Caturday felid trifecta: Four-eared cat finds forever home; international cat idioms; “more than one way to skin a cat”; and lagniappe

September 4, 2021 • 9:45 am

Meet Yoda, the four-eared cat that has two functional ears and two tiny ones behind them, which aren’t used for hearing. Though the article at I Love My Cat says this may be a genetic mutation, we won’t know unless Yoda has offspring or grand-offspring that are interbred.

The English in the article isn’t great, and in fact is a bit confusing. For example:

Yoda was adopted by Valerie and her husband two years ago after visiting a bar near their home in Chicago. As the couple saw Yoda, they immediately felt in love with him. They quickly asked the owner to adopt him and named the cat Yoda, after the pointy-eared Jedi knight in Star Wars.

Who visited the bar? Yoda or Valerie? And who adopted him—the bar or the couple? (I omit the misspelling.) These are cases of unclear antecdents. Regardless, Yoda’s an adorable moggie and lives near Chicago. Why haven’t I seen him?

You can see why he’s called Yoda:

Yoda lives in Downer’s Grove, a suburb of Chicago. Here’s a video of him:

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Here’s an article from Mental Floss (click on screenshot) giving ten international idioms about cats.

Here they are with explanations. My favorites are #6 and #9.

1.) YOU’RE LIKE A CAT WALKING AROUND HOT PORRIDGE. 

Looking for a more relevant phrase than the medieval hunting-inspired “beat around the bush”? In some Scandinavian languages, evasive behavior is exemplified by a cat who seeks to avoid eating too-hot porridge, as in the Swedish expression att gå som katten runt het gröt or its Danish equivalent, at gå som katten om den varme grød. Cat/porridge interactions might not be an everyday occurrence in your household, but you get the idea.

2.) LET’S CALL A CAT A CAT.

If porridge imagery isn’t your thing, but you still need someone to be direct and tell it like it is, cats can still help you out. The French expression appeler un chat un chat (borrowed by speakers of Dutch, especially in Belgium, as een kat een kat noemen) suggests there’s nothing more straightforward than calling a cat a cat.

3.) YOU’RE JUST BEING SHY-SHY CAT

Even the most sociable cats are bashful when it suits them, but we know it’s only an act. In Indonesian, if a person is acting coy, they’re being malu-malu kucing, or “shy-shy cat.”

4.) WHAT WOULD THE CAT’S SON DO BUT KILL A MOUSE?

This business about apples that “didn’t fall far from the tree” isn’t terribly useful as a metaphor for human behavior. Apples aren’t sentient; we can’t empathize with an apple’s journey. Enter the charming Irish phrase Cad a dhéanfadh mac an chait ach luch a mharú? The cat’s son has free will, yet he succumbs to his natural urge and kills a mouse, thus fulfilling his destiny. Now that’s a narrative we can relate to!

5.) A CAT RAN BETWEEN THEM.

Gossiping about folks who had a falling-out, but the reasons for the conflict are unclear? According to the Russian expression Между ними кошка пробежала (mezhdu nimi koshka probezhala), the whole thing happened because a cat got in the way. Hey, it’s not like you had a more logical explanation.

6.) MY HOUSE/APARTMENT/GARDEN IS LIKE A CAT’S FOREHEAD.

The Japanese expression “猫の額” (neko no hitai, literally “cat’s forehead”) is used to describe small spaces. The tiny-house movement would have far more appeal if people were describing their diminutive dwellings as cats’ foreheads, or—hear us out—designing them to look like cats’ foreheads. So cute!.

7.) THERE’S A LOCKED-UP CAT HERE.

If you’ve ever had to wrestle a cat into a carrier, you know just how dangerous a cornered feline can be. Next time you have suspicions about a situation, instead of saying there’s “something fishy going on,” take a cue from the Spanish phrase aquí hay gato encerrado.

8.) ONE WHO HAS NO DOG HUNTS WITH A CAT. 

While cats are fearsome hunters, they don’t have a great reputation for following directions, so it stands to reason you might prefer a different hunting companion. The idea behind this Portuguese adage, quem não tem cão caça com gato, is that we make do with the resources we have, even if they’re not ideal.

9.) WHO WOULD RAISE A CAT’S TAIL, IF NOT THE CAT HIMSELF?

The Finnish expression kuka kissan hännän nostaa ellei kissa itse invites you to brag about your own accomplishments. Sure, you could “toot your own horn” or “sing your own praises,” but this phrase lets you reframe your boastfulness as self-sufficiency.

10). WHEN THE CAT GOES AWAY, THE MICE REIGN. 

Even the cat-based idioms that already exist in English have some room for improvement, so let’s end by tweaking a classic saying. “When the cat’s away, the mice will play” is all well and good, but is playing really all the mice want to do? Perhaps they’re more ambitious than that. The Swahili adage paka akiondoka, panya hutawala takes things a step further, putting the mice in charge.

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Finally, Grammarphobia explains the phrase “Skinning a cat”, always used in the phrase “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” which in turn means, “There’s more than one way to accomplish this task.”

As the site recounts, it began with the phrase “Skinning a flint,” which meant an impossible task, and is the source of the word for a miser: “skinflint”. How did “cat” get in there?

Then, in the UK, a “flint” became “cat,” presumably because it’s hard to skin a cat, and catskins are pretty useless:

In the 19th century, other versions of the “skin” phrase began appearing. A miser, seeing to get the last atom of use out of a useless thing, would “skin a louse” (1803), “skin a flea … for its hide or tallow” (1819), and finally “skin a cat.”

Here’s the earliest “cat” version in the OED: “I was … brought up amongst fellows would skin a cat” (from Davenport Dunn, 1859, by the Irish novelist Charles James Lever).

We found this parsimonious example in a travel guide: “A certain American once said, that to obtain money a Natalian would skin a cat” (South Africa: A Sketch Book, 1884, by James Stanley Little).

Finally, for unknown reasons, this transmogrified into the meaning we have today, and this happened in America:

Meanwhile, the notion of skinning cats underwent a change in American usage. A new expression, “there is more than one way to skin a cat” (and variants) came to mean “there is more than one means of achieving a given aim,” the OED says.

This is the earliest example we’ve found: “At any rate, thought I, there’s more than one way to skin a cat” (from The New York Transcript, reprinted in The Indiana American, Brookville, Jan. 15, 1836).

The question here is whether the miserly expression “to skin a cat” was the direct source of “more than one way to skin a cat.” There’s no way to know for sure, but our guess is that the first one influenced the second.

We say this because similar proverbs of the “more than one way” variety—and all meaning that there are different means of accomplishing the same goal—existed before cats became part of the expression.

There’s more, especially if you want to read about d*gs:

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Lagniappe: Mary, Queen of Scots made an embroidery, perhaps the only one that exists. And it’s of a cat! Here’s a video about it. Just click on the blue “watch on Vimeo” button.

The embroidery. The video tells you what the cat represents.

h/t: Ginger K., Malcolm

15 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: Four-eared cat finds forever home; international cat idioms; “more than one way to skin a cat”; and lagniappe

  1. I love the embroidery story about Mary, Queen of Scots. That’s one way to tell a story besides writing about it. It certainly makes the work more interesting to look at if you know what’s behind it.

  2. Interesting to see those cat-based idioms and also the putative origins of the phrase “more than one way to skin a cat”.

  3. Another distasteful animal expression, which my mother sometimes used, was that someone “stayed until the last dog was hung,” which refers to that person who stays at an event until after everyone else has left. At some point, I learned that “hung” didn’t mean the dogs were executed, but that they were exhausted, with their heads hanging down. This makes some sense to me because executed should be “hanged” rather than “hung.” Thus, the expression became more appealing.

    Alas, when I revisited this topic online this morning, the explanations I saw interpreted “hung” as hanging to death, rather than exhaustion—with “dogs” either used literally, or figuratively to refer to undesirable people. So “stayed until the last dog was hung” is back in my distasteful category of expressions.

  4. In German we have a variant of idiom #10: “Wenn die Katze aus dem Haus ist, tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Tisch.” When the cat is out of the house, the mice dance on the table:

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