Cat Vacuuming: A Post With Visual Aids

(Posted by Claire Light)

(Sorry about posting this late! technical difficulties, you know. I’m a geek, but not a computer geek, unfortunately. So here’s my last blog of the month. Thanks for listening!)

By now, most of you know what cat vacuuming is. If you don’t here’s a definition from the forward motion website: “Cat hoovering (also Cat vacuuming) – 1. any excuse to avoid writing, even vacuuming the cat (Gerri); 2. A pointless exercise used to avoid real work. (HughSider)” For example, reading this blog rather than doing … whatever it is that you do (unless what you do professionally is read blogs for some reason) is a perfect example of cat vacuuming.


The term supposedly originated with rec.arts.sf.composition, a discussion board of some sort. It bounces madly around the blogosphere, though, and seems to have taken hold especially in SF/F writing circles. There’s even a Cat Vacuuming Society in Northern Virginia, which is, of course, a writers group. Plus, there’s this nifty,award-winning sermon which offers an alternate, and ironically less Protestant-work-ethicky definition of cat vacuuming: the compulsive rituals that keep you from succumbing to lethargy or sin.

BUT WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE? you ask. (And even if you didn’t, just work with me here.)

This cartoon of funny feline abuse might give you ideas.

But really, really, I wrote this entire blog entry just to post a video of me vacuuming my cat, non-abusively. I think you can tell from the evidence that he looooooves him some hand-vac. This video is actually beautiful because it is an example of both literal and metaphorical cat vacuuming, since I took the video during my “work hours”, when I’m supposed to be writing my novel … hey, kinda like right now. Enjoy!

6 thoughts on “Cat Vacuuming: A Post With Visual Aids

  1. rec.arts.sf.written.composition is a Usenet newsgroup (no-one remembers Usenet these days, I know, don’t worry about it).

    Its members commissioned a cat-vacuuming pin by which we could recognize each other at cons; it’s very pretty, with the cat and vacuum in raised reflective silver.

    You can see the sketch the pin was based on, by Suzanne Palmer, as a LiveJournal icon here: http://www.livejournal.com/userpic/32153285/633835

  2. Amusingly enough, just yesterday my dad was telling me about one of his family’s cats when he was growing up that loved to be vacuumed. She’d follow his mother all over the house when the vacuum was on, hoping for the chance.

  3. Claire, that video is too funny, especially when our 14 year old cat moves like a kitten whenever we turn on the vacuum. He even hates the Dustbuster.

    Then again, you have a long-haired cat, so rubbing him with a hand vac might feel pretty good to him.

  4. Given that this is still the number one hit on Google for “cat vacuuming”, it seems useful to quote the posts responsible for the term here to give credit where it’s due. (And, while giving credit — thanks to Alex Freed, who tracked these down when the rec.arts.sf.composition FAQ was being revised a couple of years ago.)

    The first actual incarnation of the concept was actually “cat waxing”, in this post by Teresa Nielsen Hayden in December 1999:

    Writer’s Displacement Activity? Is that the term? We call it “waxing the cat”. As in, you’re supposed to be writing, but first you have to wash the dishes. And sweep the floor. And then the dust on that shelf really gets to bothering you. And while you’re at it, you could wipe the grime off the switchplates and the door moldings.

    Next thing you know, you’re eyeing Fluffy and saying “Gosh, how long =has= it been since I got around to waxing the cat?”

    Jo Walton seems to have been responsible for mutating that into vacuuming the cat; this post from a month later is the first usage of the term we could find with Google:

    I sometimes forget to eat when I’m writing, and then get starving hungry and have to eat in a hurry. But once, I was stuck, and I made myself roast chicken for lunch, but by the time it was done I’d come unstuck and didn’t stop, just put it on a plate and took bites while typing. It was when I realised that I’d done this without looking at all, or really tasting it either, that I knew that when I just “had to” stop because I was hungry at lunchtime it was actually a special form of cat vacuuming.”

  5. Ok, that seems to have gotten broken somewhere between the preview (which was ok!) and the post — the first quoted bit should be two paragraphs long, and should include the paragraph beginning “Next thing you know….”

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