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Walk the cat back

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 06, 2010 at 19:57

In Reply to: Walk the cat back posted by Baceseras on April 05, 2010 at 14:31:

: : Columnist Maureen Dowd, in the current New York Times, uses the phrase "to walk the cat back," apparently to suggest that a certain attempt to reverse a course of events is unlikely to succeed. I don't believe I've seen this one before, even though a simple Google search turns up many other instances of its use. It seems to imply a more structured approach to undoing perceived damage than would, say, "to put the cat back into the bag." Is this, indeed, what it means? Or is there a standard meaning for "to walk the cat back" of which I am not aware?

: [Robert Littell wrote a spy thriller called _Walking Back the Cat_, first published in 1997. That was my first time meeting the phrase. I seem to recall the author included a note on the title, giving his version of its meaning and provenance. It was current, if memory serves me, among government operators, who used it to mean attempting to retrace a process to its origin, when that process had been tentative and indirect in the first place. So, yes, unlikely to succeed. -Baceseras.]

The expression appeared in Maureen Dowd's New York Times column today (Tuesday). She was talking about the bizarre comparison made by the priest, Raniero Cantalamessa (whose last name translates to "Chants the Mass"). He compared the detractors of the Church in regard to priestly abuse of children to those [sc. Germans] who persecuted the Jews, a comparison which caused gasps even among Cantalamessa's fellow clergy. Said Dowd, 'Even the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, tried to walk the cat back. "I don't think it's an appropriate comparison."'