A more tasteful moniker, surely, than its precursor, MILF (Mother I'd Like to Fuck), which entered the frat-boy lexicon following the 1999 release of American Pie.

"Now, doesn't that crass acronym make 'cougar' so much nicer?" posits Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer of American dictionaries for Oxford University Press. "Now someone can more politely say, 'I'd like to be cougared by your mom.'"

Lindberg should know. She was on a panel of lexicographers that chose cougar as one of five runners-up for the 2007 Word of the Year. (The winner: locavore. One could argue that the two are related, but we'll leave that for another story.) The Word of the Year gets to be included in the next edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Model: Rachel Gunn; Makeup: Rachel Elizabeth Meltzer
Jennifer Silverberg
Model: Rachel Gunn; Makeup: Rachel Elizabeth Meltzer
At age 53, Debra Reed doesn’t do married dudes. But prey with girlfriends are fair game!
Jennifer Silverberg
At age 53, Debra Reed doesn’t do married dudes. But prey with girlfriends are fair game!

"Cougar," says Lindberg, was a shoo-in finalist. "It has spawned a verb: to be cougared, which is fantastic, and another term: for the young men who find this condition of being cougared so desirable that they are actively becoming cougar hunters," she elaborates. "How much more evidence do we need to say this is a word worth paying attention to?"

Lindberg adds that cougar is likely to be a strong contender for 2008 Word of the Year. As she puts it, "Cougar is climbing."

The Oxford definition is concise: "An older woman who romantically pursues younger men." The user-generated urbandictionary.com, on the other hand, contains some 50 entries for cougar.

Cougardate.com's Sage would add, "Cougars are very much like cats in the wild. You can't see them at first, and by the time you do, it's too late."

(If Unreal were to contribute a local variant, it'd be hoogar. About which the less said the better.)

Etymology aside, the putative experts don't necessarily agree when talk turns to cougarteristics.

"I hesitate to say a cougar is older than 35 or 40, because it comes down to a lifestyle," offers Jeremy Mape, co-creator of urbancougar.com. "We had a Cougar of the Month who was a bartender in Austin. She was 28 but loved all the college guys. She had the cougar attitude: not controlling, but in control of the situation, going after the guys."

Mape belongs to the school that believes a cougar can play prey or predator. (His site breaks down the types like automobiles. Whence comes the Rolls-Royce cougar — traditionally an heiress, hard to hunt; and the Taurus, who's "everywhere," and to be approached "as you would a rental car.")

The whole notion makes Terri Matheis cringe. "When it's happened to me, I go, 'For God's sake! I'm 54!' And they say, 'I don't care,' and I say, 'Well, I do!'"

Matheis, an Olivette resident and founder of Sassy Pink Peppers, a social group for divorcées, dismisses all the terminology as "derogatory."

"What do we call the older men who go after the younger women?" she asks Unreal.

Traditional?

"Ha!" she laughs. "That's funny."


We find "Cougar Hunter Jake" via KSLG (1380 AM) radio show host Tim McKernan. A few months back, Jake began calling in to McKernan's show on Friday mornings to relate the previous evening's conquests.

"Not that anybody asked," McKernan recalls with a laugh. "We were like, 'Alrighty, then! Good stuff!'"

And then McKernan had an idea. His website, insideSTL.com, which skews heavily to the twenty- and thirtysomething male demographic, had drawn all kinds of readers and dough through its monthly "Girls Next Door" contests featuring photos of the Girls Gone Wild ilk. What about a "Cougars Next Door" contest?

Cougar Hunter Jake embraced the concept and pledged to round up one a week in exchange for a bounty of $50 per. The contest debuted online June 30.

"I'm excited, but I don't know if it will sustain itself," allows McKernan, who wholeheartedly endorses the cougar concept though he believes St. Louisans stigmatize it. "A $500 prize is one thing for a twenty-year-old. I don't know if it's enough of a carrot to get a forty-year-old woman to put herself out there."

Unreal arranges to accompany Jake on a Thursday peregrination to Westport Plaza.

The evening begins just before nine with a few "hot laps," as Cougar Hunter calls them, around the crowded bar at the Drunken Fish. (Jake likes to spray his scent: Fierce, by Abercrombie & Fitch.) We move downstairs to Casa Gallardo to further grease the flirting engine. Jake makes eyes with practically every breath he takes.

He describes himself as "well-off" and says he works "in the medical field." As far as we know, Jake's not his real name, though he refuses to provide proof one way or the other. For cougaring purposes, he goes by "Jake Olivetti" because, he says, he doesn't want his mother — or either of the twentysomething girls he's currently dating — to know of his penchant for mature urban wildlife. He says he's 30 but likes to tell the older women he's 28.

For relationships Jake prefers brunettes. Blondes work out just fine for one-night stands. His best cougar conquest ever took place only a few weeks prior, he tells Unreal, with a 47-year-old he met at Westport. ("I eventually got to ass sex, and we videotaped the whole thing. It was awesome." He also signed her up for the contest.)

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