According to old-time comedian Jerry Colonna, a zebra is "an invisible animal with black and white stripes so you can see me." This is not true of black and white cats. Cats with this coloring, long- or short-haired, actually are black with a white overlay caused by a masking gene.
There are many descriptive names for the black-and-white coloring in cats, and many of them describe the ratio or proportion of black to white, or the pattern of markings. A cat that is approximately half black and half white is called a bicolor or particolor. If he's all white apart from black markings on his head and tail, he can be called a "van." If he's mostly white with large color patches, he's a harlequin.
A black cat with a white front (throat and chest) and white front paws is known as a "tuxedo" cat, because he looks like he's dressed for a night on the town in men's semi-formal evening wear -- an elegant black coat and trousers with a snowy white shirt and white gloves. Variations on this theme can include a white chin and other white facial markings. If your tuxedo cat is female, call her Marlene, Judy, Madonna or Whoopi (actresses who made tuxedos for women fashionable). Tuxedo cats have been credited with many superior abilities, from space travel to becoming invisible, and who knows -- some of them might be true.
"Jellicle" is a made-up word coined by the English poet T.S. Eliot from a little girl's attempt to say "dear little" in referring to her cat. He used it in his poem, "The Song of the Jellicles," to describe black and white cats who are sedate by day, but love the night life and got to boogie. He also mentioned them in another work, "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," which inspired Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Broadway musical, "Cats." The term now is used to mean any black and white cat, but most often a tuxedo cat.
Many black cats with white markings are known sometimes by the patterns or shapes of these markings, such as mitts (white paws), a locket (white spot on the chest), buttons (little white spots on the belly) or even a bikini (white splotch on the lower abdomen).
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