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Cat's paw

Posted by ESC on March 12, 2004

In Reply to: Cat's paw posted by Henry on March 12, 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...

: : A cat and a monkey were sitting one day in the chimney corner watching some chestnuts which their master had laid down to roast in the ashes. The chestnuts had begun to burst with the heat, and the monkey said to the cat, "It is plain that your paws were made especially for pulling out those chestnuts. Do you reach forth and draw them out. Your paws are, indeed, exactly like our master's hands." The cat was greatly flattered by this speech, and reached forward for the tempting chestnuts, but scarcely had he touched the hot ashes than he drew back with a cry, for he had burnt his paw; but he tried again, and managed to pull one chestnut out; then he pulled another, and a third, though each time he singed the hair on his paws. When he could pull no more out he turned about and found that the .monkey had taken the time to crack the chestnuts and eat them.
: : "Fables from Aesop" at

: Cat's paw also has a couple of nautical meanings;
: A light ripple on a calm sea, indicating the end of the prevailing calm. Also a loop formed in a line or rope for attaching a hook, etc.

The Cat's Paw is a sports magazine. Go big blue.