The feline version! After dogs and horses, how can I leave out cute fluffy little kittens??
He looks worried that I might have, don’t you think?
Raining cats and dogs: an extremely heavy downpour. Well, this is certainly one of the most overused clichés ever spoken. But when was it first spoken? It is attributed to Jonathan Swift, in his book Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation which he wrote in 1738. That is a long-lived cliché! And he actually took it from a “wit” who eighty-five years earlier claimed that it was “raining dogs and polecats.” For the ‘genteel’ conversation, Swift classed it up a bit by dropping the “pole.”
To see which way the cat jumps: waiting to see how events unfold before acting one way or the other. This most likely came from a sixteenth century boys game with a double ended cone shape made out of wood (the cat) that was sprung in the air, and the boy had to strike it quickly. To strike the “cat” while in the air, the player had to closely observe the direction of its spring.
To let the cat out of the bag: to disclose something meant to be kept secret. This cliché is likely four hundred years old; with our ‘modern’ use of it, meaning a secret disclosed, roughly two hundred years old. The original meaning was to warn people to always check your purchase of a piglet, once sold in burlap bags. Many a housewife that didn’t check got home and literally let a cat, whose movements in a bag would mimic a lively piglet, out of the burlap bag. And you thought our big box stores today are unscrupulous?
To skin the cat: sounds so violent, doesn’t it? In all actuality, it is a boy’s game where one hangs from a branch by the hands, then pulls oneself up to loop the legs over the branch as well. Sounds rather fun to me! This game may have changed names over years, but has definitely been around for several hundred years. And it certainly gave rise to the cliché “more than one way to skin the cat” as each boy tried to outdo the last. Which is a much better meaning than I thought that phrase meant.
Grin like a Cheshire cat: a large, smirking, self-satisfied smile. Although most of us know this saying from Alice in Wonderland, it is in fact quite a bit older. It was used in John Wolcott’s satires in the late 1700s. However, even by the time Wolcott was using it the provance was unknown, leading one to think that it must have been a cliché by the time Wolcott used it. The most prevalent theory is that in county Cheshire one of the influential families decided to put a rampart lion on their crest. The provincial painter they asked to paint the new crest had no idea what a lion looked like, however. Most of the local populace seemed to think the result looked rather like a grinning cat.
And with that, I leave you with a smile….