The Cat’s Paw: Wherever Has It Been?

kit and chicksA cat’s paw is an elusive phenomenon even though it is clearly attached to the animal in question. If you don’t believe me, when you have some time to kill, just try and follow the path of the paw in the course of any given day. A shovel for unsuspecting toys, litter and other objects infecting territory, a shield for the eyes from too much sunlight, the paw is a cat’s most ubiquitous tool.

But when did it become known as an unpleasant or distasteful task or to be used for the advantage of another as the usage of the expression connotes?

The origins of this old expression, which is also known as “to draw or pull chestnuts from the fire,” can be traced to an old fable, but its true beginnings have been lost to the passage of time. A monkey in this tale uses a cat’s paw to retrieve hot chestnuts from a roaring fire. Some scholars claim that Pope Julius II (1503-1513) was the owner of this monkey, but the monkey left no such indication in his last will and testament to humanity. (Besides, anyone knows a cat isn’t owned by anyone. It merely tolerates the presence of bigger, two legged cats that it permits to feed and shelter it).

Cats and monkeys may be friends in the cosmic sense that they share membership in the animal kingdom, but in a pinch, the cat does what it needs to survive and the ultimate question remains:

Could a feline endure nine separate lives if it could be talked into reaching into a fire to retrieve something for someone else, or in this case, a devious monkey?

The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind, but with the grain of salt that flows invisibly through it!

Do YOU know any other cat expressions? Please share.

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About Marjorie Dorfman

Marjorie Dorfman is a freelance writer and former teacher originally from Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of New York University School of Education, she now lives in Doylestown, PA, with quite a few cats that keep her on her toes at all times. Originally a writer of ghostly and horror fiction, she has branched out into the world of humorous non-fiction writing in the last decade. Many of her stories have been published in various small presses throughout the country during the last twenty years. Her book of stories, "Tales For A Dark And Rainy Night", reflects her love and respect for the horror and ghost genre.