phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

"Let the Cat Out of the Bag"

Posted by Israel Cohen on May 13, 2001

In Reply to: "Let the Cat Out of the Bag" posted by ESC on April 27, 2001

Timothy Mason wrote:
> izzy wrote:
>> "Random House does include the slang (vulgar) definition for
>> "pussy" with the etymology: [1875-80; perh. > = vulva, akin to LG puse = vulva, OE pusa = bag; see PURSE].
>> I suggest this word is also related to Heb peh-sof."

> Izzy, much as I've been enjoying this stuff, you've left a chink in
> your armour here. In French, the term 'chatte' is equivalent to the
> English 'pussy'. I would be interested to see what you can do with that.

It seems I've let the pussy-cat out of the OE pusa = bag. :-)
Heb SaKiT = small bag or sack.

As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with 7 wives.
Each wife had 7 sacks, each sack had 7 cats,
Each cat had 7 kits.
Kits, cats, sacks and wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?
Ans: Just me(ow!). All the rest were returning from there.

The French chat (m) / chatte (f) is a 4-legged cat.
I don't know what other meanings this French word has.
That is, I don't know if Fr chat/chatte is a homonym.
Of course, it is equivalent to the Eng 4-legged pussy-cat.
Can one make a "catty" remark in French ? :-)

The Heb word for cat is het-saf-lamed KHaSooL.
Perhaps it was named for the kHiSSing sound it makes?
Today it is pronounced KHaTooL, which sounds more like cat.
But I think it is cognate with the Germanic WeaSeL, which
also eats rodents. It should also be cognate with the French
chasser = hunt, chase, drive away. That is, the cat is a
CHaSer and CATcher.

Isaac Mozeson derives Eng kitten from Heb kuf-tet-nun KaTaN
= small. He says the term is applied to other small animals.
But in this case, I find the standard etymology via MF chitoun
= small cat to be more likely.

To let the cat out of the bag is to betray (a confidence/secret)
by telling the truth. The Aramaic word for truth is kuf-shin-oh-taf
KiSHoT. But the ancient shin had a dental D/T sound. So, it
sounded somewhat like KaTouT. The Hebrew word for betray
is bet-gimel-dalet BaGaD. Drop the final dental (French does
this routinely ?) and you are left with "cat out (of the) bag".

BGD is also a Hebrew homonym. BeGeD means "clothes".
But that's another story.

Israel Cohen
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