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(Proverb) "A cat can look at a king" Options
TheParser
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 10:24:46 AM
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Joined: 9/21/2012
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NOT A TEACHER

Dear Fellow Learners:


That is a beautiful sounding proverb, isn't it?

The only problem: Many sources say that no one knows exactly what it means!

Well, I have found a source that satisfies me. May I share it with you?


*****

"The proverb originated in Ireland, based on the observation that by nature cats are not obsequious [super respectful] and are certainly not impressed with anyone's human status.

Based on this, the proverb indicates that even the most important of people can be looked at by ordinary folk."


-- Max Cryer, The Cat's Out of the Bag (2015) (Courtesy of Google "Books").

*****

I also have read on the Web that a real-life example would be the following fact:

In some countries, ordinary people are allowed to sign petitions to be sent to the government asking that the government do something or not do something.

*****

NOTES:

1. In the 1960s, the leader of a certain country ordered that all windows be closed when he was driven down the street. It may have been for security reasons and maybe he also felt that someone on the second floor, for example, should not look down on him.

2. I have read that in olden days, kings and queens did NOT eat in front of ordinary people. If we ordinary people saw them eating, we might be reminded that they were just human beings like us. Of course, things have changed. A few years ago, I saw a video or photograph (I forget which) of Queen Elizabeth II eating in a lunch room of an institution that she was visiting.


I wish you a pleasant new week!
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 10:47:21 AM

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Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
It's true that "in olden days" (I really have no idea of when it started or when it dropped out of fashion) it was a rule that common people should look downcast and not look directly at High Priests and royalty. I'm pretty certain it was true as early as the Egyptian major dynasties - and as late as the middle ages in Europe, but it may well be much wider-spread than that.

The proverb is probably known to most from the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland, but it was obviously known in 1652 . . .



Wyrd bið ful aræd - bull!
TheParser
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 11:24:29 AM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/21/2012
Posts: 4,002
Neurons: 18,749


it was obviously known in 1652 . . .

[/quote]




Thank you very much for the comments and illustrations.


My source claims that it was written as early as 1546: "A cat maie [may] look on a king, ye [you] know."




Have a nice new week!
TheParser
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 11:25:15 AM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/21/2012
Posts: 4,002
Neurons: 18,749


it was obviously known in 1652 . . .

[/quote]




Thank you very much for the comments and illustrations.


My source claims that it was written as early as 1546: "A cat maie [may] look on a king, ye [you] know."




Have a nice new week!
Romany
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 12:41:54 PM
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Location: Brighton, England, United Kingdom


Indeed Weldon's political pamphlet which was published in 1652 is where the saying originated: of course one would have to read it to understand what he meant by it.Whistle

It was part of the anti-Scots, anti-Stuart rebellion, and was written as a satire - and it is Weldon's meaning that Shakespeare refers to: a kind of "No harm in looking". James the First was very antic in his dress so he courted public attention: this didn't mean it was 'bad' attention, but it didn't mean the population was conspiring against him either.

However 70 years later when Bailey wrote a book of sayings, he gave the meaning more as an encomium on good manners!

I have no idea where the story about the eye-raising came from?

It has been part of protocol from the time of the Norman Conquest that one doesn't look a monarch directly in the eye until spoken to. This probably came about to prevent young, hot-headed nobles with a grievance appearing combatative or insolent. I can't see a correlation there myself.

Because there has always been speculation about the actual meaning I have never used this expression myself but, if I read it, context usually clarifies meaning. Because, of course, apart from not being sure of its actual meaning, one is also unsure of what the other person meant when they used it.d'oh!

kaNNa
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 1:01:16 PM

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Joined: 7/30/2010
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[quote=TheParser]

A cat may look at a king
Meaning

An inferior isn't completely restricted in what they may do in the presence of a superior.
Origin

The origin of this proverb is unknown. What is known is that it is found first in print in a famous early collection of English proverbs, The Proverbs And Epigrams Of John Heywood, 1562:

Some hear and see him whom he heareth nor seeth not
But fields have eyes and woods have ears, ye wot
And also on my maids he is ever tooting.
Can ye judge a man, (quoth I), by his looking?
What, a cat may look on a king, ye know!
My cat's leering look, (quoth she), at first show,
Showeth me that my cat goeth a caterwauling;
And specially by his manner of drawing
To Madge, my fair maid.

In 1713, Oswald Dykes published English proverbs with moral reflexions. This used various well-known proverbs as a starting point for Dykes' to pronounce his political and social values. In this extract it isn't clear which king he was protecting, as Queen Anne was the British monarch at the time:

Tis very true, Kings do not use to call Cats to an Account for their looks, or their undistinguishing Boldness: But there are many Cats of this Kind, which are too much made of, indulg'd, and encourag'd, 'till they fly at last in the Face of sacred Majesty. In this Sense, it is a true-blue Protestant-Proverb. I do not know whether it was calculated for the Rabble or not; to pur and mew like Cats about a Throne, 'till at length they scratch the Hand that strokes them, and mob their Protector. However, there has been ill use made on't; and it has often been extravagantly misapply'd to Outrage and Violence upon a King's Person, as well in Print, as in some Peoples Mouths.

A good day
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 1:23:41 PM

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Joined: 9/12/2011
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Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
Well - in Heywood's epigram, it seems to be saying "You never know who might be watching you or what their intentions are" - or something like that.

Dykes seems to have (as you say, kaNNa) just used it as an excuse to give a political rant.

Aye, Romany, the Stuarts were all rather 'foppish' at least by modern standards, and by the standards of your common-or-garden Englishman or Scotsman of their era.
James VI doesn't look half a pretty as Prince Charlie Stuart (would you believe Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart?)

Not exactly 'Wallace-types' are they?



Wyrd bið ful aræd - bull!
NKM
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 1:43:50 PM

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Even if no commoner can look at the king with impunity, any cat may freely do so (and get away with it).

TheParser
Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 4:36:45 PM
Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/21/2012
Posts: 4,002
Neurons: 18,749

Thank you, kaNNA, very much for that comprehensive post.

I am understanding this proverb more and more.


I also wish you a good day!


*****


Thanks, NKM, for that pithy explanation.


A good day to you, too!
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