Cat Got Your Tongue?

Now if you’ve read some of my previous posts you will know what side of the fence I sit on regarding the polarising opinions domestic cats instil amongst humans. Cats can be selfish, hedonistic and all together rude animals. They are out to get what they want and honey they know how to wrap you around their little paws. But even I know when somebody is getting an undue proportion of publicity and it seems almost strange the number of idioms and sayings that have the word “cat” in it.

– Cat got your tongue?
– Cat that got the cream
– Curiosity killed the cat
– Cat has nine lives

In that order, there lies an epic fantasy of a feline fiend who – got your tongue, felt smug about it, and then for his own curiosity – died – because your tongue had herpes and it gave the poor cat a cold sore which ended its days. Saga complete- no need for a sequel. Oh wait, the cat lives again it’s only life number 3.

But why are cats so damn popular when it comes to sayings? I mean if there’s any animal that could get you’re tongue, I doubt it would be a cat. You’re more likely to see a cat not move at all, basking under the sun and coming inside when dinner ought to be ready, than to see them lunge towards one’s oral cavity.

But if the day comes when cats decide to do something proactive – what does it mean if “The cat got your tongue?”

This expression is often said by a second party to you in the form of a question, when you’re lost for words. That horrible moment when you’re in the middle of a conversation, or passing a face from the past down a busy street, when someone asks you a question or greets you with familiarity, but your mind goes blank and mouth stays closed. That’s when the damn cat comes in – takes your tongue and saunters away, turning its head to mock you as you stand their frozen with nothing coming out your mouth but the empty silence of awkwardness and regret for ever getting a cat in the first place.

Now the saying has disputed origins, but here are a few.

Some say it originates from the Middle East where liars were brutally punished by having their tongues removed. As if being left mute for the rest of your life was not bad enough, you were then made to watch a cat feast upon your loss. Maybe this is where cats and their thirst for human pain began? First it was tongues but now because of political correctness they have to settle for less – not getting off the sofa, defecating on your favourite bag, general impoliteness.

Another equally as wicked origin is during the Middle ages where witches were less Hermione Granger and more grave danger. Feared by all and persecuted by just as many, it was believed that if you saw a witch, her cat companion would steal your tongue , so that you could not inform the law of her sighting and thus save her from death by dunking.

Now, I’m not playing devil’s advocate here, but in both these origins, cats’ characters are not really untarnished. In each of these suggestions cats have some shady behaviour and associations with pain.

Maybe cats feel obliged to live up to the stereotype given to them in sayings and expressions such as “Cat got your tongue.” Like a tortured villain, they feel that the image thrust upon them by history is one which they must endure and so they cast themselves as the anti hero in our daily lives.

There’s nothing worse than people not seeing the real you and having to be what society wants you to be. So cats may not have my heart as yet, but they damn sure have my respect.

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Let The Cat Out The Bag

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”  Benjamin Franklin

Dealing in secrets is a risky business. The founding father of the great US of A Franklin describes this onerous occupation aptly. It is murderous past time to associate yourself with and two let alone three is company, for secrets do not belong to anyone but themselves. Like heavy rainfall, the pressure of keeping a secret, more so when it is not your own, can mount until finally the dam breaks- the secret  washes off your hands and flows into the laps of others.

You’ve let the cat out of the bag.

But why did you put the poor cat in the bag in the first place? And  why of all the animals did the cat get the short straw with the bag? [ perhaps in this case curiosity did kill the cat 😉 ]

Now it’s probably not hard to believe that shady shenanigans such as putting a cat in a bag dates back to the medieval times. If there is any truth to the saying learning from your mistakes, the medieval times is most definitely testament to this, and we can only thank our ancestors for being so crude and aggressive in their actions because it means that we gentle souls don’t have to dabble in such cat bagging activities.

The belief is that the saying originates from the times when livestock was sold at markets . Off you’d go looking for the perfect pig and after perusing the pork on offer and finding the right one –  sturdy hips are a must – the merchant would  “bag” your goods for ease of transport. ( Walking a pig home has never been an acceptable move, neither now nor in the medieval ages. ) Content  with your savvy shopping you return home ready to show your significant other how you have an eye for quality when it comes to pig picking. That is until you open the bag and lo and behold a cat pops out.  This is no witchcraft or black magic, alas this is an example of good old market fraud. You’ve well and truly been cheated out of your chops. Replacing your pig with a cat means that the market salesman not only makes a profit but also gets to keep his high quality ham to continue the real hustle with more oblivious shoppers.

So letting the cat out of the bag can be seen to have a literal meaning and origin. The poor cat got bagged because  cats come a dime a dozen and so were perfect ploys in the great game of farm animal fraud. Nowadays the saying is used to describe letting a secret slip rather than for describing a swindling salesman .

Secrets are guilty pleasures. We all have them and expect to keep them our own  and yet  all too often we are quick to divulge other people’s secrets. It’s a double standard which is a sad reality of life. Perhaps a bag isn’t enough for this feline freight but then again tiger’s aren’t meant to be caged.

Tis the nature of the beast.

“If I maintain my silence about my secret, it is my prisoner…if I let it slip from my tongue, I am its prisoner.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Curiosity Killed The Cat

Curiosity – or let’s be honest – nosiness, is one of the inherent natural instincts of most humans. You’d be lying to yourself if you disagreed.  In one way or another we are all inquisitive, questioning and sadly – suspicious. Mankind is  a distrustful race , but it’s not our fault ,  if evolution didn’t make us this way society certainly did.

But why use man in a metaphor when there is an equally suspicious and even more  cautious animal than man.

The cat.

Something about their cold exteriors, their lack of response to emotion , their arrogance and their self seeking behavior – is alarming. It’s almost scary.  I’m just putting it out there, there are some cat’s I know that could most definitely fit the criteria for a psychopath. (That’s superficial charm, lack of remorse and sensation seeking)

But enough of cat bashing. ( I’m a dog person – could you tell?)

Cat’s are inquisitive – I presume that’s why they like to enter every house  in the neighborhood – maybe some form of covert espionage where they then report back to their owners about who  has the biggest television. Keeping up with the Jones’ and all that.

But why did “Curiosity Kill The Cat” ? ( and did it kill the cat 9 times?)

The original metaphor was “Care Killed the Cat” where “care” was taken to mean “worry.”

The definitive origin of the saying is not known but the earliest written reference is in the 16th century play “Every Man in his Humour” by Ben Jonson. He wrote:

“Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care will kill a cat”

But since then nobody really knows where ” curiosity killed the cat ” came from. It’s a general consensus that the proverb was widely recognized by the start of the 20th century and most likely of British origin. There’s something about it -almost alliterative and musical in nature – I like this idiom. It does its job perfectly at warning you that you’re probably better off staying out of matters that you’re not involved in.

And if curiosity didn’t kill the cat – perhaps Schrödinger did!