a deadly game of cat and mouse

Sun Jan 24 06:29:39 UTC 2010

"Game of cat and mouse," without "deadly," is older, of course; OED has it back to 1887 (under the entry for "cat"), and Wilkie Collins used it in his contribution to The Haunted House (1859).
But I never previously realized that this was a literal game.  From the March 1878 issue of Golden Hours, via Google Books:
<<The Game of Cat and Mouse.

Al.L the players but two join hands in a ring. One is inside, and is called the Mouse, another is outside and is called the Cat.

The players begin the game by turning round ihe circle rapidly, raising their arms. The Cat springs in at one side of the ring, and the Mouse jumps out at the other. The players then suddenly lower their arms, so as to keep Ihe Cat in. The Cat goes round and round, trying to get out; and as the circle of players is in motion all the lime, she is sure to find a place to break through at, if she is a sharpsighted Cat. As soon as she gets through, she chases the Mouse, who tries to save herself by getting inside the circle again.

To let her in, the players raise their arms. If she gets in without the Cat being able to get in after her, the Cat must pay a forfeit, and try again. Then the players name the other players for the next game,-the new ones fall into a circle, and the game goes on as before.

The Cat should be one of the elder children of the party, and the Mouse a younger boy or girl.>>


John Baker




From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Sat 1/23/2010 9:04 PM
Subject: a deadly game of cat and mouse

Hearing this cliche' on TV for the nth and final time I can stand it just
now, I decided to look into the problem.

The earliest I could come up with was in Michael O'Malley & Ralph Lane's
"Vic Flint"  strip in the _Clovis (N.M.) News-Journal_ of July 11, 1948 (via
Newspaper Archive): "Inside the Crystal Lake Amusement Park a deadly game of
cat and mouse was in progress."

It seems to have taken off almost instantly, though high-class periodicals
like the N.Y. Times were slow on the uptake.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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