A grimalkin (also called a greymalkin) is an old or evil-looking female cat. The term stems from "grey" (the color) plus "malkin", an archaic term for a cat, derived from a hypocoristic form of the female name Maud. Scottish legend makes reference to the grimalkin as a faery cat that dwells in the highlands.
The term/name may first come from Beware the Cat (published 1570) by William Baldwin. The novel is a story of talking cats, and part of it relates the story of the Grimalkin's death. According to its editors, the story, and thus the name, originates with Baldwin in terms of being the earliest example known in print. It is also spelled Grimmalkin or Grimolochin.
During the early modern period, the name grimalkin – and cats in general – became associated with the devil and witchcraft. Women tried as witches in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were often accused of having a familiar, frequently a grimalkin.
Grimalkin is the name given to the cats in Shirley Jackson's short story "The Man in the Woods" published in the April 28 2014 New Yorker.
- Baldwin (1570)
- Baldwin, William (1570). Beware the Cat: The First English Novel, edited by William A. Ringler, Jr. and Michael Flachmann, Huntington Library Press, ISBN 0-87328-087-3 hardcover (1988), ISBN 0-87328-154-3 softcover (1995).
- OED. Oxford English Dictionary.
- Shakespeare. Macbeth (c.1603-1606), first folio appearance 1623.
- Stall, Sam (2007). 100 Cats Who Changed Civilization: History's Most Influential Felines, Quirk Books, ISBN 1-59474-163-8 hardcover.
- Litherland, Neal (2011). "Grimalkin: Witch Familiars or Old, Ornery Cats?" Yahoo Voices. December 5, 2001. Yahoo. <http://voices.yahoo.com/grimalkin-witch-familiars-old-ornery-cats-10465831.html>.
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