While probably best known for his limericks, the nineteenth century poet and artist Edward Lear also wrote a fair amount of lyrical poetry. One such work was “The Owl and the Pussycat,” a famous tale of inter-species romance that includes the line “what a beautiful pussy you are.” I get that language is an ever-changing thing, but I’m still not sure how or why “pussy” obtained its current meaning. Anyway, the two animals get married in the land where the bong-tree grows. Figures that it would be a land of hippies that allows beings of two different classes (taxonomical classes, that is) to marry.
When Rick Santorum first heard this poem, he was appalled and strangely intrigued. The poem also introduces the term “runcible spoon,” which was used elsewhere by Lear and in many subsequent works. Lear used the word “runcible” as an adjective with other nouns as well. According to Wikipedia, a runcible spoon has since been defined in several ways, most notably as a spoon with sharp edges, or a pickle fork. In Lear’s own picture of a runcible spoon, however, it is a sort of ladle.
The Straight Dope suggests etymological connections with the Battle of Ronceveaux and the word “rouncival,” meaning “gigantic.” Ultimately, however, it’s just a fun word that Lear invented. To treat it as something common is like trying to identify the brown barbaloot with an existing species.
I just found out today that Lear had started writing a sequel to this poem, called “The Children of the Owl and the Pussycat.” It was never finished, but what does exist of it mentions the Gromboolian plain, also one of the stomping grounds of the Dong with a Luminous Nose. The poem is also the inspiration for X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat, neighbors in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe. I remember liking X, but Henrietta was pretty annoying. The girl couldn’t even answer a simple question without saying “meow” twenty times first.