Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday Trivia: Cat's Cradle

You've heard of the cat's cradle, you probably played the string game as a child.  According to Joaquin Espinosa of the National Anthropological Archives, versions of this game can be found all over the world in various cultures.

From My Book of Indoor Games by Clarence Squareman, 1916.
Public Domain.

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.
Study Mode
Smithsonian Institute
Times of India
Paws Online



  1. That is a mystery...i would have thought that a phrase that common would have a traceable history...Interesting!

  2. We use to play that. Fond memories of care free times. Have a terrific Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. Cool! Me has wondered about that too!

  4. That's really interesting. We totally used to play Cats Cradle when we were kids!

  5. Very interesting and informative. Mom said she heard the European superstition before, maybe in a movie. The photo of the kittens in the cradle is priceless and purrfectly appropriate. Purrs and hugs from the kitties at The Cat on My Head, Lily Olivia, Misty May, Mauricio, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Josette

  6. Did you know that more then once I have tried to figure out how to get a cradle into the foster room for neonatal kittens..but they all have slats big enough for kittens to wiggle through..

    1. Oh my cat! Seriously? Hey mom never tried to get *us* one. We think we were deprived as kittens. Maybe mommy should buy us extra treats to make up for it!

  7. I only know the Cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon. Little boy blue and the man in the moon.—the late Harry Chapin

  8. Well obviously it is a place that cats could cradle in. Right?

  9. Glogirly used to do that string thing when she was little. Always screwed it up too.

    LOVE LOVE Cathy Keisha's comment!!!
    RIP Harry.

    ; ) Katie

  10. You've bought back some childhood memories for Typist - however she could only ever get about three moves completed before it all went very wrong!

  11. I use to play that when I was little :) xx00xx

    Mollie and Alfie

  12. That was quite the interesting post. And we cats stay, as always, just beyond understanding

  13. And we cats stay, as always, just beyond understanding


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