I’ve always had cats. I’ve never tried to put them in a bag. I have a hard enough time trying to get our cat Darth into his carrier; I can’t imagine tossing him into a bag. So why would you put a cat in a bag, and what does letting him out have to do with revealing a secret?
It seems that this little phrase got its start in medieval times when folks bought their pigs and took them home in bags. When the little piggies had been purchased from reputable pork dealers, the cook would find a pig inside the bag. But… if it’d been a shady pig dealer? The cook would have to serve up kitty or maybe a little potato reprise.
Now, the skeptic’s response to this is that only the intellectually deprived could think that the weight of a pig and a cat were similar. But… if it were a small suckling pig, say one of those 10-15 pounders, then… it’s plausible.
Maybe it was kind of like Robin Hood, some do-gooder bag-emptier of long ago tipping over bags, letting the cats go splat so that the deception would be revealed.
Now, there is another saying of old- ‘pig in a poke’ which means you should always examine the goods before leaving the store which originated about the same time. [The poke is the sack they took the pigs home in.]
If we put those two together then it seems like there was a real cat-for-pig swiping situation happening back in the day and that more than one clever catchy idiom was born from it.
There is some talk (on the web) that it might have something to do with the cat o’ nine tails (shortened to ‘cat’) being pulled out of its bag- because when your crime was revealed (and it was time for your punishment) they’d pull it out of the bag and you’d be whipped with it. But it seems the timing of that “cat’s” use doesn’t coincide with when the idiom started being used.
The truth is no one is completely sure, but I am siding with the pig-swindling explanation because I like the idea of that league of do-gooders trying to warn others of a potential bad buy, since I have a tendency to do the same if I’m out shopping.
What say you? Doth ye side with the swindlers of swine theory?
Comments & Suggestions always welcome. Christmas Contest ends 12/15.