Cats Always Land On Their Feet
Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 5, 2013
Every once in a while, someone will say that a cat always lands on its feet when talking about how some people wind up coming out of bad situations without suffering any negative consequences. It’s based on the belief that cats actually have a way of always landing on their feet. But is it a fact or a myth? And if it’s a myth, how did it become an idiom?
It would seem that, according to journalist Kathy Antoniotti of the Akron Beacon Journal, the tale that a cat always lands on its feet is a myth, as discussed in their article of August 4, 2013 entitled, “9 Superstitions and Myths About Cats.” Taking on a select number of superstitions, myths and old wives’ tales about cats, she discussed the belief that cat’s always land on their feet by writing this:
Cats always land safely on their feet: Although cats are amazingly flexible, a cat can be injured in a fall. They have been known to break their front legs and jaws if they land on their feet.
When the Sunday Herald in Connecticut published an article on why a cat always lands on its feet in their October 2, 1960 edition of the newspaper, journalist Chapman Pincher included diagrams from Dr. Donald McDonald of London, England. The article was brief but detailed, and stated clearly that cats who were blindfolded fell in a heap and sustained injuries. Interestingly enough, cats that were born without the normal balancing organs present in the ears still managed to land safely on all four feet, and so it would seem that sight is the primary sense needed for a cat to land safely on its feet from any height. The article was aptly entitled, “A Cat Always Lands On Its Feet.“
Back in the Calgary Daily Herald on November 23, 1933, the newspaper carried a news article written by Howard W. Blakeslee who was the Associated Press Science Editor at the time. The story was from Massachusetts, a little less comprehensive than the article published in the 1960 newspaper example, and began with this paragraph:
Solutions of some household mysteries — how a fly dodges a swat, why a cat always lands on its feet, how your canary hovers in the air — were shown to the National Academy of Sciences today.
Of course, the description of how the cat mystery was resolved was disconcerting as the article stated that a cat was dropped over a table from a height of 18 inches, where the cat immediately flailed about in the air until it managed to right itself when it was “barely more than four inches above the table.”
Historically speaking, Baldwin III, Count of Ypres, is said to have thrown cats from a tower in 962. The town (located in Belgium) marked the event with a cat festival, and up until 1817, it was recorded that cats were thrown from a 70-meter tower to mark the event. However, starting in 1818, toy cats were thrown from the tower instead. The cat festival is celebrated every three years, with the next one scheduled for 2015.
But where did the myth originate that so many people repeat as an idiom these days?
To find the answer to that, we have to go to the Middle East. There you will find an ancient folk legend, according to Encyclopaedia Iranica, that explains that once upon a time, the first Imam, Alī, blessed the cat’s back by caressing it. Because of this folk legend, the expression gorba-ye Mortażā-Alī or “Alī’s cat” began to be used to refer to people in difficulty who always found a way out of their troubles, thereby “landing on their feet.” The legend appears to go trace back to the 7th century.