Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: Logomania Write In Cats and Dogs And Beans

I asked for suggestions for the Logomania column, and boy did you send me some good ones!  On Wednesday Mind Our English in The Star, the Malaysian national daily, will publish the Logomania article with these phrases:

Smart-aleck; smarty-pants
Nose to the grindstone
To take the gilt off the gingerbread
To blaze a trail
Water under the bridge
By hook or by crook
My better half

As for the 3 phrases I promised online readers... here they are

To rain cats and dogs... why not other animals? Sabrina Yeap from Friends Furry Farm

To rain very heavily.

On myth circulating online is that this expression comes from medieval England where pets would climb onto roofs made of thatch or grass clippings, and fall through onto the people living below every time it rained. Obviously this is nonsense.

In fact, this phrase appeared in print in 1738 and is a variation on an older synonymous phrase from 1652 to rain dogs and polecats.

Nobody knows really knows where the expression comes from. Some think the image has its roots in times past when heavy rain dislodged rubbish, including dead pets, from open drains.

Support for this comes from Jonathan Swift's A Description of a City Shower published in 1710, Drown'd Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench'd in Mud, Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood."

As for it raining other objects: it rains young cats in the Netherlands, young dogs in Germany, old women with clubs in Wales and South Africa, pitchforks and bull yearlings in the USA, tractors in Slovak, and female trolls in Norway.

Example: We cancelled our evening out because it was raining cats and dogs.

Do "cat got your tongue" ! mind-boggling, says Neri 

Something you say to someone when you ask a question, and they don't answer, or when you think they should speak, and they don't.  Also someone who is temporarily speechless.

One online myth says this was originally a threat or the cat will get your tongue made in the Middle Ages and after, where the "cat" is a reference to the cat o' nine tails, a whip with many different strands that could cripple and kill.  This whip is also said to have inspired the phrase room to swing a cat.  

Another myth says it comes from a Middle Eastern tradition where liars had their tongues ripped out, and that these were then presented to the Royal Cats as treats.

A third explanation says that in Puritan times, liars were punished by having their tongues tied up with cat gut.

All three are extremely unlikely as the expression appears to be modern.  The very authoritative English Oxford Dictionary says it first appeared in print in 1911.  However, I also found it appears in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, a 1908 romance western hit novel written by John Fox, Jr.  

Where the image comes from is anyone's guess.  I'm going to keep digging at this one.

Example: I asked you for an explanation.  What?  You've got nothing to say?  Cat got your tongue?

An Imperfect New Momma has always wondered where "What does that have to do with the price of beans" comes from.

Something you say when someone says something totally irrelevant.

Wikipedia lists two sources that say this expression became popular in the 1920s in the USA, and that variations include price of eggs, cheese, fish, tea in China etc. You can see that piece here

However, the Oxford English dictionary says it first appeared in print in 1867 in Theodore Parker's Speeches, Addresses, & Occasional Sermons as "What has Pythagoras to do with the price of cotton?"  OED also notes that the address was written 7 years earlier in 1860.

I looked up
to do with the price of in various places but it doesn't seem to have appeared in print before then; it isn't listed in any Gutenberg classic or in the Bartleby collection. 

Interestingly, I can't find a Dutch, Spanish or German equivalent either.  Presumably there will be soon, seeing the flexibility of the phrase, and the fact that it appears here and there on the Web, especially in discussion forums.

Example: We were talking about price hikes when Maggie started talking about her holiday.  "What does that have to do with the price of beans?" I asked her.    

Hope you enjoyed this post.  If you did, check out my book


Neri said...

yay! mighty interesting stuffs! the one about cats and tongue is quite gruesome though hehe.

Brian said...

Yep, those were interesting. I keep looking but I never see it raining cats or dogs either!

An Imperfect Momma said...

Wow very cool! Thanks :o)

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks! Love the explanations!
Some of my favourites that you might want to look into:
"Ye Gods and Little Fishes"
"Sure as God made little apples"
"Sure as eggs are eggs"
"Easy as pie"
"worth a hill of beans".

Most of these probably came from rural American agrarian communities!