Does everyone call cats in the same silly way?
July 26, 2006 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Does everyone yell "here kitty kitty" in a comically high-pitched voice when calling to a cat? My family did when I was a child, and I do now. But while doing so, I always feel like a total dork. Why the voice modulation? Why the same pattern of "here kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty"? Surely if the cat knows your voice, he'd respond to "Fluffers! Come here now!" in a regular voice. Or are cats taught at an early age to listen for this vocal affront to dignity? Do they secretly enjoy it? Is this regional, or universal? Thanks.
posted by Bud Dickman to Pets & Animals (46 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Slight variation: my mom used to say, "Here puss, puss, puss, puss, puss" But in the same voice. Note: FIVE pusses.
posted by grumblebee at 6:42 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

It's a little known fact that certain forms of public transport also respond to this call ("Here, bussy bussy bussy bussy").
posted by handee at 6:44 AM on July 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

My stepmom always used to scream "Kiiiiiitttttttttttttttttyyyyyyyyyy!" out the back door to call the cats in, in a grating high pitched voice, and it scarred me for life. Usually when my fiance & I call our cats over we say "Here Smacky! C'mere!" or just make kissy noises which they respond to.

"Here Smacky! C'mere!" is usually said in a higher pitched voice. I guess it's just an attempt at being sugary-sweet and non-threatening sounding, to try & convince your cat to come over.
posted by tastybrains at 6:45 AM on July 26, 2006

I know exactly what you mean. I wouldn't call a cat like that myself (preferring "tsk" noises, clicking noises, and gently saying "come here"), but I have a clear memory of Ernie calling fish that way (based on the same concept and with the same intonation.)

Heeeeeerre fishy fishy fishy fishy!
posted by nekton at 6:45 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

We did the "kitty-kitty-kitty" thing when I was a little kid. Our cat's name was Phoebe, and we'd *always* say "Phoebetta! Here kit-ty kit-ty kit-ty!"

These days, if we need to find our cat Lucy* when she is hiding in the house, we yell "Cat Milk!" That gets her running.

(*The source of my user name here)
posted by Lucinda at 6:46 AM on July 26, 2006

This, of course, reminds me of the Sesame Street Bert & Ernie episode where they're fishing, and Bert can't catch a thing, but all Ernie has to do is lean over the side of the rowboat and say "Heeeere, fishy, fishy, fishy, fishy!" and the fish come leaping into the boat. And then Ernie does that Muppet-laughing-head-bobbing thing.

(These results, however, can't be replicated in real life. I know because I've tried.)

Point being, if Sesame Street is doing a form of it, the "Here, kitty" thing is probably engrained relatively deeply. Don't know where it comes from, though.
posted by bibbit at 6:48 AM on July 26, 2006

I always thought it was because cats responded better to higher pitched noises. Not that my cats respond to anything, but it always seems to be worth a shot.
posted by sugarfish at 6:48 AM on July 26, 2006

Preposterous! Cat's don't respond to any type of call unless they happen to be hungry and were planning on coming home anyway.
posted by Gungho at 6:49 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "...unless they happen to be hungry and were planning on coming home anyway."

Cat plans. Heh.
posted by Bud Dickman at 6:52 AM on July 26, 2006

My cat (an indoor kitty) will, perhaps 90 percent of the time, come running to wherever you are in the house when you call "Here kitty" in a high-pitched voice.

She won't respond if you call it in a normal voice, and she won't come if you call anything else in a high pitched voice, so there's some sort of cognition going on.
posted by jalexei at 6:53 AM on July 26, 2006

Feline hearing is much more sensitive in higher pitches. This is one of the reasons that putting aluminum foil on a couch will keep a cat off. When they walk on the foil it makes an unholy screeching noise that we can't even hear. And the same thing goes for vacuum cleaners, if we could hear like cats we probably couldn't use a vacuum cleaner.
posted by jefeweiss at 6:55 AM on July 26, 2006

Our voices go up when we talk to babies, too. AFAIK that's a universal trait. Could be related.
posted by Leon at 6:55 AM on July 26, 2006

Surely if the cat knows your voice, he'd respond to "Fluffers! Come here now!" in a regular voice.

Have you really owned cats? Cats typically don't come unless you are chirping around like a bird and holding a can of tuna in each can. They might hear you call in a regular voice, but usually they just don't care.
posted by rsanheim at 6:57 AM on July 26, 2006

When we had indoor/outdoor cats when I was little, we always yelled that. In a higher voice, but with only 3 kitty's. This was in mid-Michigan for anecdote's sake.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:57 AM on July 26, 2006

"You have no control over your cat! You can't say to your cat 'Cat! Heel! Stay - wait! Lie down - roll over!' 'Cos the cat would just be sitting there going, 'Interesting words... have you finished?' "

Um yeah, we definitely call cats like that over here (in Ireland) aswell so I'd say it's pretty universal. Also using grumblebee's variation (right down to the five pusses). Haven't the foggiest where it came from though I'm afraid.
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:04 AM on July 26, 2006

Response by poster: Yeah, I understand and agree with the idea of high-pitched voices being less threatening and more audible to cats.

I just wanted to make sure other people felt as stupid as I do when I do it. And confirm my suspicion that cats secretly enjoy it.
posted by Bud Dickman at 7:13 AM on July 26, 2006

My mom called the cats by name, and made "tsk"-ing noises.
She also has a theory that cats are more likely to listen to "ee" sounds ("kitteeee!") and while I can't really prove her right or wrong, most cats I've met do respond to the "ee" sound, especially the i-ee combination as in "kitty". But this does make your voice go up, so it could be related to the higher pitch in saying "ee".
posted by easternblot at 7:19 AM on July 26, 2006

I could never do the "kittykittykitty" call. Either too much self respect or self worth issues, I don't know.

Our cats are trained (!) to come with tongue clicking. We started doing it when we fed them and always give them something when we call and they come. Works pretty well. Years ago I used a toy cricket (clicker) that was much easier and worked well also.
posted by pointilist at 7:21 AM on July 26, 2006

We once had to stop my sister, aged five, from yelling into the back yard at the top of her voice (in a lower register): "HERE, PUSSY! HERE, PUSSY!" without explaining why.
posted by theredpen at 7:23 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

i use this sound best described as a high pitched whisper. if i had to write it, i'd spell it like 'wsss wsss wsss'--i don't use my vocal chords at all.

the sound is pretty high end on the spectrum. when i do it, almost every cat i see reacts to it ... and most will come over to check me out. it's some incredibly irresistible thing for them.

i have two cats at home now, and both come when called by this method. one of the cats is a stray i picked up using the same sound.

ms. lester calls me the 'cat whisperer.'
posted by lester at 7:23 AM on July 26, 2006

I read somewhere once (*) that not only are cats more attuned to higher pitched noises, but are particularly attuned to the plosive sounds of "t" and "k" and the like. Hence, "kitty" is a winner for the k and t. This works for my cat. We named him Ejnar, but as far as he's concerned his name is "t t t". The "t" isn't aspirated, more of just a click of the tongue just behind the teeth.

(*) yeah, that's my source of authority.
posted by Nelson at 7:24 AM on July 26, 2006

I make a lip pursed kissy sound and call her name in a normal tone of voice afterwards. She shows up immediately about 90% of the time.
posted by agregoli at 7:33 AM on July 26, 2006

In Egypt, the call for a cat is psst psst psst.
posted by leapingsheep at 7:35 AM on July 26, 2006

The only way to call my cat in is to rustle a bag of food, at any pitch.
posted by penguin pie at 7:36 AM on July 26, 2006

For what it's worth, my mom always made a tchk tchk tchk sound to call our cats, and so do I. But I did have a cat who always came running if I whistled that two-note "yoo-hoo" call, so it varies.
posted by zadcat at 7:43 AM on July 26, 2006

In Chile: "cuchito, cuchito, cuchito", hardly pronouncing the voewls at all, so it's more like "c'ch't, c'ch't, c'ch't".
My cat, I open the apartment door and yell his name, and he and like 5 other cats come running for the door.
posted by signal at 7:46 AM on July 26, 2006

The higher pitch also carries farther, especially I think for women, who were, at least in the past, probably more likely to be the ones looking for cats. In my experience, women who want to be heard through noise or through distance naturally raise their pitch.

I have a male friend whom my cat adores, and he speaks to her with the gruffest, lowest, Harvey Feirstein voice I've ever heard, a voice which is about five octaves lower than his normal speaking voice, and the cat loves it, so I don't think it's just that cats like high voices.
posted by occhiblu at 7:50 AM on July 26, 2006

My cat's name is Kitty for this very reason. I *tried* to name her, but it took a few days after I first got her before I could decide on a name. And by then "Kitty" had stuck. For a while I tried to tell myself that wasn't really her name. But it is.

Although sometimes it's Kitty-poo or Meowzer. But mostly it's Kitty.
posted by misskaz at 7:52 AM on July 26, 2006

Like pointilist, we have our cats "trained" to come at a discreet tongue-clicking. We did the "here kitty kitty kitty" call when I was growing up, but once I had cats of my own I couldn't manage it -- felt like an idiot every time I tried.
posted by junkbox at 8:04 AM on July 26, 2006

I think people feel silly saying stuff like "mr fluffers" or "whos the cute baby" in their normal voices. The higher pitch is an admission of silliness and makes it more socially acceptable.
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 8:47 AM on July 26, 2006

Well, for one, the high pitched call is also "marked" by its use. Because we normally talk all day long about things that have no interest to cats in our normal voices, cats know that the change in modulation and rhythm means we are talking to them instead of to Dick or Jane.
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:13 AM on July 26, 2006

The best results, from my experience, are achieved by a friend of mine who barks in a deep, gruff voice, "BART!" Bart will shake a paw, fetch, and roll over on command. Smartest, most contented cat I've seen.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:17 AM on July 26, 2006

When I was a kid my mom used, "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty. Here, puss, puss, puss." I still use it on the neighbourhood cats but with mine I brip. Its a high pitched purr combined with a rolling R.

I don't think it matters how a cat is called so long as in the beginning whatever was used was consistent and reinforced with food.
posted by squeak at 9:25 AM on July 26, 2006

I'm amazed at all these Me-Fi'ers that have cats that respond to them. It's the other way round in our house as we actually respond to our cat, normally when he tells us its time to be fed.

He does actually follow one command though, and that is "Smokey, sleep now!".
posted by 543DoublePlay at 9:27 AM on July 26, 2006

I feed neighborhood strays -- not feral cats, but spayed and neutered cats that obviously used to belong to somebody and now, for whatever reason, belong to the neighborhood as a whole.

The interesting thing is that they *all* respond to "kitty." I say "here, kitty kitty" to any one of these cats, and it'll turn around and look at me. I've named a few of them similar-sounding words -- "Patchy," "Blacky" -- and they respond just as if they were raised with the name from birth.

Okay, maybe the cat food helps, but I swear they're responding to the names, too.

Thanks for the thread. I was always curious about the behavior.
posted by liet at 9:34 AM on July 26, 2006

I had a cat named Divinity (white and sweet, like the fudge) and she would always come when called. Then I did some experimenting and found that she would come to anything that sounded like her name, such as Nininity, or (my fave) Unanimity. Always called in high pitch voice, and the "ee" sounds repeated seemed key for her...
posted by dbmcd at 9:36 AM on July 26, 2006

My dad always used to call our cats like that, when they were outside cats. I had forgotten about it until I read this question. Not sure where he got it from, but the cats would usually come, if not right away, after a few minutes. I would suspect that it helped that he called them right around supper time, the same time every day. Once they became indoor cats, we used the tsk-ing sound more. When the cats would do something wrong, we would usually sternly and loudly say their name, or "hey!" or "No!". I could never tell if they were actually frightened, or just startled by the loud noise.

Also, "Heeeeeeere, fishy fishy fishy" is in my memory as well.
posted by sarahnade at 11:06 AM on July 26, 2006

I've trained our cats to come to a whistle, kinda like you would for a dog. Also, I make a clicking sound with my tongue when the cats are around to reassure them, so that works as a call, too. I never, ever use the high-pitched "here kitty, kitty" as it has the same effect as nails on a chalkboard to me and the rest of your neighbors.
posted by wsg at 11:20 AM on July 26, 2006

My Evel eventually responds to all of the above (kitty-kitty in the high pitch, wss-wss-wss, "here Evel, c'mere Pickle, here kitty" in a normal voice), but when I cluck my tongue a few times he runs to my side, because that means I'm in bed and want to cuddle. What can I say, he wuvs me.
posted by Scram at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2006

In Egypt, the call for a cat is psst psst psst.
posted by leapingsheep at 10:35 AM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]

In Greece, it is as well. I always hiss to call my cats. They usually come, too (unless they're deaf).

posted by wildeepdotorg at 12:15 PM on July 26, 2006

The best cat call I've ever seen was the can opener. Once my sister's cats (I'm allergic) got used to that sound, and associated it with food, starting the can opener would instantly drown you in cats.
posted by Malor at 12:16 PM on July 26, 2006

I've always found that rolling your eyes and mumbling, "Oh great, you've got a cat." is an excellent way get the cat to immediatley teleport to between your ankles and start to purr.

Nothing attracts a cat like the odour of a non-cat-fancier.:-)

Please note> I do like cats, but this approach still works.
posted by Crosius at 2:49 PM on July 26, 2006

I saw a stand-up comedian riff on this topic once, his, er, thesis was that we think of cats as essentially female and dogs as male, so we call cats in a high-pitched "female" voice and dogs in a lower "male" voice.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:10 PM on July 26, 2006

I'm sure I've read somewhere (and I can't find the reference - sorry) that higher-pitched calls (particularly chirping and sibilant-type hissing or kissing) plug into the part of the cat-brain that goes "oooh...prey noises".

Having said that, when I was little I used to follow my mother's lead and do the "Puss Puss Puss" call in a high-pitched tone. More recently, I watched a mother cat calling her kittens with a high-pitch chirping trill and used it on my own moggies with good effect.
posted by ninazer0 at 3:22 PM on July 26, 2006

In Egypt, the call for a cat is psst psst psst.

I say, "pssswssswsss". They never come. Probably a good thing, since I don't like cats anyway.
posted by robcorr at 7:02 PM on July 26, 2006

This could be something to do with the way we speak to babies. As already mentioned, the babyish way we speak to babies (high pitched, soothing, simple & repeated sounds) is universal. It's called Motherese, apparently, and it's our way of beginning to teach the sounds of our language.

I'd guess that we treat our pets like kids, and it's a similar thing.

I could be wrong though.
posted by girlgeeknz at 12:09 AM on July 27, 2006

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