lips first, and then two voiceless stops bringing in the tongue tail and tip. The vowels also balance, back vowel with front consonant and then front vowel with the farther-back consonants. And it’s sort of pretty, too – I do fancy the two b’s to be like the tufted ears of a bobcat, and the t perhaps to be a bit like the short tail.
And it’s that short tail that gives the cat its name – the bob is the same as in “a pageboy bob” for a short haircut for women, or bobtail as in “bet my money on the bobtail nag” and “bells on bobtail ring, making spirits bright” for a horse with a docked tail. It may be from a Gaelic root. This bob doesn’t have any known etymological connection with the name Robert, though Robert is the real first first name of Bobcat Goldthwait.
Whether the animal as a whole is short is a matter of perspective. It’s the smallest of the lynx family, and so much smaller than most wild cats, but it’s still around three feet long (66–104 cm, according to animals.nationalgeographic.com) and up to 30 pounds (14 kg). You might think it a pretty kitty, but if you want cat scratch marks, it will surely deliver if it has to.
The odds of your getting so close – or even seeing one out your window – are not so high, though. They avoid people and are most active in the hours around dawn and dusk. And the odds of seeing two of them working together are even worse; they’re solitary animals. But, on the other hand, you might live closer to one than you think: they’re found throughout quite a large part of North America, and there are lots of them out there – probably more than a million.