The Baltic Notebooks of Anthony Blunt
The Cat is on the Table. A potential neologism
Page 8 of 8
CF: I’m all for your ambition, but “the cat is on the table” already functions a bit like a snow-clone, doesn’t it? In the dimension of language courses, books or pens are just as often on the table, not only a cat. So, at the very least, it’s an accidental snowclone.
PB: But the problem is how limited it is. The question is how do we get the template operating outside of language courses, into the mouths of people who aren’t familiar with the cat?
CS: Actually, it’s hard to hear it on language tapes, but AAVE, African American Vernacular English, aka “Jive” is an English dialect that floats far out in the smoky margins of Rosetta Stone. It takes on a different meaning: the cat, a fellow man, a friend, is on the table, up for consideration.
CF: That would make it a pretty archaic cat. The word “cat” seems to have fallen out of favor, like “that’s hype” or “that’s fresh” for something extremely pleasing, or even the term “Jive” when referring to itself. Shifting fashions in colloquialisms have done little to keep cats off tables. So, in other words, can a cat purr in Jive?
CS: Archaic idioms are crossing our path all the time. Especially simple images like “the cat is on the table” have a way of lingering. Like a schoolbook line drawing – if a line drawing of a car / coche / voiture is simple enough, it’ll be reprinted, edition-after-edition, regardless of the way car design evolves. Slang drifts, politics change. Cats were on the table – other cats are on the table now. But you’re right. Imagine it being spoken as Jive. Say it out loud.
CF: The cat. Is on. The table.
CS: It sounds like men planning, making decisions about the material of people – now stuck echoing on language tapes in a ten-second call-and-response. Yes, any image this simple has history. Maybe even more than we think. 20th century American afrocentrism drew heavily from Egyptian culture – the culture of cats. Think about the Black Panther party and Sun Ra; this coded line drawing you call “the cat is on the table” could be older than we think. So it’s significant to note that the cat is also on another tabule-cognate: the tablet. Literally, and in the earliest sense of “literal”, the cat is on the Rosetta Stone.
CF: Farnsworth, have you been recording this whole time?
FO: Of course.
CF: Good.

In addition to this transcript, a textual project Chris Fitzpatrick created in collaboration with Marcella Faustini will be presented at The Barber Shop in Lisbon, Portugal, followed by “Il gatto è sul tavolo / The cat is on the table”, a group exhibition Fitzpatrick is curating at Spazio A in Pistoia, Italy.
Dedicated to Daisy May Fitzpatrick, 1991–2011.
Illustrations by Gintaras Didžiapetris