The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable - This classic work of reference - described as a browser's joy - has been in popular demand since 1870. The Dictionary is extensively cross referenced, lending itself ideally, to the hypertext environment. This First Hypertext Edition is taken from Dr. Brewer's substantially revised and extended edition of 1894.
The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Cat Called a familiar, from the mediæval superstition that Satan's favourite form was a black cat. Hence “witches” were said to have a cat as their familiar.
Cat. A symbol of liberty. The Roman goddess of Liberty was represented as holding a cup in one hand, a broken sceptre in the other, and with a cat lying at her feet. No animal is so great an enemy to all constraint as a cat.
Cat. Held in veneration by the Egyptians under the name of Ælurus. This deity is represented with a human body and a cat's head. Diodorus tells us that whoever killed a cat, even by accident, was by the Egyptians punished by death. According to Egyptian tradition, Diana assumed the form of a cat, and thus excited the fury of the giants.
The London Review says the Egyptians worshipped the cat as a symbol of the moon, not only because it is more active after sunset, but from the dilation and contraction of its pupil, symbolical of the waxing and waning of the night-goddess. (See Puss.)
Hang me in a bottle like a cat. (Much Ado about Nothing, i. I.) In olden times a cat was for sport enclosed in a bag or leather bottle, and hung to the branch of a tree, as a mark for bowmen to shoot at. Steevens tells us of another sport: “A cat was placed in a soot bag, and hung on a line; the players had to beat out the bottom of the bag without getting besmudged, and he who succeeded in so doing was allowed to hunt the cat afterwards.
Some ... are mad if they behold a cat. (Merchant of Venice, iv. l.) Henri III. of France swooned if he caught sight of a cat, and Napoleon I. showed a morbid horror of the same; so did one of the Ferdinands, Emperor of Germany. (See Antipathy, page 53; Pig.)
Cat-call A kind of whistle used at theatres by the audience to express displeasure or impatience. A hideous noise like the call or waul of a cat.
“I was very much surprised with the great consort of cat-calls ... to see so many persons of quality of both sexes assembled together at a kind of caterwauling.”- Addison, Spectator, No. 361.
Cat-eyed Able to see in the dark. Cat's eye is an opalescent mineral gem.
Cat Jumps (The). See how the cat jumps, “which way the wind blows”; which of two alternatives is likely to be the successful one before you give any opinion of its merit or adhesion to it, either moral or otherwise. The allusion is to the game called tip-cat. Before you strike, you must observe which way the “cat” has jumped up.
We are told that our forefathers had a cruel sport, which consisted in placing a cat in a tree as a mark to shoot at. A wily sportsman would, of course, wait to see which way it jumped before he shot at her. This sort of sport was very like that of hanging two cats by their tails over a rope. (See page 224, Kilkenny Cat.)
“He soon saw which way the cat did jump,
And his company he offered plump.”
The Dog's-meat Man (See Universal Songster, 1825.)
Cat Stane Battle stone. A monolith in Scotland (sometimes wrongly called a Druidical stone). The Norwegian term, bauta stein, means the same thing. (Celtic, cath, battle.)
Cat and Dog To live a cat and dog life. To be always snarling and quarrelling, as a cat and dog, whose aversion to each other is intense.
There will be jealousies, and a cat-and-dog life over yonder worse than ever” - Carlyle: Frederick the Great (vol. ii. book ix. p. 346.).
It is raining cats and dogs. Very heavily. We sometimes say, “It is raining pitchforks.” which is the French locution, “Il tombe des hallebardes ”
Cat and Fiddle a public-house sign, is a corruption of Caton le fidele, meaning Caton, Governor of Calais.
Cat and Kittens A public-house sign, alluding to the pewter-pots so called. Stealing these pots is termed “Cat and kitten sneaking.” We still call a large kettle a kitchen, and speak of a soldier's kit (Saxon, cytel, a pot, pan, or vessel generally.)
Cat and Tortoise or Boar and Sow. Names given to the testudo.
Cat has nine Lives (A). (See under Nine .)
Cat i' the Adage (The). The adage referred to is, the cat loves fish, but does not like to wet her paws.
Letting `I dare not' wait upon `I would,'
Like the poor cat i' the adage.”
Shakespeare Macbeth, i.7
Cat may look at a King (A). An insolent remark of insubordination, meaning, “I am as good as you”, or “Are you too mighty to be spoken to or looked at?” “You may wear stars and ribbons, and I may be dressed in hodden grey, but a man's a man for a' that.”
Cat-o'-nine-tails A whip, first with three, then with six, and lastly with nine lashes, used for punishing offenders, and briefly called a cat. Lilburn was scourged, in 1637, with a whip having only three lashes, but there were twenty knots in each tail, and, as he received a lash every three paces between the Fleet and Old Palace Yard, Cook says that 60,000 stripes were inflicted. Titus Oates was scourged, in the reign of James II., with a cat having six lashes, and, between Newgate and Tyburn, received as many as 17,000 lashes. The cat-o'-nine-tails once used in the British army and navy is no longer employed there, but garotters and some other offenders are still scourged. Probably the punishment was first used on board ship, where ropes would be handy, and several ropes are called cats, as “cat-harpings,” for bracing the shrouds, “cat-falls,” which pass over the cat-head and communicate with the cat-block. etc. The French martinet (q.v.) had twelve leather thongs.
Cat Proverbs A cat has nine lives. A cat is more tenacious of life than other animals, because it generally lights upon its feet without injury, the foot and toes being padded so as to break the fall. (See Nine .)
“Tub What wouldst thou have with me?
Mer. Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.”
Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, iii. l.
All cats love fish. (See previous column, Cat I' The Adage.)
Before the cat can lick her ear - i.e. before the Greek kalends. Never. No cat can lick her ear. (See Never.)
Care killed the cat. (See page 216, 2, Care.)
In the dark all cats are gray. All persons are undistinguished till they have made a name.
Not room to swing a cat. Swinging cats as a mark for sportsmen was at one time a favourite amusement. There were several varieties of this diversion. Sometimes two cats were swung by their tails over a rope. Sometimes a cat was swung to the bough of a tree in a bag or sack. Sometimes it was enclosed in a leather bottle.
Sick as a cat. Cats are very subject to vomiting. Hence the vomit of a drunkard is called “a cat,” and the act of discarding it is called “shooting the cat.”
Let the cat out of the bag. To disclose a secret. It was formerly a trick among country folk to substitute a cat for a sucking-pig, and bring it in a bag to market. If any greenhorn chose to buy a “pig in a poke” without examination, all very well; but if he opened the sack, “he let the cat out of the bag,” and the trick was disclosed.
“She let the cat out of her bag of verse ... she almost proposed to her hero in rhyme.” George Meredith: The Egotist, iii.
To bell the cat. (See page 119, Bell.)
To turn cat-in-pan. To turn traitor, to be a turncoat. The phrase seems to be the French tourner cote en peine (to turn sides in trouble). I do not think it refers to turning pancakes.
“When George in pudding-time came o'er
And moderate men looked big, sir.
I turned a cat-in-pan once more.
And so became a Whig, sir.”
Vicar of Bray.
Bacon says, “There is a cunning which we in England call the turning of the cat in the pan; which is, when that which a man says to another, he says it as if another had said it to him.”
Touch not a cat but a glove. Here “but” is used in its original meaning of “beout,” i.e. without. (For another example of “but” meaning without, see Amos iii. 7.) The words are the motto of Mackintosh, whose crest is “cat-a-mountain salient guardant proper”; supporters, two cats proper. The whole is a pun on the word Catti, the Teutonic settlers of Caithness, i.e. Catti-ness, and mean, “Touch not the clan Cattan or Mountain Cat without a glaive.” The same words are the adopted motto of Grant of Ballindalloch, and are explained by the second motto, ensë et animo.
In French: On ne prend pas tel chat sans moufles.
What can you have of a cat but her skin? The thing is useless for any purpose but one. In former times the cat's fur was used for trimming cloaks and coats, but the flesh is utterly useless.
Who ate the cat? A gentleman who had his larder frequently assailed by bargees, had a cat cooked and placed there as a decoy. It was taken like the other foods, and became a standing jest against these larder pilferers.
A Cheshire cat. He grins like a Cheshire cat. Cheese was formerly sold in Cheshire moulded like a cat. The allusion is to the grinning cheese-cat, but is applied to persons who show their teeth and gums when they laugh. (See Alice in Wonderland.)
A Kilkenny cat. The story is that, during the rebellion of Ireland, Kilkenny was garrisoned by a troop of Hessian soldiers, who amused themselves in barracks by tying two cats together by their tails and throwing them across a clothes-line to fight. The officers, hearing of this, resolved to put a stop to the practice. The look-out man, enjoying the sport, did not observe the officer on duty approaching the barracks; but one of the troopers, more quick-sighted, seizing a sword, cut the two tails, and the cats made their escape. When the officer inquired the meaning of the two bleeding tails, he was coolly told that two cats had been fighting and had devoured each other all but the tails.
Whatever the true story, it is certain that the municipalities of Kilkenny and Irishtown contended so stoutly about their respective boundaries and rights to the end of the seventeenth century, that they mutually impoverished each other, leaving little else than “two tails” behind.
Whittington's cat. A cat is a ship formed on the Norwegian model, having a narrow stern, projecting quarters, and deep waist. It is strongly built, and used in the coal trade. Harrison speaks of it as a “cat” or “catch.” According to tradition, Sir Richard Whittington made his money by trading in coals, which he conveyed in his “cat” from Newcastle to London. The black faces of his coal-heavers gave rise to the tale about the Moors. In confirmation of this suggestion, it may be added that Whittington was Lord Mayor in 1397, and coal was first made an article of trade from Newcastle to London in 1381.
Cat's Cradle A child's play, with a piece of twine. Corrupt for cratchcradle or manger cradle, in which the infant Saviour was laid. Cratch is the French crèche (a rack or manger), and to the present hour the racks which stand in fields for cattle to eat from are called cratches.
Cat's Foot To live under the cat's foot. To be under petticoat government; to be henpecked. A mouse under the paw of a cat lives but by sufferance and at the cat's pleasure.
Cat's Melody (The). Squalling.
“The children were playing the cat's melody to
keep their mother in countenance.” - W. B. Yeats:
Fairy Tales of the Irish Peasantry, p. 238.
Cat's Paw To be made a cat's paw of, i.e. the tool of another, the medium of doing another's dirty work. The allusion is to the fable of the monkey who wanted to get from the fire some roasted chestnuts, and took the paw of the cat to get them from the hot ashes.
“I had no intention of becoming a cat's paw to draw European chestnuts out of the fire.” - Com.
At sea, light air during a calm causing a ripple on the water, and indicating a storm, is called by sailors a cat's paw, and seamen affirm that the frolics of a cat indicate a gale. These are relics of a superstition that cats are witches or demons in disguise.
Cat's Sleep A sham sleep, like that of a cat watching a mouse.
Cats Mistress Tofts, the singer, left legacies at death to twenty cats.
“Not Niobê mourned more for fourteen brats,
Nor Mistress Tofts, to leave her twenty cats.”
Peter Pindar: Old Simon.
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