Drink a cat

Here's an entry from MAEDA Isamu 前田勇's Edo dictionary that belongs to the ages:


Drink a cat. Meaning unknown. 1781, Yanagi-daru XVI: "Sudden well-cleaning/ The whole tenement/ Drinks cat."

"Meaning unknown." Gee, thanks a lot, Maeda. (Also, couldn't the cited usage example be interpreted as a story told in reverse about a well into which a cat fell, necessitating an immediate and thorough cleaning?)

Other great cat-related idioms (though not from Maeda's book):

  • "Cat" (neko) = "Geisha." Because geisha play shamisen, and the resonatey part of a shamisen is made by stretching catskin over a wooden frame.
  • "Cat poop" (nekobaba) = "Hidden [and usually ill-gotten] assets." Probably originally referred to literally burying stolen money and goods to keep them safe and hidden, but nowadays refers more often to white-collar theft: embezzling, tax avoidance, etc.

Note that Everything2's claim that baba actually means "old woman" here is unnecessary madness. Baba is baby talk for feces, cats bury feces, apply Occam's razor to taste.

Popularity factor: 11


I recall a few years ago seeing a show in Japan where they had hidden cameras in a supermarket to catch shoplifters. When they caught an old lady trying to steal some snacks, the narrator clearly called her 「猫ババ」. Is that a play on words, or the writers for the show now knowing the correct definition of the word?


But no mention of 猫舌, of which it is said that all gaijin are? (At least when trying to arrange soup for catering a mixed party.) Of course, perhaps that is not a <i>great</i> cat-related idiom.


Could there be a borrowing from Russian? "Baba" (and the diminutive "babushka") means "grandmother" or "old woman" in Ukrainian and Russian.


Might a good translation of 猫舌 be, "pussy about flavors"?

Leonardo Boiko:

Carl: nekojita is about temperature, not flavor. I’m a nekojita tea-lover, which is an odd combination.


I am a fan of 猫かぶり. And of course, 猫む. They told me it's written 寝込む, but what do they know...


Derek: Must be a play on words, I think.

Brian: Nah, I think this is just one of those baby-talk-derived coincidences. I'm pretty sure "baba" has been in Japanese for at least a thousand years.

MMS: Right, not great. See, this blog is like the Pitchfork Media of Japanese words, and "nekojita" is like a mid-90s Paul McCartney album.



I wonder if Maeda misheard someone talking about the whole tenement having fleas (neko-nomi), and just didn't know the word for flea.


The following page has the same interpretation as yours. It says that the senryu depicts how residents in a tenement had to do thorough cleaning of their well when a cat died in it.


It seems that the residents did not notice the cat died in their well for a relatively long period, so they all had drunk water contaminated with "cat". Thus, ひと長屋猫を飲み (the whole (residents of the) tenement have drunk "cat").


So the meaning then is really very limited.


Yes, in that case it would be best translated as "to drink cat [residue]." Hardly worthy of a dictionary entry. Thanks for the link, Aki!

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