The common slang connotation of the term cougar is that of an older women who has sexual relationships with younger men. The expression appears to come from Canada but its origin is still unclear as the following sources suggest:

The origin of the word cougar as a slang term is debated, but it is thought to have originated in Western Canada and first appeared in print on the Canadian dating website Cougardate.com. (Wikipedia)

Slang sense of "older woman (35-plus) who seeks younger males as sex partners" cougar is attested by 2002; said in some sources to have originated in Canada, probably from some reference to predatory feline nature. (Etymonline)

Given its recent usage as a slang term, does anyone have more precise information on its origin? Did the expression really originated in Canada (the cougar is actually found all over the Americas), and if so, is the “predatory” connotation related to local stories or legend on cougars?

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    Interesting question. I was astonished to find that none of my most historically detailed slang dictionaries have an entry for this term—not even the 2006 edition of Dalzell & Victor's The Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. I'm fairly sure that the term has been in use for at least a couple of decades now. – Sven Yargs Feb 15 at 20:54
  • It's so you can tell people who call mountain lions by their right names or their wrong names. – tchrist Feb 15 at 21:29
  • The use of "cougar" to refer to a female goes back to at least 1914, though it's unclear what specific attributes were referenced. – Hot Licks Feb 15 at 23:00
  • Possibly related Tom Cat – Phil Sweet Feb 15 at 23:41
  • I don't think that being predatory is a part of the meaning of the word. While the men in question are substantially youger than the woman, they are typically well past the threshold of adulthood, and enter the relationships willingly, with full understanding of their nature. If one thinks that there is always something predatory about these relationships, that is a value judgement that goes beyond the meaning of the word. – jsw29 Feb 16 at 22:03

The slang term certainly goes back to 2002. That's the publication date of Valerie Gibson's Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men.

An item titled "It's a Jungle Out There," in Against the Grain (2002) [combined snippets] attributes coinage of the term to Gibson herself:

With five marriages under her belt, Valerie Gibson is an expert on failed relationships. She is also a self-described "Cougar," her term for older women who date younger men. ("Pumas" are younger women dating older men—really, I'm not making this up.) "It's all about being confident, sexy, and absolutely uninterested in commitment or children," says the New York Post, describing Gibson's new book: Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men. The book contains such invaluable advice as carry condoms in your purse, try not to have more than three martinis on a first date , think short term, and dress sexy. For older women who have managed to date for years without this information, Cougar is a must-read.

It also seems noteworthy that Gibson's book appears in Canadian Books in Print (2003) and that Gibson is Canadian. The attribution of the term to a Canadian website ("Cougardate.com") may explain where Gibson got the term, or it may indicate that the website adopted its name after having encountered Gibson's book. I couldn't tell from a brief (and yet too long) visit to the website how long ago it was launched.

Victoria Phillips, Confessions of a Scottsdale Cougar (2009) offers this anecdotal commentary on the term's origin:

The slang term "COUGAR" that refers to the older women who date younger men seems to have its origin in a dating Web site that featured mature women hooking up with younger men, founded by two women who were told by their nephew that the two ladies were like cougars in search of defenseless small animals and picked up the term from his mates on his hockey team. So it is figured that the term first emerged sometime in 1999.

Phillips doesn't provide any documentation to support this claimed origin, but the hockey angle is certainly consistent with the asserted Canadian origin theory mentioned by both Wikipedia and Etymology Online.

Site participant njuffa notes in a comment beneath this answer that the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine finds a webpage for CougarDate dated February 20, 2001, with a page copyright date of 2000. The page includes a brief statement of purpose ("A fun new approach to dating where women are Cougars and men are Willing Prey.") and a link (inactive) to a "cougar manifesto" that would undoubtedly have shed light on the characteristics of the "Willing Prey" of particular interest to members of "the Cougar Den." It follows that CougarDate is slightly older than Valerie Gibson's Cougar book, although the connection between the two (if any) remains undocumented. My thanks to njuffa for uncovering this information.

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    The things we do for research! It occurs to me that this site has about the worst possible demographic for this question. But I think 2002 will get bumped back a couple years. – Phil Sweet Feb 15 at 22:58
  • @PhilSweet Yeah, I wasn't even alive brainwise after 2000, so I wouldn't have been picked it up. Sounds like kiddy lingo. :) – tchrist Feb 15 at 23:20
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    The website cougardate.com was first captured by the Internet Archive on February 20, 2001: web.archive.org/web/20010220193257/http://www.cougardate.com – njuffa Feb 16 at 10:08
  • As large cats, I thought pumas and cougars and mountain lions were different names for the same animal. – Henry Feb 16 at 13:20
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    In the 1980s, the Canadian ice hockey team the Vancouver Canucks used the term to refer to the older, single women who attended their hockey games to pursue players sexually (liveabout.com). But who knows. It's such a leap! Wherever could it have derived from... Surely, the ice hockey team will know. Somebody should fax them. – KannE Feb 16 at 16:07

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