Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thursday Trivia: When the Cat's Away

"When the cat's away, the mice will play."

In other words, when the boss isn’t around, the workers will play hooky!

Now there's a concept a cat would have a hard time understanding. No cat ever altered his behavior around a supervisor, that's for sure!

So where does this phrase originate?

Mouse, meet cat!

In the book, “Proverbs Speak Louder Than Words,” author Wolfgang Mieder states the phrase can be traced back to medieval Latin – Dum felis dormit, mus gaudet et exsi litantro, 'When the cat falls asleep, the mouse rejoices and leaps from the hole'.

From there, it was translated into the vernacular language of most European countries. Its earliest written form dates back to the early 14th century with this French iteration: Ou chat na rat regne, 'Where there is no cat, the rat is king'.

But its most famous historical usage is by the Bard himself, in the play Henry the Fifth:

Westmoreland, speaking with King Henry V, 
Gloucester, Bedford, Exeter and Warwick

"But there's a saying very old and true,
'If that you will France win,
Then with Scotland first begin:'

For once the eagle England being in prey,
To her unguarded nest the weasel Scot
Comes sneaking and so sucks her princely eggs,
Playing the mouse in absence of the cat,
To tear and havoc more than she can eat. "

What we found most fun about this particular phrase was to see how its exact translation varies from country to country:

French: Quand le chat n'est pas là, les souris dansent.
(word for word: When the cat isn't there, the mice dance)

Finnish: Kun kissa on poissa, hiiret hyppivät pöydällä
(When the cat is away, the mice are jumping on the table)

Russian: Без кота мышам раздолье. [bez kata mysham razdolje]
(Without a cat there is freedom/spaciousness for mice)

Portuguese: quando o gato sai, os ratos fazem a festa
(literally, when the cat goes out, the mice/rats make a party

Turkish:  Kedi olmayınca fareler cirit atar
(literally, when the cat doesn't exist, the mice throw javelins)

We like the Turkish version best, how about you?

Allie: "I never met a mouse I didn't like." (of course, pink ones are even better!)

No matter what language you use, one thing is abundantly clear.
Without the cat, chaos reigns!


“Proverbs Speak Louder Than Words,” Wolfgang Mieder, Jul 23, 2008, page 125.
Word Reference Forums


  1. LOL. You insult our pack... Oh wait, that's partly true... PARTLY.

  2. Well, we need cats to chase..BOL I'm s loving your nails, wonder if Humom will do mine :) xx0xx

    Mollie and Alfie

  3. The best one is yours - "Without the cat, chaos reigns!"

  4. This is all just proof that kitties keep the world from falling apart - it is known in every country!

  5. LOL mice throwing javelins. Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  6. Allie we agree whole heartedly with you!

  7. Hahaha! We thought the Turkish version was the funniest too!

  8. It's very interesting but my boys are asking the fundamental question "who would ever want a cat to be away?" :-)

  9. Love the final photo of you Allie…too, too cute. And like you, we like the Turkish translation best. Purrs and hugs, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Josette

  10. Hehe I kind of like the sound of that javelin throwing mice one too!

  11. I don't know which I like best, the Russian or the Turkish...well, what I really like best is your pretty pink toes and your matching necklace

  12. That is a very alluring picture of you sweetie. SMOOCH - sorry, I just couldn't help myself. Very interesting quote!

  13. We love your pink nails. Very ladylike!

  14. Well thankfully every culture understands that cats reign no matter which "world" they inhabit! Cats Rule!

    Allie, you are just too cute in all that pink. We bet you rule your world too :)

    the critters in the cottage xo

  15. We're MOL @ the mice dancing on the table and the ones throwing javelins!

    The Florida Furkids

  16. The Turkish is our fav too. If we go there, we are gong to bring a cat, just to insure we aren't hit by a javelin.

  17. I would like a translation that says when the cat cleverly hides, the mice come out to play and then the cat jumps out and bites off their little heads when they least expect it. Yep, that would be *my* favorite version! Heh heh.

  18. Is it wrong that I love the idea of mice sharing javelins?

  19. We thought the Portugese one made the most sense, but we also think "'When the cat falls asleep, the mouse rejoices and leaps from the hole" sounds really Maoist (Chinese Communist)... MOL!

  20. Hey !
    You forgot the swedish version !
    När katten är borta , dansar Råttorna på bordet :)
    What it means ??
    When the cat is away , the rats are dancig on the table :)

  21. When Glogirly's not looking, Waffles ALWAYS does something wrong. At least she's onto him.

    ...Allie, I do love your attention to detail when it comes to the finer things like nails, bling and mice.

    ; ) Katie


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