Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nine lives of English

Like the dog, the cat has also gripped the human imagination and one finds it cropping up a lot in the language. The nine lives of the cat are by now a part of folklore, but if one goes by the ‘catty’ expressions in English, the number of lives are many more. By and large, the word ‘cat’ has been a part of the vocabulary of most languages; whether it is the ‘catt’ of Old English, the kat of Dutch, the katze of German or the cattus of Latin.

‘All cats are grey in the dark’ is a proverb that conveys the fact that the qualities that distinguish people from one another can be obscured by circumstances and if the differences can’t be perceived, they don’t matter. One plays ‘cat and mouse’ when one uses cunning manoeuvres to thwart an opponent. And, of course, opponents can fight ‘like cat and dog’. Such a fight can ‘put the cat among the pigeons’, that is, it can create trouble. The victor would look like ‘the cat who’s stolen the cream’ and the defeated party would resemble ‘something the cat brought in’.

Before the peace keepers swoop down on this and begin to act like ‘a cat on a hot tin roof’ due to the violence in this piece, it is safe to look at less violent expressions! The ‘cat’ family expressions recognise the rights of man, because there is an expression that declares that even a person who is not important has certain rights; and the expression is: ‘a cat may look like a king’. When someone remains silent when they are expected to speak, the apt expression is ‘has the cat got your tongue?’ When people speak, they can reveal secrets if they are careless, that is, they can ‘let the cat out of the bag’. In that case, the poor soul whose secrets stand revealed has no hope or does ‘not have a cat in hell’s chance’ of evading the music. So, before opening your mouth, always see which way the cat jumps, or the wind blows, and then articulate.