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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cats in canoes

One of the cool things about Catholic school, back in my day, is we didn't have to take as many standardized tests, which meant our teachers didn't have to teach to the tests, which means we actually got to learn some.
Until Senior year, then we start taking AP tests, and then we start blowing time in class learning to take these tests. Or maybe I'm just bitter because I didn't do well on them. Anyway, one day we read this poem, and it's about a sailor. The teacher asks what it's about, and my astute friend Susan points this fact out. Our teacher (who was a totally sweet lady, actually) gives Susan the most pitying look and shakes her head. Apparently it was about Jesus. Or sex. Or both. I wish I remembered what the poem was. I bet it was about a sailor.
I'm back to the book Word Myths that I mentioned here. There's a chapter called Canoe, in which the author talks about all of the words and phrases that supposedly come from nautical stuff but don't. The phenomenon (seriously, I can spell apartheid right on the first try, but not phenomenon EVER) is so common that there's an acronym for it: CANOE - Conspiracy to Attribute Nautical Origins to Everything
One example is let the cat out of the bag. Apparently, folks think that the origin refers to the cat o' nine tails, and how if you were a naughty sailor and got caught, the captain would whip out the cat from the bag he kept it in. Not sure why you need the bag for a whip, it seems like the sort of thing you should just be able to hang on the wall. Anyway, the phrase doesn't come from there. I guess it used to be a thing to sell somebody a pig, then swap the pig for a cat all sneaky like, and people wouldn't notice until they got home and let the cat out. Which is why you should never buy a pig in a poke.
This seems equally unlikely, to anyone who has ever had a cat, or tried to stick one in a bag. I'd experiment with this by sticking my cat in a bag to see if it behaved the way a suckling pig might, but I value my eyeballs too much. Honestly, I would have thought the phrase came about for just that reason. You can hide a cat in a bag as long as you want, but as soon as you let that sumbitch out, all hell's gonna break loose.

Feral kitty at Wildwood State Park, and your squee for the day


Anonymous said...

Would that wacko teacher be Mrs. Buzalka by any chance? I seem to remember her trying to convince our class that the streetcar in Streetcar named Desire was both Jesus and a Penis. But that may be my brain taking artistic license.

Brigid said...

Lol, no it was senior year... and it wasn't the teacher being crazy as it was the AP test (and actually I'm not sure what it was supposed to be about, but Jesus and sex seem the likliest two).

Bob Haley said...

Ugh, the first part of the post reminded me of too many teachers who would ask what you thought a story/poem/movie/play/what-have-you was about only to turn around and tell you that you got it "wrong". There was of course only one interpretation and they should know because it says so in the teacher's edition of the textbook. I often felt that a whole lot of interesting discussions were sidelined in service of making sure everyone learned the "correct" answer. This was on the eve of standardized testing, but the writing was on the wall. I wish there was a nautical reference I could make here.

And I agree that the amount of effort needed to get a cat into a bag hardly seems worth whatever profit you're making on that pig grift.