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.