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Cat's paw

Posted by ESC on March 11, 2004

In Reply to: Cat's paw posted by ESC on March 11, 2004

: : There is a term that has been used in employment discrimination case law to describe a situation where someone who decides to fire an employee acts upon recommendation of the employee's supervisor, and therefore acts as the conduit of the supervisor's prejudice - his "cat's paw." Does anyone know the origin of this phrase? Thanks.

: Merriam-Webster online line says: 2. from the fable of the monkey that used a cat's paw to draw chestnuts from the fire. One used by another as a tool.

From Word Detective online at

It seems that although cats in mythology and folklore are generally portrayed as wily, clever, resourceful and sophisticated, the story behind "cat's paw" is an exception to the rule, and not one that any self-respecting cat would want on his resume. An ancient fable tells the story of a monkey who came upon some chestnuts roasting in a fire. Lacking the means to retrieve the tasty chestnuts from the fire, the clever monkey managed to convince a somewhat dim cat to reach into the flames with his paw and fetch them. The monkey got his chestnuts, the cat was rewarded with a nasty hotfoot, and a metaphor for "chump" was born. While the original "cat's paw" was someone who is tricked into doing something dangerous or foolish on behalf of someone else, the term has broadened somewhat over the years...