Origin of famous ‘Feline Idioms’

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Pallavi Bhattacharya
An idiom is a form of expression that’s particular to a group of people or a certain person. Every idiom has a literal meaning, figurative meaning and of course, an interesting origin. Here’s a list of some famous cat idioms.
 
Here are some of the popular cat idioms widely used in English language.
 
A CAT HAS NINE LIVES
Meaning: The meaning is that a cat can survive through dangerous situations.
Origin: Medieval Europe was ruthless towards cats as they were linked with witches. During this time, cats were thrown off from high towers with the aim to kill them, but they amazingly survived as they landed on their feet. That’s how this idiom came about during the Dark Ages of Europe!  Some theorists argue that this idiom traced back to the time when cats were venerated in ancient Egypt. Atum-Ra, the Egyptian sun god, was believed to guise himself as a cat, to visit the realms of hell. As per the myth, he gave birth to eight gods, thereby bestowing nine divine lives in one cat.
 
CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT
Meaning: It means that inquisitiveness can lead one into peril.
Origin: This idiom was originated in literature. The oldest form of this idiom is recorded in Ben Jonson’s 1598 play Every Man in His Humour. Later William Shakespeare used it in Much Ado About Nothing. This phrase is often used to silence a person with unwarranted  inquisitiveness.
 
THE CAT THAT ATE THE CANARY
Meaning: This idiom refers to humans and other living beings, who are found to have a smug look with a tinge of guilt.
Origin: This idiom originated in the world of journalism. Cats are always on the prowl for birds. On gulping down a bird, he may have a very smug look on his face, albeit with a tinge of guilt. In 1891 and 1892, newspapers in the UK, Australia and America went on publishing the same joke: Father: That cat made an awful noise in the back garden last night. Son: Yes, sir. I guess that since he ate the canary, he thinks he can sing. The idiom took birth from this joke.
 
TO LIVE A CAT AND DOG LIFE
Meaning: This idiom indicates being in a state of constant argument. It is because cats and dogs are often seen hissing and growling at one another.
Origin: It originated in Thomas Carlyle’s work Frederick the Great where he wrote, “There will be jealousies, and a cat-and-dog life over yonder worse than ever.”
 
TO LET THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG
Meaning: This is used to signify ‘to reveal a secret.’
Origin: In the 1500s in Europe, sellers used to cheat their customers by selling a cat instead of a pig in the market. They would ask the buyer not to open the bag till they reached home, so that the trickery wouldn’t be made out beforehand.  Another possible origin of the phrase may be linked to the inhuman practice of flogging at the infamous British Royal Navy. Badly behaved sailors were whipped by the cat o’ nine tails, a whip, which had nine strings which would dig in marks into the flesh of the sailors like cat’s claws would. These lashes were stored in bags, sailors looked on in horror when the bags were opened.
 
CAT HAS GOT YOUR TONGUE
Meaning: This expression is used to describe someone who cannot say anything.
Origin: The origin goes back to the witch hunting age, when the witch was believed to have made people unable to speak by feeding his tongue to her pet black cat. It may also refer to how the saucy sailors who would talk back, were rendered speechless when smacked with the cat o’ nail tails.
 
BELL THE CAT
Meaning: This proverb signifies that there’ll be few takers to do a difficult job.
Origin: In 1482, a group of nobles wished to hang the favourites of King James III. At that time Lord Gray asked a very pertinent question, “Who will bell the cat?” Would anyone actually muster the courage to do the needful? Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus, undertook this responsibility and completed what needed to be done.
 
IN THE DARK, ALL CATS ARE GREY
Meaning: This is used to indicate that physical appearance is of no consequence whatsoever when the candles have been blown out.
Origin: Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the USA, and world famous scientist, used this figurative expression, while advising a young man, that taking a young woman to bed shouldn’t be deemed as an unpleasant experience, as when the lights are put off, appearances cannot be made out.
 
A CAT IN GLOVES CATCHES NO MICE
Meaning: It means that if one is too cautious and polite, he will not be able to succeed or accomplish what he intends to. Some shrewdness or aggressiveness may be required to get things done. Of course, if a cat protects his paws with gloves, he will not be able to nab even one mouse.
Origin: This idiom was woven by Benjamin Franklin.
 
TO SET A CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS
Meaning: This idiom is to signify a comment or action which rouses trouble.
Origin: In Britain, a sadistic pastime was making a cat walk among pigeons, the onlookers would gleefully watch as the cat would maul the birds. There have been instances when a cat had been thrown among doves.
 
TO RAIN CATS AND DOGS
Meaning: This means to rain heavily.
Origin: Odin, the Norse god of storms, was traditionally seen with wolves and dogs, which were symbols of the wind. Witches were believed to zoom on their broomsticks along with their cats. When it poured down incessantly, it was believed that the dogs of Norse and the cats of witches were tumbling down with the rain.

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