What a Copycat

Source By Brahna Siegelberg from www.slate.com

Why do we call imitators “cats”? Why not monkeys?

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Unlike monkeys and parrots, cats aren’t actually known for imitative behavior, but the term is somewhat logical since “cat” has been an insult since the medieval period. Cats were associated with all sorts of evil and mischief. In an early-13th-century monastic guidebook for female monks called Ancrene Riwle, for instance, the anonymous author warns ascetics against becoming “cats of hell.” (The term “hell-cat,” by the way, began to crop up around 1603, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.) More famously, Shakespeare used “cat” in a similarly negative sense in All’s Well That End’s Well; Count Bertram tells his right-hand man that Captain Dumain seems increasingly sleazy: “A pox upon him for me, he’s more and more a Cat.” Judging from this etymological history, a “copycat” isn’t someone who copies, like a cat, but a jerk prone to imitation.

The word copycat was likely first applied to criminal activity in the early 1960s. In the well-known 1961 article ” Case of the Copycat Criminal,” David Dressler explains that “when crime comes in waves, simple imitation plays a large part in the phenomenon.” Another article from 1961, this time in the Daily Telegraph, called the brutal slaying of a homosexual named George Stobbs a “copycat murder.” (A year earlier, another gay man had been killed in a similar attack.) But the term “copycat crime” didn’t really gain currency until the early 1980s. In 1982, someone, or perhaps a number of people, replaced Tylenol powder with cyanide, killing seven. A few months later, poisonous substances were found in pharmaceuticals and food products, leading police to blame “copycats” influenced by the Tylenol Murders.

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