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An Alphabet of Feminism #16: P is for Pussy

2011 January 31
P

PUSSY

daaa be da-da da da da-da DA da da da da da da-da

Robert Smith, The Lovecats (1983)

What’s New Pussycat?

A woman puts her stockings on while a cat sits between her legs

Where's the cat? The Toilet, by Francis Boucher (1742) (Detail)

It should take no great mind to figure out that there is a relationship between pussy and puss, right? The second is, as with so many -y words, a diminutive form of the first.

Etymologically, puss comes from a family of Germanic words, including the Dutch ‘poes’ (= ‘cat’, or ‘a large soft mass’), and this is one of those words that has had a telling journey from its initial meaning to its modern significance. In simple form, of course, it just means ‘cat’, with a tendency towards the proper name, as in Puss In Boots. The dictionary refines this to a ‘call-name’ or ‘nursery term’ for a cat, perhaps originating in the sort of ‘tsk tsk tsk’ noises even the most Serious People inevitably make when seduced by the classic paws, ears and whiskers combo (‘Here puss puss!’).

Around the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pussy hit its most common modern usage as ‘the female genitals’ (‘the vulva or vagina’, specifically), with an attendant list of seductive compounds and phrases: eat pussy, pussy posse, pussy patrolpussylicker… &c. For the moment, though, eyes on the road: pussy’s earliest non-feline meaning was ‘a girl or woman exhibiting characteristics associated with a cat, especially sweetness or amiability’ (1580s), where it could also be used as a term of endearment (pussycat. Oh, Mr Jones, really…).

This is, natch, a colloquial usage, as is its subsidiary meaning under this banner, ‘a sweet or effeminate man’. Only later does this degenerate into the unarguably opprobrious, as ‘a weakling, a coward, a sissy’, in which sense citations tend to link it to the idea of ‘a domesticated man’, akin to a ‘house-cat’ (of which more presently). Of course, suggestions about sexuality are never far away from such mockery, and a pussy could, from its earliest beginnings, refer also to ‘a male homosexual’ (where it sits in parallel to pussy‘s final meaning as ‘the anus or mouth of a man as an object of sexual penetration’, connecting it to ‘weakling’ through the concomitant feminisation such penetration implies).

Perfect As Cats

A woman puts her stockings on while a cat sleeps beside her.

Where's the cat in Jan Steer's The Morning Toilet (1663)? (Detail)

But to really answer the question of when and why cats became synonymous with all this, we must, as usual, ask another question: when and why did cats enter our everyday lives in the first place? It happened late: like so many modern phenomena, cats-as-companions were an eighteenth-century innovation. They had been knocking around before, of course, but primarily as pest control; those showing undue affection for their felines were considered, at best, as a bit eccentric, and, at worst, in league with Satan, and the pagan forces of Nature. Dogs had had a bit more success elbowing their way into domesticity, due to their usefulness in hunting and their essential biddability, but even for them, the eighteenth century was a golden time.

See, it’s easy to forget the fear and awe this Nature lark could inspire in the centuries before efficient systems to keep it under ‘control’, and as the European traveller elbowed his way into Asian and American forests at the dawn of the Enlightenment, he must have felt he was asserting mastery over the very earth (along with the pesky native peoples already living there, of course). With confidence comes bravado, and this increasing satisfaction with Man’s superiority over the elements quickly sparked a fashion for adopting domestic creatures. And so it was that throughout the eighteenth century, cats were welcomed into the home partially as symbols of conquest (where they were painted, along with those Definite Symbols of Conquest, monkeys, parrots and exotically dressed African slave boys).

Inevitably, anything to do with the domestic sphere comes under the auspices of the woman, and the pet-keeping craze was almost universally spoken of as a female-driven trend (although cats were also the favoured companions of weirdo intellectual types like Samuel Johnson, Christopher Smart and Horace Walpole): while the men were out brokering deals down the coffee-house, their wives lounged around in their hoop skirts with an army of diverting creatures to keep them from complete mind-numbing boredom. Of course, fail to go down the coffee-house as a Man, and you risk mockery as a ‘pussy’ in the literal sense of ‘the creature that stays at home with the woman’, viz., a house husband.

Kitten As A Cat

A woman puts her stockings on while a cat prowls between her legs.

Where's the cat? Where's the cat? 'Le Lever de Fanchon', c18th.

So we have here a consortium of pets, creatures the woman owns, something special to her, a possession and constant companion – and it is easy to see the short step from the woman’s private domestic world to pussy in its Naughty Connotation (spot the cat! spot the cat! passim). So the coincident lexical trend that ended in pussy as genitals must have begun with something along the lines of the now-common association of pet and owner – not a surprising association, since pussy‘s cousin, moggy originally meant just plain old ‘woman or girl’, and didn’t acquire its feline associations until the early twentieth century.

And these associations were standard: we only have to look at the legion eighteenth-century portrait variants on the theme of a girl holding a kitten to see a perceived resemblance extending even to the facial: something about the cat made it a perfect image of womanhood. Its furriness could hardly have been irrelevant (nudge nudge), but the cat’s synonymity with the female must have had a lot to do with felines’ status as a convenient symbol of beauty and cruelty, known to play with their prey before killing it. Thus, little girls looking at Joshua Reynolds’ contribution to the girl/kitten portrait were instructed by an accompanying Moral Poem to look at ‘this thy furry care’ and see ‘an emblem of thyself’, since, once grown, both girl and kitten will find delight in torturing, respectively, ‘some trembling MOUSE’ and ‘some sighing SWAIN’.

We’re gift-wrapped kitty-cats…

The sexual symbolism a cat could suggest also found expression in a series of male-dominated complaints about something slightly more insidious: the familiarities their would-be lovers allowed their pets – from monkeys sharing their mistress’ beds upwards. And, unsurprisingly, there was a particularly misogynistic strain of such writing aimed at the ‘old maid’, who had replaced the never-appeared fiancé and family with a veritable menagerie of domestic animals (an idea that endures to this day, for who else is the ‘crazy cat lady’?), with an inevitable imputation in many cases that there was some kind of sexual element to the displacement, however repressed it might be.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, to find that pussy eventually resolves itself into a final definition as ‘a woman, or women collectively, regarded as a source of sexual intercourse’ (thus pussy patrol), and, in specifically prison-based slang, as ‘a man or boy regarded in this way’ (cf. bitch). Curious that feline and canine should find themselves so aligned…

P is for Pussy

NEXT WEEK: Q is for Queen

34 Responses leave one →
  1. Pet Jeffery permalink
    January 31, 2011

    One sense that you don’t cover, Hodge, is puss = (human) face, as in “sourpuss”. Perhaps this is connected with ‘the anus or mouth of a man as an object of sexual penetration’, which seems to be the closest you mention.

    • Hodge permalink
      January 31, 2011

      Hmm.. the online etymology dictionary gives that as ‘sour’ + ‘puss’ (2), where ‘puss’ is ‘the face’ (1890) from the Irish ‘pus’ meaning ‘mouth’ or ‘lip’.

      That’s temptingly euphemistic, no? If it’s Irish, though, that suggests ‘puss’ may, like ‘jade’, have a coincidental and unrelated homonym. Couldn’t say for sure though.

      • Pet Jeffery permalink
        January 31, 2011

        It would be interesting, and perhaps revealing, to know the contexts in which the Irish tended to use “pus” for “mouth” or “lip”. If it occurred repeatedly in the context of the mouth as a sexual organ, we might have a connection. Otherwise, it is probably, as you say, an unrelated homonym.

  2. Pet Jeffery permalink
    January 31, 2011

    I read, somewhere, that “puss” stems from the ancient Egyptian “Pasht”, by which was meant (I think) the feline goddess whose name is more often rendered “Bast” or “Bastet”. This seemed to me a highly improbable etymology. As far as I’m aware, there’s very little in the English language that can be traced to ancient Egyptian. And the example to come most readily to mind (“Pharaoh” from the Egyptian for “great house”) entered English (I feel almost certain) through Greek.

    Mind, if “Pasht” was the origin of “Puss” the loss of its final “t” is interesting. Sir Alan Gardiner believed that the Egyptian feminine “t” termination had become silent by about 1500 BC. Which would make the pronunciation of “Bast” more like “Bas” or perhaps “Bassy”.

    On the Egyptians, it may be interesting that their feline deities (whether cats or lions) are generally goddesses rather than gods. An association between feline and female seems to go back a very long way. I assume that it’s no more than a coincidence that “feline” and “female” are such similar words. Though it might be one of Jung’s meaningful coincidences.

    • Miranda permalink*
      January 31, 2011

      I was always a bit of a fan of Sekhmet. Lion goddess! I believe she was, in some stories, an aspect of Hathor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sekhmet

      • Russell permalink
        January 31, 2011

        I like Anubis because I worship DEATH. (Okay, no, I’m not contributing anything)

      • Pet Jeffery permalink
        January 31, 2011

        Sekhmet means “the (female) powerful one”. (The female part is the possibly silent “t” termination.)

        As to a connection between Hat-hor and Sekhmet, it seems to be made in the “Book of the Cow of Heaven”. I quote from Miriam Lichtheim’ s (1976) translation. (Hat-hor has been destroying mankind on behalf of the sun god Re.):

        “The goddess returned after slaying mankind in the desert, and the majesty of this god said: ‘Welcome, in peace, Hathor, Eye who did what I came for!’ Said the goddess: ‘As you live for me, I have overpowered mankind, and it was balm to my heart.’ Said the majesty of Re: ‘I shall have power over them as king by diminishing them.’ Thus the Powerful One (Sakhmet) came into being.”

        There is a bit of word play in that (as Ms Lichtheim notes) between the name of the goddess and the word for “power”. There may be an implication that Sekhmet was to be regarded at as an aspect of Hat-hor (or not). This is probably not the place to discuss the matter at length.

        It may be worth noting that it’s generally considered that the archetypical cat goddess, Bastet, was originally another lioness goddess. (The cat as domesticated lion?)

        Something that may connect with some of Hodge’s remarks is the idea that the destroyer can also cure. Sekhmet, an especially fierce goddess, was (for that reason) also closely associated with healing.

  3. Pet Jeffery permalink
    January 31, 2011

    On a personal note, I like cats a great deal, and quite often refer to a cat as a “puss-cat”.

    On the other hand, “pussy” used to mean “female genitals” always makes me feel uncomfortable in a way that the word “cunt” does not.

    Also making me feel uncomfortable are double entendres involving the word “pussy”. (Such as references to Mrs Slocombe’s pussy in “Are You Being Served” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mrs._Slocombe.) Ugh!!!

    • Hodge permalink
      January 31, 2011

      God yes, I hate the word ‘pussy’ almost as much as ‘panties’. Can’t really say why – I have no problem at all with ‘cunt’. I wonder if it’s because (like ‘titties’ or ‘tits’) it feels like a male imposition on the female body which is almost always used in a dismissive or derogatory sense.

      There’s an interesting sort of accumulation of words women seem not to like, actually. I read once that women hate the word ‘moist’, but I’m not quite sure about that one. I wonder if there’s anything to be said about words people dislike by general consensus…

      • Russell permalink
        January 31, 2011

        A friend of mine once told me that she hated the words “moist” and “plinth”. I’m not sure what that second one is about.

        I’ve generally found that “pussy” is used less often as an insult to males than “cunt” or that when it is used it’s less vehement, and for that reason I personally am more comfortable with it.

        • Pet Jeffery permalink
          February 1, 2011

          I think that the reason I find “pussy” = “female genitals” odious is that it is (or seems to be) a pet name.

          Now, I — Pet — am not about to issue a blanket of condemnation of pet names. They can express affection, which is good. But they can also act as diminutives, which is less so. In referring to someone or something by a pet name, we are expressing a point (or series of points) on a spectrum of meaning: Loved — Cherished — Non-Threatening — Small — Negligible.

          Hearing “pussy” used to mean “female genitals” I have an uneasy feeling that the focus is at (or near) the “Negligible” end of the spectrum. To view the cunt as negligible is to regard the woman (as woman) as negligible. And it goes further than that, because (for the infant being born) the cunt is the gateway to the world. So, by implication, “pussy” = “female genitals” diminishes everyone born to a woman: men, as well as women (although I suspect that most men are too filled with a sense of their own importance to perceive this).

          Essentially, we all emerge from generation after generation of cunts — our mother’s, our grandmother’s, our great grandmother’s… Taking a wider a view, we come to re-framing the big bang as a big push… bringing us to the goddess, as creator of the universe. I usually think of this aspect of goddess as the slit from which the universe emerged. I would have no trouble with re-naming her as the cunt from which the universe emerged. But… well, I can’t bring myself to write it… to use a pet name in this context would be a blasphemy.

          So what we come down to, I think, is a proper respect for women as women, for the origins we all share, and for the goddess as creator.

          • Hodge permalink
            February 1, 2011

            This is interesting. I assume you’ve seen Courbet’s L’Origine Du Monde (possibly nsfw)?.

            And you’re absolutely right about the diminutives: it’s the same with ‘panties’. you can’t help but feel these usages are denigrating, and, in a sexual context, that’s unforgivable (of course, what you and your partner agree to call ‘things’, and instances when you’re using these words in a mutually agreed sexual context are another matter). I’m reading Martin Amis at the moment, and his speaker (although I somehow doubt Amis himself is that pro-women, but maybe i’m being unfair) keeps using the word ‘chick’. I think it’s the same thing, really.

  4. Pet Jeffery permalink
    January 31, 2011

    In a spirit of scientific enquiry, I’ve called up the Word documents of my five completed novels, and my novel in progress. I searched them for “pussy”, “panties”, “titties”, “tits” and “moist”. These are my findings:

    “Pussy” one instance, in the phrase “pussy cat”. Never meaning “female genitals”.

    “Panties” ten instances, but almost all of them in the same novel. Although not very many instances (amongst what must be more than 800,000 words) this surprised me, as I believed that I disliked the word, and expected to find no instances. To judge from the evidence, I passed through a phase of either not minding the word, or believing that it was a word my narrator would sometimes use.

    “Titties” no instances at all.

    “Tits” nineteen instances, all in dialogue, and all seeming more or less derogatory.

    “Moist” ten instances, but only one of them in any way sexual (referring to an man’s underwear). Three are to eyes (crying), two to lips, two to food, one to moist noises (of a canal) and one to something slipping down the narrator’s back (she’s not sure whether it’s mud or a worm).

  5. Metal-eating arachnid permalink
    January 31, 2011

    Interesting post, I’ve often wondered about thus etymology.

    Wonder how many other languages also have a cat/female genital connection? I believe French does, as when I was looking up rude words in the dictionary as a teenager, I found “chatte” to mean both she-cat (as we call them) and pussy in the womanly sense (I was irritated at how many of the words for female genitals were marked “!!” and hence extremely rude, versus how many of the words for male genitals were merely “!” rude… but that’s a different point.) Any multilingual readers know any others?

    • Hodge permalink
      February 1, 2011

      Oh yeah, the French one is interesting. I’d never thought about that. Someone out there clearly thinks cats look like genitals. I’d always thought they just looked rather sweet.

  6. Pet Jeffery permalink
    February 1, 2011

    The comments on “pussy” have given rise to a discussion of words people dislike. I’ve been wondering why we dislike words, and have thought of four distinct considerations (there may be more, of course). The ones to occur to me are these:

    1) An implication of a negative or inappropriate attitude on the part of the person using the word. This would include some words from this alphabet — I think of “bitch” or “doll” when applied to women.

    2) A discomfort with what the word signifies. This would include everything for which we use euphemisms. Disliking the word “death”, people are apt to speak of “passing away”, and the like.

    3) Childhood associations. Some people, for example, dislike their own name said in full: because, as children, the full name was reserved for when they were in trouble.

    4) That the word is, in itself, a rubbish one.

    To take the examples already raised:

    Pussy (female genitals) is an example of (1), though (for some people) it might possibly be (2).

    Panties — I’m not sure. Is it (1)? A general discomfort with diminutives because of their belittling force?

    Cunt — probably (2).

    Tits/titties — surely examples of (1).

    Moist. After some thought, I think that it may be an example of (2). It’s actually rather a good word, in that saying it stimulates the production of saliva. It is a moist word. Does disliking it have to do with a discomfort with saliva (and/or other bodily secretions)?

    Plinth is, I think, (4) with (for some people) an element of (3). Plinth just sounds wrong for a big block on stone on which a statue is raised up. For those raised on the Just William stories, it may also conjure up Violet Elizabeth’s lisp (lithp). It sounds like the word “prince” pronounced with a combination of Jonathan Ross’ and Violet Elizabeth’s lisps. The word is both wrong and horrible.

    • Pet Jeffery permalink
      February 1, 2011

      Since posting that, I’ve been thinking about Violet Elizabeth’s lisp. Does it raise feminist issues? There is (or certainly was) an idea that it’s cute for a little girl to lisp. (It’s probably fair to say that the more years the lisp persists, the less cute it will seem.) Is the lisp supposed to be an affectation? An artificially assumed infantile trait?

      And plinth… even worse than plinth is the plural plinths. It sounds as though the speaker has affected a lisp, but fails to maintain it.

      • Pet Jeffery permalink
        February 1, 2011

        I suppose that the problem with “panties” is not so much denigrating the pants themselves, as the people who wear them. Presumably, I was working with that when I put these words in a female character’s mouth (of the style of breeches worn by generals):

        “There are only four men in this palace who strut about in such fine panties…”

        Curiously, the word “panties” occurs on the Courbet’s “L’Origine Du Monde” Wikipedia page:

        “The Serbian performance artist Tanja Ostojić parodied the work in her so-called ‘EU Panties’ poster in 2005.”

        And I agree that “chick” meaning “woman” is denigrating. It’s possibly not quite as bad as it sounds. I read somewhere that it may be a shortening of “chiquitita” which I think means “little girl” in Spanish. There again, if this is true, it may be an example of infantilising women — and possibly worse than it seemed at first glance. I’m afraid I don’t know Spanish, still less do I know the nuances of the word. I think that if I encountered the word “chick” (with this meaning) used more than about a dozen times in a book, I’d become too irritated to continue reading. But maybe that’s just me.

        • Hodge permalink
          February 1, 2011

          Yeah, I am finding Martin Amis a bit ‘YEAH, I’M A MAN, ALL MY CHARACTERS ARE MEN WHO SMOKE THOUSANDS OF FAGS A DAY AND ARE ALWAYS IMPROBABLY DRUNK’. But I’m determined to get through one of his novels so that I can, at least, offer an informed opinion on what is really just a gut instinct. Keep telling myself ‘narrator / author distinction’.

          Was going to comment on your earlier comment, er, earlier, but I think the site was throwing a bit of a hissy fit. On my return, I find you have said most of what I was going to say…

          • Pet Jeffery permalink
            February 2, 2011

            Yes, the site was throwing a hissy fit yesterday. Much more of that, and it may end up with a bad reputation.

            I’ve been wondering whether anyone’s done any research as to which words people dislike. In the absence of that, we’re down to “I/my friends dislike…” “I have the impression that…” and so on.

            In the meantime, and in the absence of research, I have the idea that some words may have been reclaimed in recent years… in the same way that the word “queer” has certainly been reclaimed. (There is, for example, a Queer Pagan Camp, held every year in Wales.) My impression is that, in the 60s and 70s, the word for their genitals that women (in general) disliked most was “minge”. These days, it seems to be the preferred word for some women. But, without real research, I’ve no idea how widespread that is.

          • Miranda permalink*
            February 2, 2011

            Our server had a bit of trouble yesterday. Unavoidable from time to time, I’m afraid, but we’re all good now! It’s usually pretty reliable.

            My least favourite word ever ever ever for the vulva = flange.

            Dear God. I mean REALLY.

            Also “twat”, because I associate it more with the latter meaning of “person deserving disdain”.

  7. Pet Jeffery permalink
    February 2, 2011

    Something directly relevant to the word “pussy” which doesn’t seem to have yet been mentioned is that “cat” is or was an opprobrious word applied to women. I say “is or was” because I’m pleased to report not being able to recall hearing a woman called a “cat” in recent years. The implication was spite, and I’ve certainly heard “catty remark” (for “spiteful remark”) used more recently than I’ve heard a woman called a “cat”. A catty remark is, I feel, something that only a woman, girl or camp man would make. Perhaps that’s because a more manly man would use his fists instead. (In which case, I’ll take the catty remark, please.)

    • Miranda permalink*
      February 2, 2011

      Well, women fighting is definitely almost always called a “catfight”.

      • Pet Jeffery permalink
        February 2, 2011

        You’re right! It’s obviously part of the same usage. I wonder why I didn’t think of it.

        • Pet Jeffery permalink
          February 3, 2011

          I’ve given fights between girls a lot of thought over the last twenty-four hours, and wonder whether a (human) catfight is be so called (at least partially) because it may involve biting and scratching.

          In my recollection of 1950s children’s playgrounds, fights between boys were pretty common, fights between girls were rare, and fights between girls and boys (as far as I knew) never took place at all. Fights between boys seemed to be governed by tacitly recognised rules, and were usually entirely conducted with fists. The much rarer fights between girls were more frightening, and seemed to recognise no rules at all. Girls bit one another, scratched, kicked, used open handed slaps and pulled one another’s hair. I wonder, now, whether boys’ evident reluctance to fight girls (in mixed sex playgrounds) stemmed from hesitation to take on the bundle of unrestrained fury a girl could become.

          I suspect that most of those involved with Bad Rep are significantly younger than me, growing up when childhood had changed in many ways. I wonder whether fighting (for girls and/or boys) was amongst the things to change.

  8. Pet Jeffery permalink
    February 2, 2011

    I’ve never heard “flange” = “vulva”. (Either that, or I failed to understand the remark when I heard it.) The word strikes me as being just plain wrong (used in that way) rather than offensive. A flange is a raised piece of metal (or other hard material) that fits into a slot or groove. The protruding part of a railway wheel rim, for example, is a flange. If we wished (not that I would wish) to draw an analogy between sexual activity and flanges and grooves, surely the vulva would be the groove? “Flange” = “vulva” leaves me feeling that there’s a fundamental error in my understanding of the way sex is supposed to work.

  9. Pet Jeffery permalink
    February 6, 2011

    Soaking in the bath this evening, I listened to a Shampoo album (this one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Delicious-Japanese-Shampoo/dp/B000008853/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1297036286&sr=1-7) that includes “I Love Little Pussy”. The words are those of a nursery rhyme about a cat. (I love little pussy/Her coat is so warm etc.) But, in this context, I hard it hard to believe that a cat is intended. Had it been sung with male voices, I’m pretty sure I’d find it highly offensive. As it is, sung with female voices, the thing strikes me as disconcerting… makes me feel uneasy… But that, very likely, is exactly what it was meant to do.

    • Pet Jeffery permalink
      February 6, 2011

      I think I was trying to say that there may be a place for words, and usages of words, that we dislike.

  10. Pet Jeffery permalink
    February 10, 2011

    I’ve been thinking about what seems to me one of the more unpleasant expressions involving the word “pussy” — “pussy whipped”. If I take the expression correctly, it equates “pussy” with “woman”, and carries a strong misogynist agenda. In using “pussy” for “woman”, it seems to convey the idea that the only interesting/significant/worthwhile things about women are their sexual organs. At least that’s my reading.

    But “Pussy Whipped” is also the title of a Bikini Kill album. I don’t doubt the feminist agenda of Bikini Kill, and of Kathleen Hanna http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathleen_Hanna. I wonder what was going through their heads/her head when selecting the title.

  11. Pet Jeffery permalink
    February 20, 2011

    I’ve been thinking about how I use the word “pussy”. I think that I use it only as an adjective meaning “domesticated (of a cat)”. (Pussy cats, as opposed to feral or wild cats.)

    I use “puss” as a noun, though — but (I think) only when addressing a cat. (As in “come on, puss”.) When I want to call my cat, I do so with “puss (slight pause) puss-puss-puss”. Should my cat ever stray, perhaps I’d have to post lost cat notices saying: “answers to puss-puss-puss”.

    I also sometimes use the variations “pusk” or “puska”.

  12. Pet Jeffery permalink
    February 25, 2011

    Something of a stream on consciousness comment…

    I was thinking that “puss” is the kind of sound that cats seem to like. Trying to re-frame this into an ideal version for a cat’s ears, I thought “Pussus”… in Frankie Howard’s voice. This, I realised immediately, came from an episode of “Up Pompeii” satirising the James Bond films.

    Now, I don’t have the affection for James Bond that feel for “Up Pompeii”. (No, missus!) I was once induced to see a James Bond film at the cinema, which I didn’t greatly enjoy, and have frequently seen snatches of James Bond films on television. They tend to make me think: “Why is he hitting those men?” And “Why doesn’t he try offering them unconditional positive regard?” The latter thought may stem from the fact that the one I saw at the cinema starred Rogerian Moore.

    Anyway, The Prologue… No, dammit, not the prologue. Frankie Howard’s “Pussus” stemmed from a James Bond woman’s name: Pussy Galore. Crumbs! There can’t be much to say about that on this site, but…

    Well, I think that Pussy Galore was played by Honor Blackman, who is an interesting actress. Although she speaks nicely, she was born in Plaistow (London E13), an area I used to know very well. It’s fair to say that E13 is not London’s most sought-after post code.

    In “The Avengers”, she played television’s first female action hero. Unlike subsequent “Avengers” protagonists, Honor Blackman took the trouble to learn jujitsu. (And, in the mid 1960s, she wrote a book on self defence for women.) On screen, she floored her opponents with genuine jujitsu throws. Once, throwing an actor on to a concrete floor, she knocked him out for real.

    Honor Blackman was not what is often called a “pussy cat”. (Meaning “softy”, although real pussy cats are feisty creatures, equipped with serviceable sets of claws… more akin to Ms Blackman in fighting mode.)

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