|From My Book of Indoor Games by Clarence Squareman, 1916. |
And of course, there's the famous book of the same name by author Kurt Vonnegut. It literary terms, a cats’ cradle represents the difference between the world as it seems, and the world as it really is.
(We didn't know this!)
The first reference to a cat's cradle is in Abraham Tucker's The light of nature pursued, published in 1768, where he describes the game as "an ingenious play they call cat's cradle; one ties the two ends of a packthread together, and then winds it about his fingers….”.
But where did the phrase originate - and how did it come to be associated with the ubiquitous string game?
Short answer? No one knows. In fact, we know a lot more about where it didn't originate than we do about where it did come from!
The Oxford Dictionary of Etymology assures us there is no truth to the rumor that cat's cradle is a corruption of an old French phrase for the baby Jesus' manger - créche cradle - even though arguments could be made that the string game looks loosely like it could be a cradle. (We didn't know this either!)
And a brief reference in the Times of India claims it comes from the socio-religious activity of a small group of ancient Greeks... but sadly, it offers no proof.
|gratuitous shot of kittens in a cradle, courtesy of Photoshop and 2 pics:|
public domain and Creative Commons :-)
Similarly, a U.K. site claims it originated as an old European folk superstition that claimed if a cat were rocked in a cradle in the newlyweds’ house immediately following the ceremony, the union would be fertile. However, no documentation has been found to substantiate it.
Still, it makes for an interesting story!
And so the mystery of why a child's string game was named "cat's cradle" lives on.
Times of India