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Sailor's Jargon "Cat's Paws"

Our long association with the domestic cat has resulted in a lot of sayings and superstitions based on the cat. This may, in part, be due to people's perception of the cat as slightly mysterious and aloof. One saying is "cat's paws". Sailors used this phrase to mean flaws or ripples on the surface of water.  When the surface of the water was disturbed for a long time it was referred to a "cat's skin".

I am not sure where the "cat's paws" term came from except for the obvious: a cat will paw at water and disturb it causing it to ripple.

Apparently there is an old Hungarian proverb, "as a cat does not die in water, its paws disturb the surface" which is mean to be the origin of "cat's paws". Also this Hungarian phrase is meant to have led to sailors throwing cats in to a dead calm sea as a charm to change the weather.

On the subject of weather, an old phrase from some parts of England is a "cat's nose", which was a reference to a north-westerly wind. There are other associations between cat and weather for some strange reason.

For example, in Germany if it rained when women were putting the washing out to dry it was a sure sign that a cat had been ill-treated.

There are many other sayings that incorporate the cat. You can read about some at cat history.


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