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Poor as a church mouse

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 09, 2009 at 19:08

In Reply to: Poor as a church mouse posted by ESC on April 06, 2009 at 21:40:

: : : Poor as a church mouse - where did it originate and exactly why a church mouse is so poor? Is it because there is no food in the church, and what?

: :
: : The Oxford English Dictionary has this:

: : "A mouse which inhabits a church. The proverb 'as poor as a church-mouse' is found also in German, and other langs."

: : The first citation they give of its use in English is from 1731.

: : If a mouse tries to survive in a church, it will presumably find little food. Even in our time, when church suppers and socials and picnics are common, the food is not actually stored in the church, but in an annex of some kind--if it is stored on the premises at all, and not solely in the homes of the parishioners.

: : Of course, there may not be such a thing as a church mouse. Even an animal as stupid as a mouse is not going to stay long where food is so scarce. However, I'm prepared to have someone more familiar with churches than I am say that they have personally seen mice scurrying about in some church.

: I haven't seen mice. But I attended a church -- located near the Kentucky River -- that had river rats down in the basement. Or at least that's what the minister said and ministers don't lie.

: The phrase "poor as a church mouse" dates back to the seventeenth century. "...James Howell's 1659 proverb collection states it as 'hungry' as a church mouse..." "Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches," second edition, edited by Christine Ammer, Checkmark Books, New York, 2006. Page 333. Ms. Ammer's theory is the same as stated above: there's no food storage at the church.

: (I would like to deviate a little and address the part about animals not being stupid enough to stay around where there's no food. Online today I read a story about a dog who fell overboard, swam five miles to an island and survived by killing and eating feral baby goats. That was characterized as "amazing." Swimming five miles might be amazing. But a hungry dog killing and eating a goat isn't amazing. It's what dogs do.)

I don't know if it is amazing or not. But an animal socialized only to the humans who feed it at a young age may not easily learn how to kill for food. If you watch "Growing Up ________" on Animal Planet (and you certainly should) you will see numerous cases of animals orphaned who have notlearned to hunt, and have to be taught, rarely by humans, but mostly by being inserted into a group of wild adults, or apprenticed to an adult. The story of Christian the Lion, if I remember correctly, shows him learning to hunt from an adult mentor. So it is not entirely implausible that a hungry dog, learning to attack and kill kids, could be considered amazing, even though dogs are predators by inheritance, and practice nunting skills in their play as pups.

But hunger makes you desperate, so even humans, when sufficiently hungry, will attack and kill whatever they can, including other humans. Dogs, too, are known to become cannibals to survive. What's amzaing, perhaps, is that the author of the story didn't think things through. Still, what a dog!