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You may be surprised, if you do not happen by chance to be a biologist, to read that Whiskers are also called vibrissae (singular: vibrissa). The interesting thing about these things that are, in fact, thick, stiff hairs with a tactile function, is that in other languages like German and Spanish they are only known, or rather, unknown, by their Latin or scientific name. That means that when one tries to translate Whiskers with the word Vibrisse (German) or vibrisa (Spanish), most readers will not understand what is meant. This is a very unfortunate fact, as it shows that the Latin or scientific name is not well accepted in those languages. Some translations try to get round this problem by translating whiskers as die Schurrbarthaare (German for the hairs of the moustache) or as los bigotes del gato (the moustache of the cat in Spanish – assuming we are talking about a cat and not a seal or any other of the many animals that sport whiskers). The trouble with this approach is that whiskers do not only grow in mystacial (where a moustache would be) areas of the face, but also above the eyes (supraorbital vibrissae) and even in some animals on their forelegs and feet. I hope we can find a word that Spanish and German speakers will accept and use, as the alternatives are patently not up to the task. Perhaps the Spanish language would accept güisca (or maybe güisco?) as an alternative? So speakers of the Spanish language would immediately understand where a well known pet food name came from. Any other suggestion would be most welcome.
A cat called Kater, Summer 1994 - 31 July 2015
showing mistaceal, supraorbital and, if you look attentively, also temporal-maxilar whiskers


Anyway: It is a pity that humans have lost their vibrissae many hundreds of thousands of years ago. Not only would we have a more apt word for them if we still had them, but kissing would be a perhaps even more interesting experience. Kissing would begin before the lips actually meet! I wonder, now that I come to reflect upon this subject, what evolutionary process might have led to the disappearance of whiskers in humans.




Am 10.03.2014 um 11:08 von Christoph
The well known word for whiskers in german is "Schnurrhaare". A direct tranlastion would be "purr hair", even of course it has nothing to do with the soft sound that happy cats make.

Am 11.03.2014 um 10:47 von Jordi
Hello Christoph! Thanks a lot for your explanation. Do you know if the term Schnurrhaare also applies to the vibrissae on the front legs of the cat, or to the vibrissae of a seal or a swallow?
My own cat (see picture) says: purr purr!
Am 11.03.2014 um 02:01 von chartus
a more scientific approch in german whould be "Tasthaare" and covers also the whiskers on the eyes or paws
Am 11.03.2014 um 02:33 von Jordi
So we have a solution for German, or several even. Thank you all!

And now for Spanish! Could ¨pelos táctiles¨ (as your Tasthaare in German, literaly translated) be the correct translation?
Am 20.03.2014 um 10:57 von Javi
But humans DO have whiskers, they are inside the nose.
Am 20.03.2014 um 11:19 von Jordi
¡Hola Javi! That changes the kissing experience I mentioned. Now it is closer to sneezing, very disappointing! ;-)
Am 21.03.2014 um 05:33 von Tippi
Whisker without a cat / ohne Katze.


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