Cats have been the source of much mythology and legends. Today our modern language has feline references all over it. It is fun to find out where these cat sayings originated. Do you ever use them?
- “Cat O Nine Tails”– According to Wikipedia, this was a punishment device used by the Royal Navy and Army of the United Kingdom first used in the late 1600s. It was a whip fashioned of rode that is braided in such a way that it unravels into nine lashes tied in knots at the ends. There were many variations, none of which seem pleasant and all would scratch and abrade the skin. The name seems to have come from a comparison to a cat’s claws.
- “Cat got your tongue”– This one is especially interesting because there are two possible origins. Some say that it came from the use of the cat o nine tails (see above) to punish errant sailors who no doubt would have been silenced by the threat of the beating. Others believe that the ancient Egyptians would cut out the tongue of liars and blasphemers and feed it to cats. Either way, if the cat has your tongue, you are surely not blabbing!
- “Letting the cat out of the bag”– some say that this phrase relates to fraudulent practices when selling livestock. If one substituted a stray cat for a valuable piglet and sold the bag, then whomever opened the bag and revealed the cat, would be exposing the plot. Hence the meaning of disclosing a secret.
- “Curiosity Killed the Cat”– The origin phrase is thought to have been more along the lines of “care killed the cat” in which “care” denotes worry or sorrow, instead of curiosity. Shakespeare used the line in Much Ado About Nothing when he said. “What, courage man! what though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.” But we all know how inquisitive cats are and it seems an expected evolution to today’s phrase.
- “Raining Cats and Dogs”-No one knows for sure where this phrase came from. There are some explanations including one that animals liked to hide inside the thatch of roofs and would be chase out by a hard rainfall. It is possibly feasible that a cat would seek refuge in a roof, but seems unlikely that a dog might. A more reasonable explanation might be that poor sanitation in the olden days allowed dead animals to lie in the streets and when there was a heavy rain, they would wash down and appear that they had fallen with the rain. Fortunately in today’s world, this is not a problem, but the phrase lives on.
Very likely cats will continue to add flourish to modern language as long as they are a part of our lives. We cherish them for their idiosyncrasies and these phrases remind us of our colorful history with America’s most popular pet.
About The Author: Dr. Kathryn Primm is a practicing small animal veterinarian and practice owner at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, TN. She has consulted on articles for national magazines, done numerous radio interviews and appeared on local television. She has contributed to articles for Prevention magazine (April 2015) and Woman’s Day (Feb 2014 and June 2015). Her radio segment Chattanooga Pet Talk airs each week on all the local iHeart Media affiliates.
She has a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and enjoys interaction with others about her passions, animals and communication. She has written a book, Tennessee Tails:Pets and Their People. The book received recognition as Runner Up in the Memoirs category at a national book festival. You can read more about Dr. Primm and how to get the best value for your pet care dollar at her website, www.drprimm.com.