Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thursday Trivia: All Cats are Grey in the Dark

When someone uses the phrase, “all cats are grey in the dark,” they're telling you that what you can't see won't influence you. Darkness can serve as a great equalizer, preventing one from judging based on appearances.

So how did the cat get dragged into this saying, and by whom?

Many people attribute this to Benjamin Franklin, based on a rather racy letter to a friend in June of 1745, wherein he praises the merits of an older lover versus a younger one:

 “…it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one.
And as in the dark all Cats are grey….”

And while it's true this was the first known use of the term in the USA, it appeared over a hundred years earlier in the classic Spanish novel, Don Quixote:

"…it may be that Sancho the squire will get to heaven sooner than Sancho the governor. ‘They make as good bread here as in France,’ and ‘by night all cats are grey’ … for when we go to our graves we all pack ourselves up and make ourselves small, or rather they pack us up and make us small in spite of us, and then — good night to us."

But you need to go back yet another hundred years to arrive at its earliest known use in print.

John Heywood, public domain
Many reputable scholars believe this was penned by an entertainer in the royal court of Henry the Eighth - a man by the name of John Heywood.

Heywood gathered proverbs and wrote plays in his spare time. One such book published in 1546 was a 200+ page collection of proverbs … on the topic of marriage!

Inside A dialogue of the effectual proverbs in the English tongue concerning marriage, Heywood writes,

“To take lack of beauty but as an eye sore, 
  the fair and the foul by dark are like store; 
  when all candles be out all cats be grey.” 

We'd like to tell you our research ended there, but we did find one reference that claims the saying was included in a book of proverbs compiled by Dutch Renaissance humanist and theologian Desiderius Erasmus - published 10 years earlier (1536).

As the book, entitled Adagiorum chiliades (or "Thousands of proverbs") is considered by some to be the most monumental collection of proverbs and sayings ever assembled, we won't argue the point.

But after some pretty long searches we gave up on trying to find the exact quote.

Of course this might possibly be hindered by the fact it was written in Latin and we're only fluent in English and Kittenese!

By the way...
Allie is of the opinion that "all cats are grey in the dark" implies that all Fashionable Felines are of the grey persuasion.

Faraday and Maxwell are actually a bit afraid to argue the point with her.
Any takers?

The Proverbs of John Heywood, John Heywood, 1546. Edited, with notes and introduction, by Julian Sharman. London, George Bell and Sons. York Street, Covent Garden, 1874. Page 13.

A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America. Schiff, Stacy, 2005. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805066330. Page 236.

Swarthmore College Social Sciences page, Swarthmore, PA


  1. Ha ha Allie we think you might be right. Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. This was a new one on me but Allie must be the expert so I'll go along with her today :)

  3. This is a new one for us.
    Here at the Townhouse, all cats are CRAZY in the dark.
    ; )

  4. Allie's never wrong and I won't argue with her :) xxooxxx

    Mollie and Alfie

  5. Um, maybe this is one point we won't argue. This one goes to you, Allie!

  6. Nah, we don't wanna mess with Allie. ;)

  7. Mom says she cannot ever remember hearing this saying before. She does always enjoy these posts and how you really work to dig out the origins of these various expressions. Purrs and hugs, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

  8. The Human says this was real inneresting, but it made my head hurt. I liked the picture of Allie, though! XOXOXO

  9. It is wise to NOT disagree with Allie, we think. ;)

  10. How about the saying, "All humans are clueless in the dark" - do you know where that one came from? If you guessed me, you would be right!

  11. BOL, nope we will leave you guys to figure that one out!!

  12. We had heard this before, but had never thought of researching it. We admire your dedication!

  13. It's not always the case, but the expression in French is exactly (well, almost) the same: "la nuit, tous les chats sont gris" (at night, all cats are grey).
    Thanks for your research! It's very interesting!

  14. We are sure the pink toesies would show up even in the dark. ;)


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