|Three cats, one mouse. Unfair odds?|
That form of the phrase can only be traced back that far in published literature, according to Merriam-Webster and Omnilexica.
What we found even more interesting is its definition. There’s its traditional meaning, of course:
- ‘the act of toying with or tormenting something before destroying it’ (Merriam-Webster)
- ‘to engage in a gamelike relationship in which evasion and pursuit are used: They played cat and mouse for a while before she consented to go out with him.’ (Dictionary Reference)
But then we found out that Cat and Mouse is a children’s game dating back to 1910-1915. And it may sound familiar!
The mouse tells the cat, “you can’t catch me!” and the game is afoot. The mouse runs in and out of the circle and the cat must mimic it exactly or he loses.
If the cat manages to catch the mouse, he becomes the mouse and gets to choose a new cat.
A variant of this in Costa Rica has the circle as active participants, helping the mouse out by trying to block the cat by raising and lowering their joined arms.
Sounds a bit like an elaborate game of tag, doesn’t it?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online
Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society, Volume 1, Rodney P. Carlisle, page 119, Sage Publications, Inc, April 2, 2009