The Cheshire Cat Grin

In response to the article about Cheshire cats grinning, I feel the need to add that when the article says Cheshire cats come from a “grinning cat” mold that Cheshire used for their cheese, it’s overlooking a related and more obvious explanation.

As the article says, Cheshire was (is? Hell if I know) a dairy county in England, which is famous for cheese. And as most of us know, cheese means there’s a lot of milk around just waiting to get ripe. And because of the whole “cats love milk” thing, a cat in Cheshire would be happy, and from there it’s not a far reach to say they grin. Thus, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

I know most of you will think this comment is highly insignificant, but you are obviously unlearned in the subtle arts of nitpicking and giving information nobody cares about.

Except that there are tons of counties in England which are “dairy counties” and thus would be equally home to grinning cats, so why a Cheshire cat as the prototypical grinning cat. In addition to which, it’s not like the milk in those counties just lies around, for cats to harvest.

There is a difference between “obvious” explanation and “contrived” explanation. At the Straight Dope, we know that difference. It’s almost one of our crusading issues, really. :wink:

True enough. But if someone wanted to say “grinning like a dairy county cat”, they’d be likely to just pick one after a while instead of saying “dairy county”.

The devil you say!

But seriously, the milk is still around, very probably in huge amounts. And the thing about cats and milk is fairly deep-set in people’s minds (though I’m not sure it was the same in the time the phrase originated). Not too long a stretch as to be implausible, in my mind. In fact, compared to most other phrase origins, it seems downright logical.

Seems logical and is logical and, for that matter, is true are all different and just because one holds it does not mean that one or both follow. Do you have anything stronger than “seems logical” to buttress your case?

Right. Straight Dope etymology has never strayed into the realm of guesswork drawn from logical conclusions. I don’t know where my head was at. My mistake, to be sure.

You might want to read this thread to see how experts approach the question of phrase origins.

What you’re doing is called folk etymology or false etymology or pulling things out of one’s ass. Nobody is going to take it seriously even for a second, I’m afraid.

It’s about at a par with your math. :smiley:

Do you have an example?

Oh, one or two.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/756/whats-the-origin-of-honky (the second one)

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1628/whats-the-origin-of-xxx-as-in-porn-movies-and-booze (the bit about porn)

If you want more, I suggest going to the archive and searching for “etymology”. These are just the ones off the first page. And surely, if some of this crapola can be let in, the link between cats and milk deserves a mention.

Actually no, they’re not crapola. They’re the result of actual research and scientific inquiry, not someone sitting on a couch thinking up possibilities. Notice how the majority of them cite sources and the others are prefaced with words like possible or probable?

Edit: I was actually wondering if you had examples of threads where posters had done this. Cecil does what he wants.

  1. They don’t cite sources. Or if they do, the sources don’t point definitively enough to the conclusion to be convincing. That’s why I chose them.

  2. So if I add “possibly” or “probably”, you’ll be happy? Righto then. The Cheshire cat thing POSSIBLY comes from the link between cats and milk. Glad that’s cleared up.

Are you reading the same columns I’m reading? In some Cecil pulls quotes from books to support the etymology. That would be a cite. In the uncited ones he gives possibilities but he doesn’t say they’re right, just that they’re possibilities. Presumably they’re also from books or maybe he pulled them from some unsavory website. Who knows. We’re supposed to believe that Cecil knows everything and so not citing stuff is a way that they continue that mystique. I don’t particularly care for it but I’ve grown less fond of Cecil.

That’s not what you said before. Now if you wanted to say, “It’s possible the phrase ‘grinning like a cheshire cat’ comes from the fact that Cheshire is a dairy county and cats quite enjoy milk, which Cheshire County has in abundance.” I’d be ok with that as long as you remember that what is possible is not always probable.

Duly noted. I figured the indication of possibility instead of concrete, incontrovertible fact was obvious enough.

I don’t think you will find anyone like that on this site.

Just to update Cecil’s 33-year-old cite, it was a phrase which was well-known in England by 1788. See Francis Grose’s Dictionary from 1788.

http://books.google.com/books?id=4HoSAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:grose&lr=&as_drrb_is=b&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=1700&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=1790&num=50&as_brr=0&cd=3#v=onepage&q=cheshire&f=false

Who the hell cares about what is “logical?” :eek::dubious:

I can think up perfectly “logical” explanations for any number of phrases. I can think up at least three “logical” explanations for the origin of the phrase under consideration here, none of which involves your particular “logic.”

Logical != probable

Probable != actual

You should know that this Message Board has a few very well-regarded etymology hobbiests, who have sleuthed out a number of word/phrase origins. It’s not something we’re unfamiliar with. And we understand that the “Straight Dope” on such an issue doesn’t involve guessing at “logical” possibilities. :wink:

I think it’s plausible there is a connection between a grinning cat and Cheshire being a dairy county. But the causation is not necessarily as you propose.

It’s plausible that the dairy in Cheshire picked a grinning cat as its symbol because cats love milk. Ergo, cheese was pressed into the shape of a grinning cat. Ergo, the phrase “Grinning like a Cheshire cat” is born from the cheese.

No, I don’t have any cites for this. But it’s as likely as the phrase developing from Cheshire being a dairy producer, and then the cheese shaped as a grinning cat coming from the phrase.

Wikipedia notes several theories for the origin of the phrase, none of them very persuasive:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheshire_Cat