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Dear Mr. Alice:

Are "cat gut" violin strings made from actual cats? Does this explain why a poorly played violin sounds like a puss in pain?

-- Lisa, Hillcrest

Dear Matthew Alice:

I'm about to have my first baby. Unless you count our cat, who has been the only baby for three years. My friends are telling me scare stories about jealous housecats smothering infants, jumping into their cribs, etc. Do we have a reason to worry about our cat hurting the baby?

-- Mom-to-Be, La Jolla

You definitely have less to fear from your cat than you do from those helpful friends, who are so far out of touch with reality it's hard to believe they are living with the rest of us right here in the waning days of the 20th Century. Were they serious? Are you serious? Pulling Matthew Alice's journalistic leg, maybe? This moldy tale probably dates from the Middle Ages, when the once-revered feline became inextricably bound up with tales of witches and its reputation took a severe beating. As did the cats themselves. Because cats were believed to be the "familiars" of witches, doing the work of the devil, the Middle Ages were a time of enormous cruelty to the animals. A common belief of the day was that a cat, if given access to a baby, would suck out its breath or smother it. No truth, of course, though it's never a good idea to leave a baby and an animal together unattended. Your cat may be jealous of the lost attention once the baby comes, but Puss will not turn into a murderer because of it.

And what of the oddly named "cat gut"? Well, Lisa, you'll have to shelve that bad violin-playing theory, clever though it is. Cat gut actually comes from sheep. "Cat" is the Anglicized version of the Arabic name of an ancient stringed instrument that used sheep-gut strings.

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