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  • We have two young cats, siblings from a rescue shelter. The male, Robby, is easygoing, friendly and generally lethargic. His sister Renée is nearly identically colored but of slight build and, as they say, nervous as a cat.

    Having been born on the street, both cats are wary of strangers. When company comes, they seem to vaporize. Robby is always the first to reappear, and will even allow guests to pet him if they are so inclined. Renee will ensconce herself in some secret place for much longer and, if she does show up, eyeball our guests from a distance, hoping that they will leave if she stares long enough.

    I call Renée Spooky Cat for the way she stares you down with her big green eyes. Whenever we move furniture about or change anything in the house, Renée sits and contemplates the new arrangement. Like Madeleine's Miss Clavell, she seems to feel that "something is not quite right" in her domain.

    My wife, who is a non-native English speaker, has odd turns of phrase. Some are so charming that I don't try to correct her. For example, when day is done she will go to the bedroom to lie on the bed and watch TV mindlessly, announcing that she is "plumping" for the evening, thereby turning a transitive verb meaning to drop abruptly or heavily intransitive.

    So ever since we gave our home a makeover, Renée has had a lot to stare at. She enters a room and takes it in, deciding if the new arrangement is going to be suitable. My wife has picked up on the little cat's watchful wariness and now imitates that behavior. She tells us that she is "renéeing," eyeballing her surroundings with suspicion because something is out of place or in some way besmirched.

    Now all of us announce when we are renéeing a scene. I doubt that our new verb will ever catch on, but it's a useful sniglet for us.


    @image: the photographer being renéed (eponymous cat on right)
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