Thursday, September 13, 2007

Where does the expression “a cat has nine lives” come from?

Cats are often invoked for their suprising ability to survive adversity.

It is from this physical hardiness that, according to etymologists, the idea that a cat has nine lives originates.

Although the exact reasons for this choice of number have long ago forgotten, there are three possibilities:

a. This number have to be one of the many numbers that has traditional significance in Western culture, of which nine is among the most resonant.

b. While seven, for example, is almost always positive and 13 is almost always negative, nine can have both positive and negative connotations: for example, cloud nine versus the nine rivers of hell. This may reflect our ambivalent cultural attitude towards the cat.

c. Assonance often plays a role in such idioms. In this case, the long “i” in both nine and lives functions as a near rhyme, as is even more clear in “a stitch in time saves nine”.

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