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What is the verb for describing the movement of a cat's paw when it is trying to hit something with it? Can I use the verb punch? For examle:

The cat is punching the decorations hanging from the Christmas tree.

11 Answers 11

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Punching involves bending the arm and striking out forcefully with the closed fist. A cat can't make either of those movements in the way a man would. A cat playing with a dangling object usually bats it sideways with its paw.

You could simply use pawing.

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    Or batting... :) – Martha Feb 3 at 22:49
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    I am baffled how this answer, which is the accepted one, has such little votes - where as the other answer that suggests the same word now has +45. This answer was written at least 6 hours before the highly upvoted one. Strange. – AIQ Feb 4 at 22:15
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    @AIQ In defense of the other, it is better written. This one can be simplified to "a cat usually bats with its paw, so using pawing". The higher voted answer specifically calls for using "batting". Was "bats" or "pawing" initially bolded, or was that in a later edit? The more I compare the two, the other just seems like a more correct answer. – Michael Richardson Feb 4 at 22:56
  • @MichaelRichardson The "bold" characters were edited in by Mari-Lou. But I don't see how not having italicized or bolded text makes an answer any less correct. If you boil them both down to the last element - they both suggest the same word - bat. One could argue that the highly upvoted answer saw this answer and made their own one better (not saying they did - just that I have seen this many times). There is a huge time difference. – AIQ Feb 4 at 23:43
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    @AIQ because they don't suggest the same word... This answer suggests pawing but the more upvoted answer suggests batting. More people agree "batting" is the most appropriate term. Kate's answer uses the verb "bat" in passing but doesn't propose it as the answer to the question, and most visitors are unlikely to even read her answer closely enough to notice "bats" within it — they just look for each answer's isolated single-word responses and upvote the one where they think "yeah that's what I'd've said" – theonlygusti Feb 5 at 2:01
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In my experience the verb 'bat' is often used for this: The cat is batting the decorations hanging from the Christmas tree.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bat#Verb: (intransitive) To strike or swipe as though with a bat. The cat batted at the toy.

As noted by others, pawing is also a descriptive choice. I would recommend either verb over punching (typically a more forceful action which I associate more with humans than cats).

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  • Absolutely. Cats do not punch things because they don't have fists. – Lambie Feb 4 at 0:07
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    “Swiping” would also work. – Daniel B Feb 4 at 1:43
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    Of the options, I think "bat" is the closest to "punch." "paw" and "swipe" have different feels to them. As a native English speaker (Southwest USA), pawing is a gentle motion, and swipe is something which is more about trying to get the claws in something (to take it, or to hurt it). Bat is the verb I would use for trying to strike an object to cause it to move. – Cort Ammon Feb 4 at 2:03
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    How about swat? – rrauenza Feb 4 at 2:06
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    @DanielB "swiping at". I swipe things on my phone, but my cats aren't clever enough to do that yet! – CJ Dennis Feb 4 at 21:41
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The first word that came to my mind was swatting.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/swat#Verb, with the given example

The cat swatted at the feather.

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One common term for this is batting or batting at. When used with a cat (or other animal) this means hitting or tapping at something with the paw.

The cat is batting at the decorations hanging from the Christmas tree.

Describing a cat as "batting" or "batting at" another cat or an object means the cat is striking or tapping with its paw, but not so forcefully as to be a violent attack. It usually suggests curiosity or playfulness rather than hostility.

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A very idiomatic way to say this is:

The cat swiped the object with its paw.

As also used in the example by: Merriam Webster

1 : a strong sweeping blow
// a swipe of a paw

Although less reliable, a simple search also yields many results showing it in real-life usage: Thanks Google

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  • Its paw, not it's paw. – Chris Melville Feb 5 at 13:07
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    @ChrisMelville Please feel free to always edit typographical mistakes as you see them - if an edit doesn't change the meaning of the answer, it should always be accepted. – user68033 Feb 5 at 13:38
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    Thanks. Although from past experience on StackOverflow, edits aren't allowed which are only a few characters :) – Chris Melville Feb 5 at 15:16
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Taps

It might be an internet colloquialism, but I generally see this referred to as taps. Many "cute cat videos" describe it as such, and there's even a subreddit devoted specifically to r/CatTaps.

It's worth noting that there is a fair amount of connotation depending on what kind of activity the cat (or other animal) is actually doing.

Tapping Moving the paw towards and away, possibly touching, usually tentative or investigative. If the tap causes the target to move, might lead to Batting.

Batting Connecting with a loosely hanging item with each (or most) attempts. Each successful bat sends the item swinging.

Swiping More aggressive, and generally directed at another animal. Hissing or growling might be involved. Claws might be out. This might be a followup to successfully batting an item.

Pawing Generally an attempt to retrieve or receive something such as a partially obscured/covered item, or in/near a food bowl when they're trying to explain to their human that it's dinner time.

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  • Good one, and it looks like a few people have already used it in answers and comments here without realizing it is a possible answer. – Justin Feb 5 at 15:00
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I don't think to punch is the right verb here. Take a look at its definition from Cambridge dictionary:

to punch (verb): to hit forcefully with your fist.

She punched him in the face after he called her names.

As cats can't make a fist, I'd advise you not to use it. Instead, I believe to beat would be a good choice.

to beat (verb): to hit repeatedly.

The cat is beating the decorations hanging from the Christmas tree.

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  • I see your point. – krobelusmeetsyndra Feb 3 at 14:52
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    I agree that since a cat can't make a fist, it can't "punch". They might swipe or bat, but not normally punch. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 3 at 15:13
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    @Matthew: All I can say is I probably wouldn't say anything if a native speaker talked about a cat punching something (I'd assume they must have their reasons for the "odd" choice of verb). But it's not the kind of usage learners should assume is "natural". Even though you find it an acceptable way of describing something, I don't. And it doesn't really matter whether the majority of native speakers side with me or with you on this one - I certainly won't be alone in "raising my eyebrow" over what I see as an "inaccurate" description. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 3 at 18:10
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    @Matthew: The way rep and voting work on SO sites is sometimes a bit "counter-productive" for topics like "use of language". After all, you're (obviously?) a native Anglophone yourself, which virtually by definition means you know which words you can and can't use in various contexts. I can say I wouldn't use "punch" for the cited context, and I can give my reason (to do with "making a fist"), but it doesn't make much for me to tell you you're "wrong" if you see things different... – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 6 at 14:25
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    ...what I'm getting at is just because your view is shaping up to be a minority position doesn't mean it's inherently "incorrect". But because you'd probably end up taking an unwelcome hit to your rep if you left your answer to attract more downvotes, you're naturally inclined to delete it. But at the very least I'd say it should be instructive to some learners to know that there's not 100% agreement between native speakers regarding certain usages. Whether I agree with you or not, your input here would be potentially useful to others. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 6 at 14:30
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to slap: to hit someone or something with the flat part of the hand or other flat object

https://www.reddit.com/r/CatSlap/

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I agree with the upvoted answer that batting is the best word.

There is another word that works, though it may be a little too cute.

The word is boop or booping.

Here's an example from Reddit: "Kitten boops himself":

Kitten hits his face with his paw

You can find many more examples online just searching for "cat boop."

If cute is what you're going for, it's a fine choice.

It's not in most dictionaries as it's more of an onomatopoeia. I think the meaning is basically thinking of the noise that a button on, say, a cute robot would make. Often it refers to the cat's nose (since that is button-like), but it is not restricted to noses.

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    FWIW Booping generally refers to tapping the nose of an animal. Boop the Snoot in common parlance. – aslum Feb 5 at 15:05
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Swiping (to swipe), cats swipe at things.

Could also be:

  • Jabbing
  • Pawing
  • Tapping
  • Poking
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nGrams reveals 'batted' to be the verb of choice (of those thus far presented) - but I think what we can conclude is that the reporting of the actions of cats has increased exponentially with the arrival of the internet...

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=cat+swatted%2Ccat+swiped%2Ccat+batted%2C+cat+pawed&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Ccat%20swatted%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ccat%20swiped%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ccat%20batted%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ccat%20pawed%3B%2Cc0

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