Maybe it’s because I grew up in New Orleans, where the chant of “Who dat?” is sung by all of the fans supporting the New Orleans Saints football team. Or maybe it’s because I think of cats as “fur persons,” as May Sarton once wrote lovingly. I can’t refer to the “cat that”—and certainly never “who dat cat?”— but I always refer to the “cat who” came into my life and succeeded in altering my lifestyle. Make that ten cats who changed my life.
The question of “that” or “who” was played out in e-mail conversations I had in 2006 with Robert Rosenblum, one of the most distinguished art historians ever, period. He was coauthoring an art book titled Best in Show, and the freelance copyeditor persisted in changing every one of Dr. Rosenblum's references from a “dog who” to a “dog that.” Dr. Rosenblum would have none of that and wrote pleadingly to the editor, begging his case. He and I got into all sorts of interesting e-mail exchanges about the anthropomorphizing of animals. When all was said and done, we both agreed that there was no need to apply any convoluted theories to the care of our beloved pets. He loved dogs, and he accepted that I loved cats.
I personally took care of making a global correction in the Best in Show manuscript: every “that” referring to a dog became a “who” again, and I explained to the copyeditor the author’s and my reasons for doing so. I don’t know if she endorsed the fundamental reason behind this sweeping change, but Dr. Rosenblum offered to buy me a year’s supply of cat food to express his gratitude. Now “that” made this editor and Cat Lady very happy.
Query of the Day: Who are your cats?