all cats are grey in the dark

English

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Etymology

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A calque of French la nuit, tous les chats sont gris (at night, all cats are grey), sometimes understood with vulgar reference to secondary senses of cat and pussy.

Proverb

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all cats are grey in the dark

  1. (UK, sometimes vulgar and offensive) Sex is enjoyable regardless of the physical attractiveness or social station of one's partner.
    • 1562, John Heywood, A Dialogue Conteynyng the Number of the Effectuall Proverbes in the Englishe Tounge..., page 10:
      [Of a widow:] And to make carnall appetite content,
      To take lacke of beautie but as an eye ſore.
      The fayre and the foule, by darke are lyke ſtore.
      When all candels be out, all cats be grey,
      All thingis are then of one colour, as who ſey.
      And this prouerbe ſaith, for quenching hot deſyre,
      Foule water as ſoone as fayre, will quenche hot fyre.
    • 1611, John Davies, "Vpon Englishe Prouerbs", Scourge of Folly, §387:
      When all candles be out all catts be gray:’
      This none but careless leachers will say.
    • 1719, Peter Motteux & al. translating Miguel de Cervantes as The History of the Renowed Don Quixote de la Mancha, Vol. III, p. 307:
      There's as good Bread bak'd here as in France, and Joan’s as good as my Lady in the Dark. In the Night all Cats are grey. Unhappy's he that wants his Breakfaſt at Two in the Afternoon... Sancho’s proverbial aphoriſms, and the ſimple Waiting-Woman's Comment upon the Text, were no ſmall Diverſion to the Dutcheſs.
    • 1745 June 25, Benjamin Franklin, "Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress":
      The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.
    • 1796, "R.C." translating Marguerite de Lubert as Princess Coquedoeuf and Prince Bonbon: A History..., p. 8:
      ... at laft [King Croquignolet] gained intelligence of a famous wizard in the land of Gotham, a very prodigy of ſcience, to whom the world is indebted for old Robin's Almanack, the Court Calendar, the Attorney's Vade-Mecum, the Lady's Diary, and the Gentleman's Magazine... He firſt made known to mankind that after a ſtorm comes a calm; that it is day when the ſun is riſen; that dead men tell no tales; that ſhops ſhut are a ſure ſign of Sunday; that all cats are grey in the dark; that as ſoon as the ſun is ſet, there are many beaſts in the ſhade.
    • 1937, "They Order It Better in France", Esquire, Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 209:
      However—the Frenchman's a practical man... He's trained to spot the redeeming graces as adroitly as a highly bred pig sniffs truffles. And faced with the homeliest dame he'll work over her until he can say, "Yes—she's certainly homely, but she has 'delightful ears'"; or "and exciting back to her neck"; or "provocative biceps." And the worst he cares to admit about any woman is "Yes, she is very ugly, but she has 'something' (Elle a quelque chose)." And if you get him in a cynical but wholesome mood he'll indicate that after all, "All cats are grey at night!"
    • 1991, Marie-Christine Anna Agnes Hedwig Ida von Reibnitz, Cupid and the King, p. 56:
      In one poem, unjustly attributed to Voltaire, the regent was accused of conducting an affaire with his eldest daughter, the Duchesse de Berry, which seems to have been true. The libertine regent loved women, but none more than his remarkable mother Liselotte, and it was to her that he uttered the famous rebuke when she complained he chose such ugly mistresses: "Bah! Mama, all cats look gray in the dark!"
    • 2011, Wendy Doniger, The Uninvited Spider, page 31:
      "All Japanese look alike" is the racist counterpart to the sexist "In the dark, all cats are gray."
  2. (uncommon) Under some circumstances, individual distinctions no longer matter.
    • 1907, Israel Zangwill, Italian Fantasies, page 167:
      In such a darkness, in which all cats are grey, Lucrezia Borgia might well seem as white as a blue-eyed Persian. But the paradox remains that Corvo might not impossibly be right. As, but for superhuman strainings, Dreyfus might have gone down to history as a traitor to France, so may the Borgian Lucrezia have been as blameless as the Tarquinian to whom indeed Ariosto boldly compares her. The woman who protected the Jews during a famine, provided poor girls with dowries, passed evenings over her embroidery frame and held the esteem of the greatest poet and the greatest stylist of her day, may really have lived up to that washing list.
    • 1937, Arnold Gingrich, “Another Salute to the Living”, in Esquire, volume 8, number 3, page 5:
      No matter how capable and cultivated the mind, how subtle and sensitive the spirit, the individual Negro is still not free. "All cats are grey at night," and it is still long hours to go before dawn, over much of America. They order these things better in France. Double the honor, then, when a Negro succeeds, for half the strength of his genius must be spent in raising himself to the level of his inferiors, in overcoming the handicap of color.
    • 1961, Richard W. Gable, Plan for Research and Publications in Public Administration[1], page 12:
      Technical assistance operations were also a part of the aid the Economic Cooperation Administration was offering to Europe and Asia. Therefore, under the influence of what Philip Glick has called the "at-night-all-cats-are-grey argument" Point 4 was lumped together with economic and military assistance.

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