From cat + paw. In most senses, due to a resemblance of shape. In its senses as a pawn to another's interests or analysis, variant of earlier cat's-foot, derived from European tales of a monkey (attested as early as 1456 but sometimes misattributed to the 16th-century monkey of Pope Julius II) who used a sleeping puppy or cat's foot to rake hot chestnuts out of a fire, taken as a metaphor for rulers' ill use of their subjects. Now usually understood in light of Jean de La Fontaine's 1679 fable of the "The Monkey and the Cat" (sometimes misattributed to Aesop), in which the monkey fools the cat into removing the chestnuts through flattery and promises of shared reward. The cat removes the chestnuts one by one, burning his paw while the monkey eats each in turn. A maid then enters and chases them both away. La Fontaine's moral concludes that princes should not endure real losses for mere flattery from their king.
cat's-paw (plural cat's-paws or cats'-paws)
- A paw of a cat.
- (figuratively) Someone who acts in another's interest, (properly) unknowingly or through trickery.
- 1622, James Mabbe translating Mateo Alemán as The Rogue, Vol. II, p. 167:
- To take the Cat by the foote, and therewith rake the coales out of the Ouen.
1657, Michael Hawke, Killing is Murder and No Murder, page 3:
- These he useth as the Monkey did the Cats paw, to scrape the nuts out of the fire.
- 1836, Charles Richardson, A New Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. "Cat":
- Cat's-paw, common in vulgar speech, but not in writing.
- (nautical) A minor breeze that ripples the surface of a body of water.
1769, William Falconer, An Universal Dictionary of the Marine:
- Cats-paw, a light air of wind perceived... by the impression made on the surface of the sea, which it sweeps very lightly, and then decays.
- (nautical) A twisting variant of the lark's-foot hitch which forms two small bights used to hook a pair of tackles to a rope.
- (figuratively, uncommon) Someone or something that comes down quickly upon a victim in the manner of a cat's paw.
- (US carpentry) A small crowbar with a handle at a right angle to a blade with a V-shaped notch, principally used by carpenters to remove nails.
- 1954 November 10, U.S. Patent Office, Official Gazette, p. 321:
- Filed Dec. 13, 1952. Cat's Paw. For Hand Tools for Pulling Nails and Spikes.
- (historical weaponry, torture) A metal set of claws worn over the hand or wielded in the hand used to remove skin and flesh.
- (US law) A supervisor whose reliance on a subordinate's analysis is so complete as to render him or her liable for the subordinate's animus or other misconduct towards a third employee.
- Any of several species of North American freshwater mussels of the genus Epioblasma, especially E. obliquata.
- Any of several species of Australian bloodworts of the genus Anigozanthos, especially A. humilis.
someone who acts in another's interest
someone who comes down upon a victim
small crowbar for pulling nails
law: supervisor liable for subordinate's misconduct
mussel of the genus Epioblasma
bloodwort of the genus Anigozanthos