Seriously, as house-maid to three felines, I gotta ask how the phrase “cat nap” came to mean a brief little snooze. At 10:00 Sunday morning I leave for church. The cats (two on the bed, one on the chair) have all settled down for their post–breakfast/pre-lunch snooze, commonly referred to as a “cat nap.” I say goodbye to them, but they are all in kitty-cat-slumber land. Four hours later I come home and there they are, precisely as I left them — two on the bed, one on the chair. They have apparently not moved. Are they dead? I stand in the doorway and watch for a moment. I check each one and can see the gentle swell of their chests. All breathing. They’re just taking a “cat-nap.” When I say I’m going to take a “cat nap,” I certainly don’t mean I’m going to sleep the entire day. So how did that phrase come about?
It is my understanding that cats require 18-20 hours of sleep a day. Whatever for? They spend their remaining 4-6 hours eating, grooming and basically sitting around waiting for food and preparing for their next nap. They haven’t been out digging ditches or chasing mice (which they should be doing!) or anything more strenuous than washing their hindquarters, which in the case of Lop Ear isn’t all that easy due to his girth. It’s hard to maneuver past all that fat to get one’s tongue clear to the tail. I do realize that they have very small tongues and actually a lot of acreage to clean, so perhaps it is exhausting and they need a few hours to recover. I’ll consider that the next time I simply step in the shower and come out clean.
But moving on from cats, here’s another mysterious phrase: ASAP, originally meaning “As Soon As Possible,” which I took to mean, “when you get a chance without breaking your neck.” Now it has morphed into STAT! No. In my world it still means “when you get around to it.” Of course, my world consists of me and my friends and I don’t think any of us has any reason to use those particular abbreviations. But I wonder how something reasonable and even casual came to mean urgent.
Another misnomer is “brief hold.” I’m calling the insurance company, the phone company, whatever. After having explained my problem to three successive people, each of whom has listened politely and then passed me onto someone else where I get to repeat the same information all over again, I hear, “May I place you on a brief hold?” Before I can say NO, they are gone and that music is playing in my ear. Over and over. Evidently the brief hold is the equivalent of a coffee break. I watch the seconds and minutes tick by on my cell phone. I have made a rule — five minutes is the extent of my patience. Never mind that I am going to have to start all over again if I hang up and call back; it gives me some satisfaction to think that whoever has placed me on the “brief hold,” has actually done some research and is now (coffee cup in hand) ready to impart some information to me. But I am not there! HA! Take that! All your work for nothing. So there!
This one irritates the daylights out of me: “please listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed.” No, your menu options have not recently changed. They are the same as they have been for the last six months, and probably even before that. I believe this ploy was begun by a receptionist who was tired of having to actually answer the phone and direct the calls. And, of course, let us not even mention the “press one for English” although I just did. Mercifully, that seems to be on the way out.
And something else that bugs me, although it is not actually a misnomer. It is the name thing. When my Las Vegas doctor first referred me to the UCLA lung clinic, I received a phone call from a scheduler there who told me I had an appointment with Doctor Bolinay for the following week. When I arrived at the clinic, the receptionist seemed genuinely puzzled. “We don’t have a Doctor Bolinay,” she told me. I had driven 300 miles the day before, had maneuvered my way through the UCLA/Westwood maze of streets to get to my 9:00 a.m. appointment, had driven down to the third level of the parking garage before I could find an empty space and was now discovering I had no appointment. Or I was at the wrong place. How many UCLA lung clinics can there be? I looked at my paper. I verified my name, my birth date and the appointment time. “No,” she said again, “We don’t have anyone named Bolinay. Susan,” she called out to someone through a door, “Do you know of a Doctor Bolinay?” Susan apparently didn’t, and the receptionist shook he head. Just then a nurse walked by and said “Could it be Dolinay?” “Oh,” the light dawned as the receptionist looked at her book again. “Here it is. It’s Dolinay, with a D, not Bolinay.” Although I was greatly relieved, I was torn between two options: The first of laughing and saying something like, “oh, silly me, The second option was to say “Are you a complete moron?” I leaned strongly toward the latter, but decided since I might be seeing these people again, it would be best just to smile sweetly and keep my mouth shut. Not always easy to do, but I did.
Something similar happened at my doctor’s office here in Las Vegas when I called to follow through with an update on a test. “May I please speak to Diane?” I asked the phone answerer. “We don’t have anyone named Diane,” she told me. “Uh, the doctor’s assistant told me I need to talk to Diane to schedule a test.” “No, we don’t have a Diane.” “Well, who does your scheduling, then?” “That would be Diana.” “Ah, yes. Diana. My mistake. I had written down Diane. May I speak to Dian-ah?” I said, trying to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. “She’s at lunch. You can call back in an hour.” Oh, thank you — thank you so much for your helpfulness. I hope you didn’t have to go out of your way. This is when I miss the old style phones that you can slam in someone’s ear. Clicking off a cell phone simply does not give the same satisfaction no matter how sharply you do it.
But back to the “cat nap” thing. I might have come across a clue about that. If you have cats, you will notice that when they wake up, they are instantly alert. No transition time for them. Asleep/Awake. One or the other. It might because their ancestors lived in the jungle – or Savannah — or someplace else wild, and the slightest sound woke them up prepared to fight or flee. Time to eat dinner or time to be dinner. Yeah, I guess that would make sense. Some kind of sense. But I think most of us are going to still think of “cat nap” as a brief snooze. I’m going to try it out now. I’ll just lie down for a few minutes — If I’m still asleep in four hours, please somebody wake me up in time for dinner.