Sunday, 20 December 2015

Some Old Sayings about Cats

Some expressions concerning cats are well known, such as “Not enough room to swing a cat”, or “Let the cat out of the bag”, but what of some of the more unusual sayings. 

There were actually a surprising number, although few if any are still in wide parlance, which is a shame judging from the few that I’ve listed below.

“Fain would the Cat fish eat, but she is loth to wet her feet”
In more modern language:
“The cat would eat fish, but will not wet her feet”.
The saying is about wanting the result but not being prepared to put the effort in – a fancy way of saying “No pain, no gain.”
The first written record of this saying goes back to 1380 and Chaucer’s “House of Fame.” The expression seems to have been in wide usage and is mentioned by numerous other authors in the middle ages, and then by Shakespeare

“How can the cat help it if the maid be a fool?”
This is asking a basic question of morality: How can it be stealing if temptation is left in one’s path. So that fish that’s left on the table is asking to be eaten by the cat (without getting her paws wet!) This is an old American saying dating from around 1810, and implies a certain abrogation of personal responsibility.

“A cat always falls on its feet.”
Dating from the early 18th century, this is a marker of good luck.
 “[He] had a cat’s luck, always landing on his feet.” Church History. 1713
Or there’s this optimistic way of saying that truth will out in the end.
Truth is like a cat and always comes down on its feet; jerk it as high as you please.” Cooper’s Letters. 1831.

Of course the last part of this statement is not technically correct, as there is an optimum height for cats to fall from, in order to rotate fully and land with all four paws on the ground.  Also “High rise syndrome” refers to cats that fall from above two floors high, and hit the ground so hard they break their jaws and pelvis – so not even landing on all fours is enough to protect you from injury in some circumstances.

“The cat in gloves catches no mice.”
Another American saying dating from around 1754. I rather like the allusion, a cross between having the right tools for the job and not handicapping yourself. In fact, it would make rather a good personal motto.


  1. It truly is a pity many have gone by the wayside.
    My favorite is-cat got your tongue.

  2. I loved this. Thank you for brightening my day.


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