What is a ‘catamount’?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: catamount….

I had heard or seen the word catamount, before I read it recently, but I had never taken the time to learn its meaning. Now, I’m embarrassed to admit the meaning is so simple and obvious.

My husband, who did his undergraduate degree in zoology, would probably roll his eyes at me but I my defence all I can say is that I am a poli sci grad and a literature afficionado, and neither of those two pursuits predispose one to learn much about animals.

Most recently, I read the word in the Louis Bayard book Courting Mr. Lincoln. Here is how Bayard used it:

With no great grace, Mary slumped into a cordovan chair and watched as Elizabeth strode back and forth like a caged catamount, disappearing into shadow only to reemerge a second later.

The noun, which is considered North American, refers a medium-sized or large wild cat, especially a cougar. Its origin is Middle English, from the phrase cat of the mountain. The first known use of the word was in 1664.

In the mountains of Western North Carolina, particularly Cullowhee, and in New Hampshire, catamount refers specifically to a ferocious animal that is a mix between a mountain lion and a bobcat.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Jan. 15/20.

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