Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 7th, 2012
My brother Jerry D. Coleman asked me casually if I knew “who coined Alien Big Cats and when.”
Jerry then mentioned that he “thought it was you, but I may be thinking of Phantom Panther.”
Indeed, Jerry was on the right track. The history on these phrases are not as elusive as the cryptids they denote.
I coined “Phantom Panther” to discuss all the reports from North America of seemingly out-of-place deer-colored mystery cats and mysterious black panthers being seen but not caught. The phrase soon was generalized for elsewhere. I used the term in the 1970s in my articles in Fortean Times and Fate. I’ll have to dig out when and where I first employed it, someday, unless a reader knows. Of course, today, it is a standard in books like Mysterious America.
The waves of reports of cryptid felids were like “phantoms,” in terms of the animals infrequently being captured or killed. Some people misunderstood the “phantom” part, for I did not mean that they were from the world investigated by future ghosthunters.
The notion of these cats being so elusive was noted earlier by New Brunswick biologist and mountain lion researcher Bruce S. Wright who titled a book I had first read in 1959, The Ghost of North America: The Story of the Eastern Panther (NY: Vantage Press, 1959). I wanted to honor that book and Wright, with “Phantom Panther,” as well as inventing an easy and alliterate term to use in my articles.
Photo: Biologist Bruce S. Wright with the mounted specimen of what is believed to be the last eastern cougar, which was trapped in Maine in 1938. Courtesy U.S . Fish and Wildlife Service.
Now as to Alien Big Cats, of course, I thought of the Fortean authors, the Bords, Janet and Colin first, as the inventors of that one.
I figured that Janet Bord had come up with the term first, and inquired if I was correct to think she had coined the phrase. She wrote back immediately today:
I can’t believe that I did invent ‘Alien Big Cat’! However, you may well be right! I have found some examples of this usage in Alien Animals, which was first published in 1980. Of course I also referred to other creatures as ‘alien whatever…’, e.g. ‘alien visitors’, so it would be natural to also say ‘alien big cats’ – and I did not insert initial capital letters, which suggests it was not a familiar usage at that time.
Janet says someone else maybe did coin it first, so she’s interested to know if anyone out there has an older history for the phrase.