Please don’t cut your cat

It’s not that hard to connect the dots and understand that someone is referring to neutering when they talk about cutting a cat, but it’s still a horrifying thought. The acquaintance who made this mistake is actually Austrian, although she has lived in Switzerland for a number of years.

In Swiss or High German, once can use the verb sterilisieren. Although the word exists and means the same thing in English, sterilization (or sterilisation) is the medical term. English speakers tend use other verbs in everyday situations, which is why we’ll have a look at some synonyms you can use to extend your vocabulary (if you ever end up discussing your pet’s missing cojones).

Sterilization has three meanings in English. In Swiss and High German, the first two meanings are exactly the same.


  • Removing bacteria or other microorganisms from something, usually by boiling objects such as bottles or jars.

  • Removing an animal or person’s ability to reproduce by surgically removing or blocking the sexual organs. Pets and stray dogs or cats are often sterilized. Humans can be sterilized voluntarily (men can get a vasectomy, women can get their tubes tied or opt for non-surgical procedures) or involuntarily (check out the Wikipedia article for more information).

  • Making land or water unable to support life. Crops won’t grow on land that has been sterilized. In the past, conquerors would sterilize cities they defeated by spreading salt over the land. This was meant as a curse on the defeated inhabitants or anyone who tried to re-inhabit the city.*

*Historical accounts on the practice of salting the earth aren’t 100% clear. Check out the Wikipedia article here for more information.

What can I say instead of sterilize, then?

When it comes to animals, the verbs usually used when speaking are neuter, spay or fix. I guess fix might sound a little strange, but getting your dog or cat fixed doesn’t mean it’s broken. It means exactly the same thing as neutering or spaying – it’s just more colloquial.

Note: spay, not spray.

Grammar: Using the Passive

One thing you should also note is the use of the verb get in the sentences above – you get your cat or dog neutered, spayed or fixed. Here, we’re using the passive voice. This means you don’t do it yourself – the veterinarian performs the surgery, not you.

This is the same concept as getting your hair cut or your nails done. Just as you don’t cut your hair yourself (unless you really know what you’re doing – I learned this the hard way), you wouldn’t spay your cat yourself (unless you’re a veterinarian?).

To give a clearer example, let’s use beards, since we can use both the active and the passive voice. If a man shaves his own beard, we can use the active voice. On the other hand, if a man gets his beard shaved by a barber, we should use the passive voice.

I shaved my beard = active (I did it myself)
I got my beard shaved = passive (the barber did it for me)

We’ll discuss the difference between the active and passive voice in more detail later on in a new post. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions!

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