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what does this funny expression mean?

“To have a cat in the throat” is one of those few expressions born of a confusion between two words. What linguistic mistake is this? When is it from? And why a cat in the throat and not a dog or any other animal ? Let’s discover the origin of a French phrase that is still relevant today.

What does the expression “to have a cat in the throat” mean?

The formula “to have a cat in the throat” describes the fact of being hoarse, to feel discomfort in the throat. Having the throat “seized” usually implies the presence of mucus that obstruct our respiratory tracts. This obstruction then makes it difficult to speak or it makes us speak with one voice. broken. For the record, the English have a frog dans la gorge (a frog in the throat) and the Italians… a toad (rospo)!

Why do we say “to have a cat in the throat”?

If we stick to an interpretation literal expression, we quickly understand the difficulty of expressing ourselves when a hairy animal clutters our throats. Of course, the expression is to be taken in the sense figurative ! Its origin is the subject of 3 hypotheses, only one of which is true. Details :

  • Hypothesis 1 draws an analogy between the kind of rattle issued by a hoarse person and the purring Of the cat. Speaking in a scratchy voice would thus make one think of the sound of a feline purring;
  • Hypothesis 2 refers to the Chas not the cat. The last consonant is not the only difference between the two words. The eye is not a feline but a dough formed by the grains of wheat that are softened in water to separate the starch from the gluten. After being pressed, the material forms a glue of starch once used by weavers. The whitish, lumpy substance has an appearance and texture identical to mucus. The cat in the throat would therefore come from the eye;
  • Hypothesis 3, confirmed by linguistic experts, is based on the explanation given by Pierre Guiraud in his book Les locutions françaises. According to the French linguist, the expression “have a cat in the throat” comes from a confusion between the words matou (cat in colloquial language) and maton.

What is a mason?

Nowadays, the slang term maton designates a guardian of prison but originally it had a completely different meaning. At the end of the XIand century, the dictionary of the time defined the maton as milk quail then milk in lumps. Gradually, the meaning of the word evolved, no longer being limited to the notion of lumps but encompassing all kinds ofcluster (of hair, wool, paper fibre, etc.) which cause obstruction orifices.

A guard, a tomcat or a cat in the throat?

When a person has a hoarse voice, it means that mucus is clogging their throat. The clear liquid and viscous has naturally been compared to lumps of milk (maton) and by extension, to a cluster likely to obstruct the vocal tract. It is of this comparison that was born the expression “to have a guard in the throat”. The fact that the spelling and the pronunciation are close, the terms maton and matou could be confused reading or hearing (paronymy). Over the decades, the master of expression has thus become catfamiliar name of the feline, to finally turn into a cat in the 19th century.and century.

Having a spade in the throat: examples of use

Quoted by many 19th century writersand century, period ofappearance of the phrase, “to have a spade in your throat” has gone through the decades. Today, it is used very commonly, probably more so than its “hoarse” equivalent. Some quotes excerpts from literary works:

  • ” Poor little girl ! She will have had a cat in her throat when she did her trill. » (George SandThe Countess of Rudolstadt, 1843);
  • “Poor gentlemen who are forbidden to smoke their cigars because the smoke might wake up the cat that the young lady has in her throat! (Roland Topor, Pense-bêtes, 1992);
  • “A furry cat? Or a furry cat? Lucile laughs at her slip, then laughs outright: Yesterday, I laughed a lot, because someone said “I have a cat in my throat!”. In the eye, in the throat… How many cats! “. (Christiane Barlow, The Cat and the Couch, 2013);
  • “I coughed all night and this morning my voice became weird. Mum said it didn’t matter, that I had “a cat in my throat”. – A spade in the throat? I asked, but how long will he stay? “. (Yann Walcker and ‎Tristan Mory, A cat in the throat, 2017);
  • ” Oh why ? – It’s Thursday ! Pass me the champagne, I have a cat in my throat. What’s your boyfriend’s name? – Which ? I sent him a flame, he replied cucumber, I replied heart, he subscribed. (Loic PrigentPass me the champagne, I have a cat in my throat, 2019);
  • “Suddenly, the expression ‘to have a cat in the throat’ took on its full meaning. I really had a cat in my throat, and I couldn’t get it out – the lozenges didn’t help. (Karine Glorieux, Mutants, 2020).

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