Well, oddly enough this one stumped us!
The definition was easy enough to track down. Noah Webster states it originated from a cat's famed ability to see in low light, or almost-dark conditions. And believe it or not, that was the earliest reference in print that we could find, only dating back to 1828.
We have Dictionary.com to thank for a brief reference to an origin date of around 1605, but the site didn't bother to explain to us why they chose that date, nor give us any specifics on where it was used.
Try as we might, the earliest use of this phrase in print that we could find (other than in a dictionary or reference book) is from Arthur Stringer’s The Prairie Wife, written in 1915.
And we know it was in use prior to that!
We suspect our inability to track this one down might stem from the fact that it is so ubiquitous.
|Faraday, being "cat-eyed" about it all.|
Oh, and no, cats cannot see "in the dark." They need some form of light, however weak, to make out objects. And cats like Faraday and Maxwell don't see as well in the dark as Allie does!
Webster, Noah. Entry for 'Cat-Eyed'. Noah Webster's American Dictionary. 1828.
Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Giving the Derivation, Source, Or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words that Have a Tale to Tell, by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer. Cassell, 1895.