A few weeks ago I wrote about the French idiom "to call a cat a cat"--the equivalent of "to call a spade a spade" in English. Thanks to commenter Tim Hicks, I now know that the French also say "a cat in the pocket" to mean "a pig in a poke." (In German it's "a cat in a sack.") And I learned that when a French person has a cold, he has a cat--not a frog--in his throat. (No frog jokes, please.)
Now Jon Carroll points me to Beginning With I, a blog by Deirdré Straughan about Italy, India, and the Internet. Deirdré has some wonderful lore about Italian baby names (common, uncommon, and old-fashioned), an instructional dictionary of Italian slang and swear words, and a guide to Itlish (English terms commonly appropriated into Italian). And she considers a few Italian animal idioms, including this lost-in-translation gem:
"Non c'e' trippa per gatti."
Literally, it means "There's no tripe for cats," and Deirdré notes that it's used "when there's absolutely no hope that you'll get what you want." (I imagine the closest English equivalent would be "There's no rest for the weary," but it's a poor comparison.)
The deal is this: Tripe (that's mammal tummy to you picky eaters out there) is evidently so prized by Italians--and so coveted by their feline companions--that the humans feel compelled to guard it jealously and gloat about it. (Clearly, "trippa" lacks the secondary meaning of "tripe": utter nonsense.) I loved this story Deirdré tells:
At the European football championships in Athens (spring 2007), a group of Italian Milan fans unfurled a banner saying (in English) "There's no tripe for cats," meaning that there was no hope for the other team to win, though probably only the Italians understood it that way.
Indeed--although while investigating this idiom I discovered The Cat's Tripe, a British blog whose tagline is "What's left after the Cat is gone." But its author seems to have vegan tendencies. I cannot speak for his cat.
P.S. The English language is replete with feline idioms, too, including the one I've used in the title of this post. ("The cat's pajamas"--an American expression meaning "a remarkable person or thing"--dates back at least to 1900, as does "the cat's meow.")
For a long list of cat expressions, see this entry in The Mavens' Word of the Day , from Random House . Update: that link is broken now, so try this list of cat idioms from The Free Dictionary. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, originally published in Great Britain in 1870, lists about 50 cat idioms, including "a cat may look at a king," "no room to swing a cat," and "enough to make a cat laugh." According to Gerald Cohen of the University of Missouri-Rolla, a participant in the American Dialect Society listserv and editor of Studies in Slang, the expression "more than one way to skin a cat" actually refers to catfish.