Total catastrophe: a kindle of kittens (Wix)
August 8 was International Cat Day, because apparently even international cats deserve their moment in the spotlight. To mark the occasion (and to revisit our occasional series of gratuitous Cute Animal tweets) we tweeted that:
...and that fact rounded out the week as HH’s most popular.
Actually, in this context the word kindle meant simply “the young of any animal” when it first appeared in the language in the early thirteenth century; at its root is the same kind, meaning “nature” or “sort”, as in words like kindred and mankind.
As a verb, moreover, kindle once meant “to give birth to” or “to produce offspring”. Although this sense of the word has long since disappeared (despite appearances, the kindling required to start a campfire is etymologically unrelated), but pregnant wildlife or livestock are still sometimes said to be “in kindle” when they are expecting their young.
In the late Middle English period, kindle fell out of use as a general word for offspring and for some reason became particularly attached to litters of kittens. Like a lot of group terms, the earliest record of a kindle of kittens comes from The Book of St Albans, a collection of essays on hunting, hawking and other gentlemanly pursuits, that listed “a kyndyll of yong cattis” as one of a number of so-called terms of venery way back in 1486. And kindles of kittens have been with us ever since.