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Re: Smile like a cheshire cat

Posted by ESC on December 19, 1999

In Reply to: Re: Smile like a cheshire cat posted by Bob on December 19, 1999

: : : I belive the true origin of smile like a cheshire cat actually comes way before Lewis Carroll wrote his books on Alice's adventures in Wonderland. I belive it was a court jester whose name was Cat Kaitlin from Cheshire. People wanted to be as happy as the court jester and the term smile like the Cheshire cat was this a tribute to him.

: : : Let me know

: : All my efforts to verify that a court jester named Cat Kaitlin ever existed have come to nought. However Kaitlin is a a variant of the Celtic name Kathleen and also has Greek origins. It certainly does not appear very high in the ranking of popular family names in Cheshire: in fact I've not found it at all, not even skulking at the bottom of the list.

: : Where am I going wrong? Where's the evidence?

: I can't find my copy of Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice anywhere, but if someone has a copy at hand I believe there's a footnote explaining why the Cheshire cat is from Cheshire. If memory serves. (Of course, that's same memory that misplaced the book....)

I too have misplaced my Annotated Alice (recently purchased at "On Cue." I wanted to see what year Mr. Carrol published the work. Whoever finds his/her copy first wins a year's free subscription to Phrase Finder. Anyway, here's what I've found so far:
TO GRIN LIKE A CHESHIRE CAT - According to Charles Earle Funk in "A Hog on Ice," (Harper & Row, 1948), "Lewis Carrol popularized the Cheshire cat in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,' in which the grinning cat disappeared gradually from Alice's view and the last to vanish was the grin, but the saying is much older than this account. It has been traced back to the writings of John Wolcot, better known under his pseudonym, Peter Pindar, whose numerous satires appeared between 1782 and 1819. But the saying must have originated some time before Wolcot's use, for by 1850, when people began to be interested in seeking its allusion, no grandsire or grandam could be found who has positive knowledge. One novel opinion was that, because Cheshire was a country palatine - that is, had regal privileges - the cats, when they thought of it, were so tickled that they couldn't help grinning. But the most likely opinion was that some influential family in Cheshire, with a lion rampant as its crest, employed some sign painter to paint the crest on the signboards of many of the inns. The painter was none too sure of the appearance of a lion and the final result looked, to the country folk, like an attempt to depict a grinning cat."